We’ve all been there at one time or another—going to Confession with a guilty conscience, sweaty palms, anxious about what Fr. So-and-so is going to think when I tell him about _____. We go in feeling burdened, hesitant, or embarrassed—but we should not leave this way.
It is never comfortable to look back on our own failings, to own up to them and to confess them, but Jesus sees so much more than our failures and sins. That is why He invites us to come to Him.
Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden, light. (Matthew 11: 28-30)
The Sacrament of Penance, also known as Confession, was instituted by Christ to heal us and to renew Christ in our hearts. We not only receive forgiveness for the offenses we committed against God after Baptism, but we are also reconciled with the Church, who is wounded by our sins.
God wants an intimate relationship with us. When we sin, we separate ourselves from God; we sever that relationship. On our own, we cannot repair this rift caused by our sins. The only way our relationship with God can be repaired is by standing at the foot of the Cross, asking for God’s forgiveness and mercy. God gives us Himself through grace to heal and sanctify us so we can be like Him and live with Him, intimately, in Heaven.
When Jesus needed Peter the most, Peter denied Him three times. This sin was a huge burden on Peter’s conscience. His guilt over his failure was eating away at the core of his being and Jesus knew this. Jesus had to show Peter that He forgave him. He removed Peter’s guilt and gave him a vision, a sense of purpose, a mission. Through this forgiveness, Peter was no longer bound by the guilt of his past failures, but now was filled with hope for the future.
Peter said to him, "Master, why can't I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you." Jesus answered, "Will you lay down your life for me? Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times." (John 13:37-38)
Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Now the other disciple was known to the high priest, and he entered the courtyard of the high priest with Jesus. But Peter stood at the gate outside. So the other disciple, the acquaintance of the high priest, went out and spoke to the gatekeeper and brought Peter in. (John 18:15-16)
Then the maid who was the gatekeeper said to Peter, "You are not one of this man's disciples, are you?" He said, "I am not." (John 18:17)
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love (agape) me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love (filio) you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs." (John 21:15)
Now Simon Peter was standing there keeping warm. And they said to him, "You are not one of his disciples, are you?" He denied it and said, "I am not." (John 18:25)
He then said to him a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love (agape) me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love (filio) you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep." (John 21:16)
One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the one whose ear Peter had cut off, said, "Didn't I see you in the garden with him?" Again Peter denied it. And immediately the cock crowed. (John 18:26-27)
He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love (filio) me?" Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, "Do you love me?" and he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love (filio) you." (Jesus) said to him, "Feed my sheep.” (John 21:17)
This is what God wants from us every time we go to Confession. He wants to see us transformed, to overcome sin and the temptation of sin, to overcome the flesh of this world for the spiritual of the next. We need to trust in God’s forgiveness and mercy with the hope of having our lives transformed through His grace. Jesus understood that Peter was unable to love Him enough to die for Him. However, Jesus reassured Peter that He would lead Peter to an agape-kind of love.
When a Catholic comes from Confession, he does truly, by definition, step out into that dawn of his own beginning…in that brief ritual God has really remade him in His own image. He may be grey and gouty, but he is only five minutes old. ~ G.K. Chesterton
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that we must appreciate this gift that God has given us through the Sacrament of Confession, a Sacrament of Christian Initiation. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. It has been said that we sin so many times a day, but our sins are washed away through Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross. (1425). The conversion in Confession is within our hearts, not to be seen as an outward sign, but an inward one, one of Christ. This conversion is a repentance of ourselves, a turning away from sin, and repugnance toward evil. At the same time, God asks us to change our lives, to trust in Him, His grace, and His mercy. Sin causes our hearts to be heavy and burdened. God must give us a new heart, must give us strength to begin again and to trust that His love will always keep us turned away from sin. (1430-1432).
The Sacrament of Penance is meant to be a celebration where all of Heaven rejoices whenever a sinner repents. Confession gives us a greater hope of being united more deeply with Jesus, to be an adopted son/daughter within God’s family. This change in our hearts through this Sacrament helps us to change our lives, in harmony with God’s.
The Sacrament of Penance must be one of the most exhausting, demanding, and difficult ministries of a Priest, yet one of the most rewarding. It requires prudence, discretion, discernment, and firmness, tempered with gentleness and kindness. Pope John Paul II likened the Sacrament of Reconciliation to going to the doctor. If a patient is too fearful of what the doctor would say to show his wounds, the doctor cannot heal what is not known. Christ is the physician of our souls. We need to bring everything to Christ in the Sacrament of Reconciliation…everything. The Priest, acting in persona Christi, is the minister of Penance who makes Christ present for us through the Holy Spirit. Christ is still the High Priest, behind the Priest. When we go to Confession, we are not going to the Priest (the human), we are going straight to Christ, who is present to us through the Holy Spirit in the Priest. It is Jesus who is listening as we pour out our hearts; it is Jesus who is absolving us from our sins. Like the doctor, we need to bring everything to Jesus in the Confessional so He can heal our wounded hearts and souls.
We should not be discouraged if we do not see progress. Frequent Confession helps us to be free from the bondage of sin, as well as, consistent in our struggle against sin. Nor should we be disappointed if we do not feel/see immediate effects of a particular Confession. When our sins are forgiven, they are completely forgiven…and forgotten. You do not need to feel like you are walking on clouds when you leave the Confessional – trust in God’s mercy and forgiveness. Be assured that you now are a new creation in Christ…you now have a clean slate.
(Confessional picture used with permission from www.vassaloftheking.blogspot.com)