Monday, February 8, 2010

"Hey, have you heard about..." -- Confession -- Part 2

Why do I need a priest?

Confession is a Sacrament of Healing. When Jesus healed the paralytic, He told him first that his sins were forgiven. Only after reading the hearts of the scribes did Jesus perform a physical healing. (Cf. Mk 2: 5-12) Ultimately, Jesus is giving us a clear example that we must first take care of the matters necessary for eternal life. The flesh is weak, it is full of infirmities and is easily wounded – but, it requires, nonetheless, our care and respect because in it resides the indwelling Spirit. (Cf. Mk 14:38) So, we must be engaged actively in the health of our soul.

Why can’t I just tell Jesus, I’m sorry for my sins on my own; why must I confess to another person? The priest, in the Sacrament of Confession, is not just “another person,” he is acting in persona Christi, in the person of Christ. Jesus gave the apostles the power to heal and drive out demons: “Then he summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness.” (Mt 10:1) Because of the authority given by Christ to heal in His name (Cf. Mk 16, Jn 14), the priest acts in the person of Christ to confect the Sacrament of Confession.

The apostles are the first bishops of the Church on earth. By the laying on of hands through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the power of the Sacraments is handed on to the ordained clergy. Jesus explicitly defined the authority given to the apostles when He said, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 18:18). This faculty to forgive sins is given by the bishop to the priests who aid him in the mission of glorifying God by advancing His Kingdom through the salvation of souls. Confession to a priest is not a man-made notion; clearly, in just these two passages, – and there are others that could be cited -- it is instituted by Jesus in the Scriptures.

What can and should we reasonably expect from our priests? The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “Priests must encourage the faithful to come to the sacrament of Penance and must make themselves available to celebrate this sacrament each time Christians reasonably ask to it.” (CCC 1464) The salvation of souls, reconciling man to his God through the sacrament, is and should be a priority for any priest.

What is our obligation in the sacrament? According to Canon Law 989, the faithful, after reaching the age of reason, are obligated to confess their sins once a year. Once a year is the obligation, but is there something to be gained by going more frequently? The answer is, YES. God’s mercy frees us to begin again. The grace of the sacrament renews our strength, cleanses our soul and brings us to a new beginning in the journey toward holiness and, ultimately, toward salvation. The more often we frequent confession, the more likely the grace received through the sacrament will motivate us to change if we humbly respond. Mortal sin will become abhorrent; the ugliness of it will repulse us and make us even more aware of our own behaviors. The desire to grow in virtue and repent of our sins should and will increase the more often we meet Christ in the Sacrament of Confession.

What is our responsibility beyond making a verbal confession? “Penance requires…the sinner to endure all things willingly, be contrite of heart, confess with the lips, and practice complete humility and fruitful satisfaction.” (CCC 1450) After the priest absolves us of our sins, we must do what the priest tells us is our penance. Reparation for sin is a critical part of the sacrament. We must make whole again what was broken through sin. The penance the priest provides allows us to make things right, although it may not completely remit the temporal punishment incurred as a result of our offense. However, we are assured in the Sacrament that the sin is forgiven and we are able to begin again with renewed spirit and a restored soul.

Look for Part 3 next Monday! Comments are welcomed.

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