The Sacrament of Confession
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” (1 John 1:8-10)
Among all of the tools the Church gives us for our training and the healing of our souls, one of the most overlooked is the sacrament of confession. We all have sinned and to say otherwise is to deceive ourselves and attempt to make God a liar. The sacrament of confession offers us the opportunity to unburden ourselves of these failings and to experience with surety that God “is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
One of the common objections to the sacrament of confession is that we can confess our sins directly to God and do not need to confess them to the priest. The first part of this is true, while the second part is not. We receive the apostolic exhortation “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (James 5:14-16). After the Resurrection, Christ gives to the apostles the power to forgive sins (John 20:21-23) and sends them out for the forgiveness of sins as He was sent by the Father. Christ’s commissioning of the apostles to forgive sins tells us that he expected sins to be confessed to them and that they be asked for forgiveness. This apostolic ministry has continued down through our bishops and from them to our priests until this day.
When we confess our sins to our spiritual father, the parish priest, we experience numerous benefits that we cannot underestimate:
- We are required to confront our sins and admit them to ourselves. How often, when we just confess to God, do we ask that He forgive us our sins rather than honestly confronting them individually?
- We are required to humble ourselves in accepting the shame of revealing the darkest parts of ourselves before another human being.
- We are able to receive advice from one who has studied the moral theology of the Church and her ascetic literature to help us struggle to overcome these sins.
- We receive assurance of the forgiveness of God. How often, when we just confess to God, do we later struggle with asking ourselves if we were really forgiven?
- We begin to see our sins, even the small ones, more clearly and our self-deception of our own righteousness ends.
Once we have decided that we wish to partake in the good of confession, we begin to ask how often we are required to go. What is the minimum number of times we can go in a year? The Church generally calls us to go at least four times per year, during each fasting season. This is the wrong question though. The question we should ask ourselves is what frequency is most helpful to us, not the minimum that we are required. In this, let us work with our spiritual father to find the frequency that is best for our situation and our souls.