Of the seven sacraments, confession probably provokes the most anxiety and fear. Maybe we have even wondered, “If Jesus knew how much anxiety confession would cause, why would He make us do this? Couldn’t there be another, better way?”
Sin is the major obstacle between God and man, and Christ came to remove that obstacle and restore mankind to friendship with God.
Jesus knew that His time on Earth was limited and He wanted to extend His forgiveness to all future generations of His disciples, so He instituted the sacrament of confession when He told His apostles, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23).
This power to forgive has been passed on from the apostles through the sacrament of holy orders, so any validly ordained priest can possess the power to forgive sins.
Jesus could choose any method He wanted to forgive our sins — and He chose the sacrament of confession.
But Jesus did not randomly choose a method of forgiveness. Rather, He chose the best, most fitting (or appropriate) method of forgiveness. Here are six reasons why confession is a supremely fitting way for God to forgive our sins.
1. Those healed by Jesus in the Bible all had a personal encounter with Him. No one in the Gospel was ever healed simply by wishing it. Similarly, Jesus wants us to heal us by personally encountering Him in the person of the priest. The reality of personally encountering Jesus in confession is highlighted in the words of absolution: “I absolve you from your sins …” That “I” is not the priest speaking but Jesus Himself speaking to us.
2. We must seek forgiveness from all those we hurt, and all sin not only offends God but also harms the entire Body of Christ, the Church. Thus, reconciliation for our sins must be between not only God and us but with the Church as well.
3. Confession gives us the medicine that heals the sickness of sin. Pride lies at the root of every sin, because every time we sin we tell God, “I choose my will over Your will.” Precisely because confession requires us to acknowledge our sins and tell them to another person, it fosters humility, which is the precise virtue that counters pride. So confession heals our sin and gives the first dose of the medicine to attack the root of sin: pride.
4. Confession provides us with a guarantee of forgiveness. As long as we confess all our mortal sins and are contrite (sorrowful) for them, then God Himself guarantees complete forgiveness. If we asked God to forgive our sins only in our private prayer, we couldn’t ever know for sure if they were forgiven.
5. It is psychologically healthy for us to confess our sins to another person. Much like how sharing our burdens with a friend makes them seem lighter, when we confess our sins they have less of a psychological effect on us.
6. Confession presents a time for the priest to offer some advice on overcoming and avoiding future sin. Confession is not only about forgiveness of sin. It is also spiritual and practical preparation for future temptations.
Bottom line: We go to confession because God has given us confession as His instrument of forgiveness. But this sacrament makes perfect sense in light of Jesus’ mission on earth and the full healing and restoration God wants us to receive.
Father Burkemper is associate pastor of Holy Infant Parish in Ballwin.