Okay...so I promised some weekly views on Catholicism through my eyes. So speaking of going to confession....I thought that this week I would talk about "confession." Confession is one of the Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church and as a practicing Catholic you are sure to cover most of these sacraments during your life. Confession or the more modern terminology (The Act of Reconciliation) is the second sacrament you will usually receive in your life. It follows Baptism and precedes your First Holy Communion. It is also one of the most misunderstood acts a Catholic does to the non-Catholic world.
To clear up some misconceptions....no Catholics don't go to Confession to just a man. No...Catholics don't use Confession so that they can sin again. No....Catholics don't think they are better than anyone else because they go to Confession. Does that answer some of your questions?
To fully understand confession you must first understand the next sacrament which is Communion. Many churches have their version of communion which is usually grape juice (sometimes wine) and bread. In the Catholic faith though.....Communion is not simply an act of the Last Supper. Catholics use blessed wine and blessed unlevened bread. During the Mass the bread and wine are consecrated and when we receive Communion...we are receiving the Body and Blood of Christ....just as the apostles did. In order to receive this great gift....our souls must be as pure as possible. This means as sin free as possible and this is the purpose of confession.
Yes...many churches have their versions of confession. Most entail confessing sins to the congregation or a select group of people. Catholics in turn are often scoffed at for their belief that the priest can absolve them from their sins. The fact is that the priest is merely a stand in for God but given special graces by God. The sins told in a confessional can never be told by the priest outside the confessional for any reason. Through history there have been a few less than "holy" priests who have tried....and they have always failed. The confessional is sacred.
Confession is a holy act. In the confessional....you can either speak face to face with the priest or as I like to do it....with a confessional wall between you. By doing this, I am able to more easily concentrate on both the face of Our Lord and my sins. Unlike some other churches....the confessional is private. It is between us and God....not us and the congregation. Just as sin is personal.....in my way of thinking....so should be confession. There should only be one judge and jury on your sins and on your soul....and that is God. The confessional is a place of great distress for many and also of great peace. Once your sins have been confessed....you are given a penance, whether it is prayer and meditation or an act of charity..... it is designed as a way for you to not only repent your sins but also to think about your sins and how they might have affected others. Once absolved....there is always peace for me.
I know that many both outside the faith and some even inside....feel it appears that some use confession as if the confessional door was revolving. Confession is not so that you can sin, confess, go to Communion and then commit the same sin or sins over the next day. The confessional is a checks and balances of our own soul. It keeps us accountable and aware of the condition of our soul. It also makes sure that when we receive Communion...that we are receiving the Body and Blood of Christ with the purest of mind, body and spirit we can be. As humans....we will ALWAYS sin. Sometimes the sins will be small and sometimes they will be very large but always they will be soul harming and Confession is what purifies us....not so that we can sin again, but so that we can have a starting point to put past sins behind us and do our best to live our lives with fewer sins. After all....we are all works in progress.
I had already decided last week that this was what I would blog about this week but last night at Mass....just as if Father knew what I would be blogging about....he helped to write this. He talked about Confession as a way of humbling us. He was talking about the way Catholics should and do humble themselves before the Lord and Confession was a big one. There is nothing more humbling than to have to kneel before your Creator and tell Him that after all He has given you.....you have chosen to offend Him. Now THAT is as humbling as it gets. It is also something that causes Catholics to lapse.
As Catholics....especially if we are cradle Catholics, right and wrong are drilled in our heads. Often it is more fun and easier to live on the wrong side where sin is disregarded and our own will and desire call the shots. When this happens.....knowing what we know.....one of two things can happen to a person. 1) They know that they can't go to Confession without being truly sorry for their sins and making the effort to never commit them again. If they know that they likely will commit them again....there is something innately in them that will not allow them to go to Confession and without Confession....the other sacraments cannot be received. So slowly....they just leave. Or 2) They commit a sin that they simply cannot bare to confess. Usually they lose sight of the fact that sins like that are a one time thing and if confessed because of the weight they have put on themselves....they would likely never sin like that again. However, they are ashamed and embarrassed and rather than humble themselves and confess....an anger grows inside them towards the Church, the Sacraments and even God. Somewhere along the line....they forget that the real anger is at themselves for committing the sin in the first place. In the end though.....the results are the same and a soul can be lost sometimes for awhile....and sometimes forever. The historic battle of mans will over Gods. Blessedly though, with time, age, experience and eventually the knowledge that without God we are nothing.....we/they/them often come back stronger in their faith.
So you see, Confession.....like most aspects of the Catholic Church has a beauty all its own. There are things that are very difficult in the church....such as Confession, but if it were easy...what would we gain? It is the difficult things that make us stronger and in the case of Confession....it is our sins...the sins we willingly commit that give us the need for the confessional. It is however, through those sins and the ability to humble ourselves to God knowing that we have both sinned and that He will forgive those sins, that make us stronger in both our lives and our faith.
Okay...I have told you what Confession is but little of my view. So here it is. Confession is one of the hardest parts of being a Catholic for me. It is also one of the best parts. There have been times that confessing certain sins has been very difficult for me. It has taken me months at times to make myself go to Confession over certain things. It was my pride and my embarrassment that kept me from Confession and ultimately God. Perhaps in some eyes....my sins were not that great, but in mine....they were debilitating. When finally I realized that I was not doing God the favor by confessing, but doing myself and my soul the favor.....I gladly humbled myself. You cannot imagine the feeling of peace that you come away with knowing that you are right with yourself and most importantly you are right with God. Sin is a soul killing disease and Confession can bleach your soul clean. It can also give you as I said earlier....a fresh perspective and a new starting point....and after all isn't that something we can all use from time to time?