Susan Ciancio knows how we often dread Confession,and explains why it's important to seek the grace of that sacrament.
Confession is the sacrament of the tenderness of God, his way of embracing us. – Pope Francis
Like many people, I both dread and love going to confession. I dread it because it’s difficult to admit I’m a sinner, to disclose my shortcomings to another person, and to beg forgiveness even though I know I will fail again.
I love it for precisely those same reasons. What a great gift this sacrament is!
We know that sins separate us from God. Sins keep us from becoming who God wants us to be. Sins break Christ’s heart the same way that it breaks our hearts as parents when our children hurt us.
When I was in a Catholic grade school, the teachers frequently told us that our sins were like additional nails in the hands and feet of Christ. That was a horrifying thought to me then — and it still is — but this tangible image of my sins as instruments to wound Christ has stayed with me. That is why I love the sacrament of confession.
Just as we must ask forgiveness when we hurt someone we love here on earth, so we must ask Christ’s forgiveness when we hurt Him. We do this in confession. Some might ask why Catholics seek this forgiveness in a confessional rather than in just saying silent prayers to God. We do this because Christ instituted this sacrament. In the Gospel of John, we read:
[Jesus] 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.”
Christ charged His Apostles with the job of hearing and forgiving sins on His behalf. He would not have said this to the Apostles if He had not intended sinners to seek them out and confess their sins, for how could the Apostles forgive sins if no one told them their sins?
God became man to save us from sin and to help us attain eternal life with Him in heaven. In the Gospel of Luke, we read:
Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
Yet, Christ knew that He could not always be physically present on earth, so when He breathed on the Apostles, He instituted the sacrament of reconciliation and made the Apostles — and their successors — ministers of this sacrament in His place.
When we go to confession, we are confessing our sins to God. The priest merely acts in the person of God as he listens to us. He is there to counsel us and to help us grow closer to God as we apologize for the things we have done and promise to try to do better. The priest’s absolution comes directly from Christ.
Unlike just telling our sins to God in a private prayer, in the sacrament of confession we have the true certainty of being forgiven. We need not rely on a mere “feeling” of being forgiven. This certainty brings peace.
The graces we receive in confession, the profound closeness with God that we feel after we unburden our souls, and the relief of knowing that we’re right with God should lead us to want to regularly confess our sins, even if the thought does cause some anxiety. This humbling experience helps us to understand the divide we place between ourselves and Christ when we both intentionally and unintentionally hurt Him.
As we look ahead to a new year filled with uncertainty, we can be certain about at least one thing: God loves every single one of us. Though the Church teaches that we should go to confession at least once a year, our souls truly do benefit from going more regularly. So let us resolve to go to confession several times this coming year. Let us resolve to work hard at improving our spiritual selves. And let us rejoice in the fact that Christ is always merciful and that the feeling of peace we experience when we leave the confessional is an immense gift we should never take for granted. At that moment, we are perfect. At that moment, we are at peace.
Yes, every sin we commit is like a nail being driven into Christ’s tortured body. But we can alleviate that pain by apologizing for our sins, seeking His forgiveness, and promising to amend our lives.
About the Author
Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s in liberal studies from Indiana University. For the past 17 years, she has worked as a professional editor and writer. She is executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program and editor of ALL's Celebrate Life Magazine.