Aug 20, 2009
It is not easy to go to Confession. If it is not hard enough to admit to ourselves that we have sinned against God and neighbor, then we have to tell our sins to a Priest, say we are sorry, and humbly ask for forgiveness! It is little consolation that the telling is done in private and that the Priest confessor may not ever tell another what we confessed.
Why then do we confess our sins to a Priest? Why not just tell God and ask forgiveness from God directly? The answer to these questions is rooted in Jesus’ understanding of human nature and of sin.
Jesus understood human nature
Jesus knew, given our human nature, that to heal the wound of sin it is necessary to voice our faults to another and to hear another’s voice tell us we are forgiven. And so on Easter night Jesus appeared to the Apostles, "breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’" (John 20:22-23; see also Matthew 16:19; 18:18). Jesus shared his own authority over sin and forgiveness with the Apostles (and with their successors, the Bishops, and with the Priests who collaborate in the ministry of the Church).
Jesus understood the nature of sin
Even the most secret sin offends God and all the members of the Church. We learn how Jesus and the members of the Church are related from St. Paul, who, while on his way to persecute Christians in Damascus, heard Jesus ask him: "Why do you persecute me?" (see Acts 9:1-5). When we sin we must apologize, ask forgiveness, and be reconciled, not only to God, but also to the members of the Church. The Priest hearing confessions represents the Church community, exercising the "ministry of reconciliation" written about by St. Paul (2 Corinthians 5:18).
In the voice of the Priest in the confessional we hear the voice of Jesus: forgiving us, healing us, and restoring us. The Priest acts in the name of Jesus when he says to the penitent: "I absolve you from your sins." Our human nature is such that we want to hear those words; we need to hear those words.
Through the voice of the Priest in the confessional we hear the voices of the other members of the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, accepting our apology, forgiving us, and restoring us to fellowship. So, instead of having to confess our sins standing in front of the congregation in church on a Sunday morning, we can confess to and be reconciled by the Priest Confessor.