Why Go to Confession Anyway?

There’s been a renewed questioning of the role of confession lately, sparked by the new confession iPhone app, which helps one do an examination of conscience as a preparation for the Sacrament of Confession. Father Z gave a review of the application at his blog, detailing its usefulness and its flaws. His comments are in line with what the Vatican is saying about the use of the application: it is not a substitution for confession to a priest.

So this is what it comes down to – the app is there to help Christians in their examination of conscience (which, by the way, should be part ones daily prayer, at least before bedtime), especially as one prepares to partake in the Sacrament of Confession/Reconciliation. Since the app is not a substitute, we must go beyond the app to re-focus the purpose of the Sacrament itself. I wonder out loud, “Was this part of the strategy all along in the mind of the developers?” I’ll leave that question for someone else to expand upon.

Here then, is the question that has been back and forth in Christian circles for as long as I can remember:

“Why go to confession anyway? Can’t we just take it directly to God? After all, ‘only God forgives sins.’ (Mark 2:7)”

To answer this question, we must first consider the nature of sin and its effect. Sin damages relationships, both 1) those with God, as well as 2) that of the Church (the body of Christ). Jesus, in his own ministry, forgave sins with the understanding of how sin not only is an offense to God, but also becomes a block to a person’s participation in the community. He does this in a most shocking way — he sits down to table with them:

During his public life Jesus not only forgave sins, but also made plain the effect of this forgiveness: he reintegrated forgiven sinners into the community of the People of God from which sin had alienated or even excluded them. A remarkable sign of this is the fact that Jesus receives sinners at his table, a gesture that expresses in an astonishing way both God’s forgiveness and the return to the bosom of the People of God. (CCC #1443 /ref. Luke 15; 19:9)

In injuring one’s relationship with God and injuring one’s relationship with the Christian community, it is for this that we also need a means to ask pardon not just to God (which of course is most important), but there is need to be reconciled also to the community (as Jesus taught in welcoming sinners to the intimacy of the table meal). This welcoming the sinner back to full communion continues on through Jesus’ imparting to his apostles, and those appointed by them,  his own power to forgive sins and to reconcile sinners with the Church:

This ecclesial dimension of their task is expressed most notably in Christ’s solemn words to Simon Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 16:19) “The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of the apostles united to its head.” (LG 22, 2) (CCC #1444)

The words bind and loose mean: whomever you exclude from your communion, will be excluded from communion with God; whomever you receive anew into your communion, God will welcome back into his. Reconciliation with the Church is inseparable from reconciliation with God. (CCC #1445)

In the confessional, the priest represents both Christ the Head, and in the members of Christ’s body – the Church. When a penitent comes for confession, she recognizes her actions, words and/or deeds has caused harm to another, wounding the body of Christ; when one sins, all suffer from it, even when the sin seems hidden or is unknown to others.

There is also a practical point to be made.  Hopefully, all of us have experienced what it feels like to be forgiven by someone we have offended. In our asking them to forgive us, we find healing of our heart, and the invisible burden of our transgression falls from our shoulders. We feel light. We feel that burden on our conscience is removed, and our relationship with the person restored. This is a symbol of what happens on a larger scale when we come before a priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We bring our contrite hearts before God in the confessional, express the ways we have broken communion with God and with our brothers and sisters, and we seek to be restored in friendship with God and with our community. With the words of absolution we are reminded it is God who receives our contrite confession, and it is He who forgives, through His minister the priest, acting as a servant of God:

God, the Father of mercies,
through the death and the
resurrection of his Son
has reconciled the world to himself
and sent the Holy Spirit among us
for the forgiveness of sins;
through he ministry of the Church
may God give you pardon and peace,
and I absolve you from your sins
in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The Church acknowledges other effects from this Sacrament. When we approach the sacrament with a contrite heart, it “is usually followed by peace and serenity of conscience with strong spiritual consolation.” (CCC #1468). Thus, the penitent finds herself spiritually stronger to help her in the future when faced with temptation; she finds resolve and strength to overcome vices that lead her into sin. In this way, frequenting the sacrament often, becomes part of the spiritual food for the journey of the Christian as she strives for holiness.

With this in mind, we can approach the iPhone app as a tool that helps us recall how we may have ruptured our friendship with God and our neighbor (the Body of Christ), and then make our way to a priest who is there to help us be reconciled to God.

