A friend of mine, a believing Catholic, told me he hasn’t been to Confession in a long time. After all, God forgives sins, so there’s really no need to go to a priest. If people need the emotional crutch of talking to someone to be told that God forgives them, so be it, but it’s not strictly needed because a man can’t forgive sins, only God.
He was curious about what I’d have to say about it. The following is my response.
In Catechism of the Catholic Church, it says the following about Confession:
VII. THE ACTS OF THE PENITENT
1450 “Penance requires the sinner to endure all things willingly, be contrite of heart, confess with the lips, and practice complete humility and fruitful satisfaction.”
1451 Among the penitent’s acts contrition occupies first place. Contrition is “sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again.”
1452 When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called “perfect” (contrition of charity). Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible.
The confession of sins
1455 The confession (or disclosure) of sins, even from a simply human point of view, frees us and facilitates our reconciliation with others. Through such an admission man looks squarely at the sins he is guilty of, takes responsibility for them, and thereby opens himself again to God and to the communion of the Church in order to make a new future possible.
1456 Confession to a priest is an essential part of the sacrament of Penance: “All mortal sins of which penitents after a diligent self-examination are conscious must be recounted by them in confession, even if they are most secret and have been committed against the last two precepts of the Decalogue; for these sins sometimes wound the soul more grievously and are more dangerous than those which are committed openly.”
When Christ’s faithful strive to confess all the sins that they can remember, they undoubtedly place all of them before the divine mercy for pardon. But those who fail to do so and knowingly withhold some, place nothing before the divine goodness for remission through the mediation of the priest, “for if the sick person is too ashamed to show his wound to the doctor, the medicine cannot heal what it does not know.”
1457 According to the Church’s command, “after having attained the age of discretion, each of the faithful is bound by an obligation faithfully to confess serious sins at least once a year.” Anyone who is aware of having committed a mortal sin must not receive Holy Communion, even if he experiences deep contrition, without having first received sacramental absolution, unless he has a grave reason for receiving Communion and there is no possibility of going to confession. Children must go to the sacrament of Penance before receiving Holy Communion for the first time.
So, to recap, Confession to a priest is required for mortal sins, not just for forgiveness from God but to be in union with the body of Christ on Earth.
Yes, God forgives sins if we are truly contrite, but being truly contrite means being willing to do what God commands you to do to show that, and God has commanded us to confess our sins.
That’s rather dry, so let me tell you a story. I didn’t go to Confession for about 15 years, for pretty much the same reasons as you.
I had two kinds of sins. There were the sins that weren’t really sins, at least not for me, because the Church was just behind the times, and not as smart as I was. Then there were the sins that were really sins, but I was sorry for them and had moved on. Either way, I didn’t need to confess them. Or maybe when I thought about it I should have but I was too embarrassed (aka prideful) to tell someone all the stuff I had done. There was just too much piled up.
That changed rather suddenly. I was on a business trip with a coworker. She decided she wanted to go to Confession, and since we were sharing a rental car I had to go along, because it didn’t make sense to come back to the hotel to get me for dinner.
Once we got to the church she sort of nagged me into going into the confessional. I didn’t really want to go, but I figured what the heck. I could always just confess what I was comfortable saying and leave the rest unspoken.
What I didn’t count on was God’s grace.
I wound up pouring my heart out to the priest. When I was done, he asked me “Do you think the value of knowing your sins are forgiven and you are granted access to heaven is worth $20?” I answered that it was worth more than that. Then he hit me with the sucker punch. “If I was in this booth giving out $20 bills, how often would you come here?”
At that point I was hit by my own hypocrisy. Either I didn’t really value my soul or I should be going more. I’ve tried to go once a month since. It gets easier the more you do it, and it actually brings me great peace now to go.
If it helps, go to a different parish and confess to a priest you don’t know. It’s just as valid and it’s easier to talk to a stranger, oddly.
So go, my friend, and sin no more.
Copyright © 2013, Michael Lindner