It's a priceless treasure but somewhere along the line, we stopped needing it (or so we think)
Are you a big-time sinner, with bloated sins greedily gobbling your soul the way a cancerous tumor eats away at the body? Are you a middle-of-the-road sinner, who mostly behaves himself, but once in a while, sin-binges? Are you a modest sinner—basically nice, who just needs some tidying up from time to time? Or are you a well-regulated sinner, that is, one who has read the rules carefully, and does the minimum that the law requires? (I ask the last question because a friend just returned from a retreat house, where the new spiritual director was puzzled by her habit of going to confession every other week: “Why do that? You’re only required to go to confession once a year!”)
Like it or not, we’re all in the same boat. All of us are sinners, and our sin—big or small—is enough to keep us out of the presence of the all-holy God. We were created to see the face of God and live; that is meant to be our eternal destiny. Unrepentant sinners don’t qualify.
Here’s an unbreakable principle: If we only play at being sinners, we can only play at being saved. If we don’t believe that our sin is so deadly that it had to be nailed to the cross with Christ, then we will not have a share in his resurrection and will have no place in Heaven.
If we don’t believe that our sin is so deadly that it had to be nailed to the cross with Christ, then we will not have a share in his resurrection and will have no place in Heaven.
The Church Christ founded has been entrusted with the ministry of sacramental confession because the Church knows what sin does to souls and the Church knows what confession can do for souls—on the condition that we honestly confront our sin. Our sin! Not just our quirks, faults, foibles and failings. Not just our mistakes, indiscretions or peccadillos.
We must know sin—how it looks and stinks and burns. Our sin is cunning even as it is irrational; our sin is deliberate even as it is feral. Our sin whispers to us like a lover and shouts at us like a prison guard. We must admit that we choose and use our sin even as it seduces and uses us. Our sin has caused us to slap the face of the Holy God and yell, “My will be done!”
We must admit that our sin has driven us from our Father’s house and caused us to live as if we were all orphans. We must admit that our sin, which we cling to even if find it repulsive, is woven into our heart and mind and will like a cancer. We must admit that apart from the shed Blood of Jesus flushed through our body and soul—unless we consume the fruits of His sacrifice offered on the cross at Calvary—apart from that amazing grace—then our sin will finally consume us. And let’s not offer or accept Holy Communion as a remedy for sin if our souls have not been properly prepared by confession!
I believe that if we viewed sin rightly, there would be lines out the door of every confessional. Penitents would be eager for the deliverance, healing and mercy that the sacrament of confession offers. Freed from sin, we are freed for Heaven. If people were made sure of the horrors of sin and the mercies of confession, then priests (those who are identifiable in public) would be surrounded by penitents asking for the sacrament.
When I taught seminarians, I told them that if you want to be a good confessor, you have to start by being a good penitent. Only a man who knows in his guts, in the depths of his heart and soul his own need for mercy, only a man who has known the astonishing exhilaration that comes from receiving longed-for absolution will have the generosity and honesty to be a good confessor. Such a priest, a reasonable man may infer, would not be inclined to ask: “Why go to confession twice a month? You’re only required to go once a year!”
Consider this from the Revelations of Saint Bridget: “Just as an animal becomes a stronger beast of burden and more beautiful to behold the more often and better it is fed, so too confession – the more often it is used and the more carefully it is made as to both lesser and greater sins – conveys the soul increasingly forward and is so pleasing to God that it leads the soul to God’s very heart.”
A habit of frequent confession is just basic spiritual hygiene, and has been urged by countless saints. Let’s make use of what God lovingly offers us!
When I write next, I will continue our reflections on penance and contrition. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.
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