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An overview of confession and act of contrition:

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Related:

Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (Catechism)

Examination of Conscience – A Daily Duty as explained by Fr. John Corapi, SOLT

The iPhone App for Confession – Useful but Flawed by Father Z

A Priest’s Examination of Conscience from the Imitation of Christ

Our Own Worst Enemy by Defend Us in Battle

QUAERITUR: Long distance sacramental absolution of sins? No.

Roses Smell Great, on Returning to the Church

Forgiveness – A Way Home

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What Will it Take for Us to Wake Up?

Over at his blog, Fr. Longenecker asked the question, “What will it take for us (Catholics in America) to wake up?” He explains:

“…the last forty years Catholics themselves have not taught Catholicism to their children. They’ve taught ‘American Catholicism’ which is a watered down blend of sentimentalism, political correctness, community activism and utilitarianism….(a) ‘feeling good about yourself, being just to others and trying to change the world.’ The next generation have drawn the obvious conclusion that you don’t need to go to Mass to do all that.”

He states that the solution is simple (old-school evangelization like the Apostles of the Early Church did). The difference between today’s evangelization and that of the Apostles though, needs to be addressed:

“The big difference is that the Apostles knew their targets were pagans and the pagans knew they weren’t Christians…It is very difficult to evangelize people who already think they’re fine just as they are…”

Father Zuhlsdorf wrote a commentary on Fr. Longenecker’s post in true-to-FatherZ-fashion, and adds another critical element of the problem to the collapse of cultural Catholicism:

“It may be that some of those pagans of whom Fr. Longenecker speaks above are also wearing Roman collars.  They just don’t realize they actually belong to a different religion.”

This is an unfortunate reality indeed.

The correction of the problem, will definitely require an evangelization. Fr. Z adds that, perhaps, the Liturgical reforms have a part to play as well:

“We must return to teaching and demonstrating that there is a supernatural dimension to our lives.  We must take people beyond their immanentism-lite.  This is why the Holy Father has been trying to point us toward, in small steps, a new approach to liturgical worship.   It is precisely in worship that we can make great strides quickly.”

I would like to add another humble point, and that is, the importance of prayer – and in particular, devotional prayer – that has been the door of holiness for many.

Devotional prayer such as the Holy Rosary and Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, helps a person to know our Lord and Savior through the contemplation of the mysteries of his life, death and resurrection, and be better disposed to love Him, and follow His example. Saint Magdalene of Canossa explains this concept in the first rule to the Daughters of Charity:

“Prayer is the exercise by which the soul draws close to the Lord. By thus learning to know him in some way, the soul becomes ever more disposed, and enkindled with the desire, to love Him.”

She goes on to explain how, through prayer and contemplation of our Lord Jesus, and Him Crucified, the soul is better able to correctly imitate the life of Christ, with the same love for the Father that Jesus demonstrated on the Cross. She stressed numerous times to her Daughters and Sons of Charity the essential place of prayer in any work, evangelization being the fruit of it:

“Saint Paul says, even martyrdom would be useless without charity, that is, the love of God, the Source and Substance of Holiness, but also becasue the first fruit produced in our neighbor is all work of Grace.” (Unabridged Rule, Preface – paragraph 4, referencing 1 Corinthians 13:3).

So therefore, in order to properly evangelize the uncatechized Catholic, and to embrace the liturgical reforms and the truths held within them, prayer must be the foundation of this holy work. St Magdalene’s words are echoed throughout the history of the Church through the Saints who have grown close to the desires of God through their prayer, which in turn spurned them into action out of that love. Many of the Saints were uneducated, yet they were able to understand Truth easily, and to recognize folly just as easily.

So too, like the Saints of past centuries, we must begin here, at the font of prayer, through which God fortifies our hearts to Love Him and desire to do all we can to Serve the Church, and bring souls back to Her.

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Related Posts:

Sherry, blogging at the Catherine of Sienna Institute, gives a good summary of how this conversation began, with her post, Unintentional Mega-Blogging: the Collapse of Cultural Catholicism

Responses to that included Father Longenecker’s post, The Collapse of Cultural Catholicism;

and Father Z’s The Slipping Away of Catholic Identity;

Mark P. Shea’s response to Sherry’s comment on his post.

The Cowboy Papist writes a summary of the discussion with his post, Cultural Catholicism: Means What, and Does it Matter?

And from Down Under, And They Will Know We are Pagans