Why bother with Confession?
Peter Kreeft asserts that confession is good for the soul and so much more . . .
Over the past several generations there has been a radical decline in the sense of sin — and even in the understanding of the meaning of the very concept of sin.
Sin is not something vague like “forgetting God’s love” or “not appreciating God’s gifts.” Sin means something specific and concrete: disobedience to God’s commandments. It’s not a lapse of feeling like unappreciativeness or a mental lapse like forgetfulness; it’s a moral lapse, a free choice of the will.
Sin must be admitted if it’s to be forgiven. We cannot be forgiven for sins we do not confess and repent of, for sin is in the soul what disease is in the body.
Forgiveness is a healing operation — a real spiritual change. It requires the light of truth to shine on it by Confession. Only then can we find peace. There is no other way to peace. We cannot be at war and at peace at the same time: Sin is like being at war with God, while repentance, Confession, and penance bring peace with God.
Many Protestants are increasingly realizing the need for Confession. For not only is it needed objectively — to live in the truth — but also subjectively, on the level of human psychology.
Everyone needs to “let it out,” to “unload.” Even more, everyone needs to hear and know that they are forgiven — ideally, by the authoritative word of the priest of the Church of the Christ against whom they have sinned.
The healing words are not “forget it” but “forgive it.” We need our sins forgiven, not just forgotten; admitted, not denied. Pardon and peace come from Confession.
Why must we confess to a priest and not just to God? Throughout Scripture, God’s forgiveness is always mediated. In the Old Testament it was mediated by the high priest and the scapegoat in the Hebrew feast of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
In the New Testament it was mediated by Christ on the cross (the fulfillment of all these Old Testament symbols), and then it was mediated by his commission to his apostles: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn 20:23).
The fact that Christ made forgiveness available to us so concretely through Confession to a priest is a sacramental sign of his concrete presence.
He — the one who alone forgives sins — is just as really present as his priest is. And the privacy of individuality of the one-to-one encounter between priest and penitent is a sacramental sign of Christ’s love for each of us as individuals.
PETER KREEFT, a professor of philosophy at Boston College, is the best-selling author of over 75 books. This column is reprinted with permission from his book “Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church” (Ignatius Press, 2001).
Since Christ entrusted to his apostles the ministry of reconciliation, bishops who are their successors, and priests, the bishops’ collaborators, continue to exercise this ministry. Indeed, bishops and priests, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, have the right to forgive all sins “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
The confession … of sins — even from a simply human point of view — frees us and facilitates our reconciliation with others. Through such an admission, man looks squarely at the sins he is guilty of, takes responsibility for them, and thereby opens himself again to God and to the communion of the Church.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1455, 1461