A person once asked about the need for the sacrament of confession
when we can easily confess our sins directly to God. While there is some truth to this,
there is something else that needs to be considered. Whenever we sin, our first response
should be an immediate appeal to God for mercy and forgiveness. Repentance should be a
regular part of the life of every human being, especially a believer. God is omniscient.
Even when we repent in the secret of our heart, we are not telling Him anything that He
doesn't already know. Rather, we are acknowledging our sin and taking responsibility for
our actions and their consequences. The question that remains is whether or not this private,
one to one conversation with God is enough. God does not need our repentance, we do.
So God's gift of the forgiveness of sins is tailored to meet our needs.
One thing we should note is that human beings live in community and
our actions affect others for good or for evil. So sin-even sin committed in private-is
not a purely private matter. All of our actions have a communitarian dimension. That means
our reconciliation after sin must somehow involve the community. The Sacrament of Penance
provides that necessary link between the commission of sin by the individual and the
reconciliation of the sinner with God and the community of believers, especially in cases
involving serious or mortal sins, which require the influx of sacramental grace for forgiveness.
Did you ever notice that people usually don't question the communitarian
dimensions of Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Matrimony, Holy Orders, or even Anointing of
the Sick? But they always seem to question the need for an instrument, a human mediator,
in the Sacrament of Penance! Why? Because confessing one's sins to another human being
is difficult. It is often embarrassing. But that is part of the power of sacramental reconciliation.
It makes one honest and humble before God through a human instrument-little chance for self-deception here!
The question still remains about the necessity of going to confession.
Well, what does the Bible say? In St. Mark's Gospel (2:5-12), the Pharisees criticize Jesus
for forgiving a man's sins. To prove that He has this authority, Jesus cures the man.
The Pharisees couldn't bear the thought of a man acting as if He were God! They didn't
know that Jesus was also God. As God, Jesus is unlimited in power and in St. Matthew's Gospel
He shares His power and authority with His Church through St. Peter, who was just a man!
Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man,
but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build
my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom
of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth
will be loosed in heaven" (Mt. 16:16-19).
Finally in St. John's Gospel (20:21-23), Jesus explicitly gives the
disciples the Holy Spirit and the authority to forgive sins:
Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me,
I am sending you." And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit.
If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them,
they are not forgiven."
Jesus gave this power to His disciples and the Church continues
to make it present to the People of God. Our response to this gift should first be
one of gratitude. Then we should be motivated to examine our consciences, confess
our sins, be reconciled to God and our brothers and sister and discover the joy of
living in God's mercy.