The Splendor and Grandeur of The Sacrament of Confession
Fr. Marvin Deutsch, M.M.
Today I would like to speak about the splendor and grandeur of the sacrament of confession. If I were to ask you this question, I am sure you would all know the answer. Why did Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the eternal Father become a man? Was it to liberate the Jews from the oppression of the Romans in order to make them a free and independent state? Did he come to heal all the sick people, the blind, the lame, the lepers etc? Did he come to lift up the poor so that everyone in the world would have a decent living? Did he come so that we would have peace in the world, so that all nations could get along, and there would be no more wars? Did he come so that we as human beings could live our lives without pain or suffering? Did he come to give us the good news of our redemption and salvation?
If this were a multiply choice examination, I am pretty sure you would all choose the last answer, “Jesus came to give us the good news of our redemption and salvation.” Let us continue, How then did Jesus accomplish this tremendous task of our redemption and salvation? Nobody else since the fall of our first parents had been able to accomplish this seemingly impossible task. Again, I think you all know the answer. Jesus came to die on the cross so that our sins could be forgiven. He rose again from the dead and sent the Holy Spirit to carry out this mighty task for the forgiveness of sins.
In Chapter 24, verses 6-47, the closing of Luke’s gospel, before Jesus ascends into heaven, he tells his apostles that the forgiveness of sins is the primary goal of their preaching throughout the world.
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, you are witnesses of these things.
Jesus is telling his apostles the extreme importance of their task, that no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he or she has been freed from sin. The reason for his coming was to die on the cross so that sins could be forgiven. Jesus was so anxious to get this point across and to begin this process that his very first public act after he had risen from the dead was to institute the sacrament of penance for the forgiveness of sin. We find the story in John chapter 20:19-23.
On the evening of the first day of he week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were for fear of he Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when hey saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me I send you.” 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.”
Some people tell me they don’t see why they should confess their sins to a priest. They feel it is better to speak to God directly. I tell them that Jesus instituted this sacrament, his first public act after the resurrection. Since he gave his disciples the power to forgive or retain, they had to make a judgment on the dispositions of the individual. And of course they could not do this unless they first heard the sins.
Many people today go to a psychologist or psychiatrist at a big expense and tell them everything, which is ok. However good these professionals are, they cannot forgive sin or take away guilt. I know a good psychologist in Minnesota who occasionally sent some of his clients to me for confession. He said, I can help people but I can’t forgive sins which is the way that guilt is taken away.
This is the 5th week of Lent – a good time to reflect on how we are fulfilling our Lenten resolutions. The church tells us to pray more, to do penance, to performs acts of mercy, to abstain and fast a little, to obey the commandments of God and the Church, to be humble and obedient to the will of God, and to make a good individual and private confession to a priest. In fact, it is a precept of the Church that we should confess our sins at least once a year. A priest cannot forgive himself. Like everyone else he must go to another priest to have his sins absolved.
We must remember, friends, forgiveness of sin does not come automatically. It must be personalized in every individual, which means repentance, sorrow for sin and a firm purpose of amendment. There are various ways of accomplishing this, but it is accomplished par excellence in the sacrament of penance. John Paul II wrote in his encyclical “Penance and Reconciliation,” The greatest of all joys is the experience of the forgiveness of sins in the sacrament of Penance. He wrote that unfortunately many people have never experienced this joy. This joy is so great because one realizes that redemption has been accomplished in him and he is now fit for the kingdom of God. I think the greatest victory of Satan in our times is to convince people that they have no sin and should not go to confession. It strikes at the very heart of redemptive act of Christ on the cross and nullifies his suffering and death for that person.
It takes a humble and contrite heart for one to confess his or her sins, to admit to another they have done wrong, that we are not perfect, that we have sinned. But when we remember that the greatest of all sins is the sin of pride and this was the cause of the downfall of Satan and also our first parents, we see how important it is to be humble. For God loves the humble but resists the proud.
A couple of years ago I was working at a retreat house near Waconia, Minnesota. I had just finished mass and was kneeling at the back of the chapel. There was an elderly man standing in the back. I said to myself, I think he wants to talk with me and so I asked him if he needed any help. He said yes, I would like to make an appointment for confession. I said, ok and arranged a time. The man came and told me that did not feel at peace, that he felt he had hidden some sins in the past and would like to run through his life to address this problem. I helped him through with his confession, which took some time. When he received absolution, and was walking out, I saw that there were tears in his eyes. He turned to me and said, Father this is the happiest day of my life.
Today, many Catholics have abandoned the sacrament of confession. It is like throwing away one of the greatest gifts that the Lord has given us. If someone would offer them a million dollars, I don’t think they would refuse. This sacrament is worth much more than a mission dollars. It takes humility for us to confess our sins, but this very humility is what makes us pleasing to God. This life is a preparation for the next. It is a very short time compared to eternity. As the song Amazing Grace tells us, “When we’ve been there 10,000 years, we’ve only just begun.” If forgiveness of sins is the way to get there, we should leave no stone unturned to make sure we do. This is the beauty, splendor and grandeur of the Sacrament of confession. When received validly it assures our passage to the kingdom of God. As the book of revelation tells us, the ones who will be there are “Those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.”
St. Paul in Philippines 3:20 sums it all up:
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself.
If I may borrow a line from a TV commercial: It is your future, be there.