Previously we began our consideration on why many Christians have distanced themselves from regularly receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We first looked at the temptation to deny the reality of sin in our lives. However, we saw that, to deny our sin was to deny our need for a savior. In effect, we deny Jesus Christ.
This week, we consider another reason that is stated along these lines: “I can just tell God I am sorry, why do I need to go to confession?” It is a fair question. Effectively we want to know what is to be gained from receiving this sacrament on a regular basis. Why go?
The first reason is the most important, though it will probably sound overly simplistic. We go to confession because that is what Jesus wants. In scripture we read that Jesus, speaking to his apostles: “said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’” If Jesus, in sending out his apostles, gave them this godlike power, he did it because he wants it to be used! Elsewhere in scripture we hear that we are to “confess our sins to one another.” If we are called to confess our sins to others, it just makes sense to confess them to those who have been given the power to forgive them.
The second reason is a human or natural reason. It is simply good to bear our souls to another person. We can certainly do that with a counselor or with a confidant, or – without payment and without the need of a long term relationship – we can do it in confession. Indeed, the sacrament of reconciliation is the one place where you can bear your soul with unconditional confidentiality. There are no exceptions or loopholes to this rule. The seal of the confessional is absolute. Whatever is revealed in confession, stays in confession, period. Yes, it can be embarrassing and humbling to bring forward those areas of our lives of which we are ashamed. But that is exactly why it is so healing. There is no sin, no dark corner of the human heart that cannot be poured out in the Sacrament of Reconciliation; and the penitent, in so doing, encounters mercy and healing.
Besides being faithful to Jesus’ gift and the natural human benefits of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, there are the spiritual benefits as well. Chief among them and the most obvious is the forgiveness of sins. Of course, every time we sin we can and should turn to God in prayer and ask for his mercy. Many, though, have wondered: Was I sorry enough? How often should I ask? How do I know I am forgiven? When will I experience God’s mercy?
Among other things, Sacraments were given so we could have certainty of God’s action in our lives. Reconciliation is no exception. We read in scripture that Jesus gave authority to forgive sins to his apostles. The apostles passed their authority on to bishops and priests through the laying on of hands. Therefore, when we confess our sins and hear the priest say, “I absolve you from your sins,” at that very moment, we know with certainty, we are forgiven. With that certainty, comes great peace.