Friday, March 30, 2007


The day away from the parish begins with meeting a priest friend of mine for coffee. We talk and pray. Often one of shows up before the other and so we always have a book on hand. Fr. B. was reading a Dr. Scott Hahn book entitled "Lord Have Mercy; The Healing Power of Confession" about which he was quite excited. He slid it across the table and told me to take a gander. Passages were underlined and comments were scribbled in the margins. The few blurbs that I perused were tantalizing. So much so in fact that I ran out to the bookstore last night to try and buy a copy and wouldn’t you know it they did not have it.

Cleverly Dr. Hahn shows that confession has been a part of our heritage since the beginning of man. In Genesis, Adam and Eve have eaten of the forbidden fruit. He calls to them and asks what has happened. (Can God not know? But he wants them to take ownership of what they have done!) Immediately the buck starts being passed. “It was she!” “No! It was the serpent!”

Cain slays his brother Able. Again God asks questions to which he already knows the answers. “Where is your brother? What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the soil!” So important is this action that God even tries to coach him through it.

What a beautiful opportunity they had, to talk face to face with God and seek His forgiveness. (Isn’t it odd that, like them, the more we need it, the less we seem to want to do it?) But the close relationship was lost and we enter a time of ritual, which pales in comparison.

Then comes Christ. He did not stand at the edge of town and say, “Okay, now, everyone in this town; your sins are forgiven!” No, once again God offers forgiveness in a personal encounter. What a wonder to hear from the mouth of God Himself that you are healed and your sins are forgiven. What comfort and blessed assurance. There is no more guesswork involved. “Neither do I condemn you. Now, go and sin no more,” He says to the woman caught in the very act of adultery.

Would we not all want to hear those words about that most wounded parts of ourselves and have that assurance? Would we not all want that personal, physical encounter? Why would anyone suffering under the burden and slavery of sin want to settle for guesswork again?

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed.” (James 15:16) But is not Jesus the only one who forgives sins? Of course! But there is something important in naming one’s sins and taking ownership of it. Yes! It’s hard! But that points to the power of the action.

And thanks be to God, He did not leave us guessing. He entrusted the keys of heaven to His Church. Through the power of the sacrament of confession we have a safe environment in which to confess our sins to God, to heal of the division between us and Him. Ordained into the one priesthood of Jesus Christ, the priest, not of his own priesthood but that of Christ’s, is privileged to be a dispenser of Christ’s mercy and forgiveness. No guess work! Properly disposed, the penitent is able to stand anew and start again united more closely both to God and to the community. We are not left distant and guessing as our ancestors were after the Garden of Eden, we are graced with the same hope as those who encountered Christ when He walked among us in the flesh.

What an awesome God. What an awesome sacrament! What incredible hope.


Rob said...

While the priesthood is "known" for the eucharist (for the priest being the one who can confect the eucharist), I think confession is at the heart of the priesthood, at the heart of the 'spiritual fatherhood' associated with the priest. It is, uniquely, in this arena where the priest is most able to guide the penitent man (or woman!).

I have been to disappopinting confessors in the past (be sorry for your sins, say a Hail Mary), to wanna-be psychologists (who turned the sacristy into an encounter seesion), and one rigid type who did an excellent job of explaining my errors and absolving me, but had no advice for how to guard my newborn purity.

I have also had many wonderful confessors and, I must say, I know a good priest by how he handles my confession. I know each priest has his own talent: one may be a good homilist, another a good confessor, another an advocate for the poor, another leads movements against public evils like abortion. But I am always most impressed by a good confessor, by a priest who does not try to be a shrink nor a tyrant, but knows how to truly counsel me on the road to salvation.

Littlestorms said...

Oh, just once I wish my confessor might vary his "Do something nice for someone this week," i.e., "My child, what a fruit loop you are. For your penance, go stand in the town square at midnight and howl at the moon. Now, make a good act of contrition.."