"God knows when I'm sorry. I don't need to go to confession." Just like a cancer patient doesn't need to see a doctor. One way this false impression (which is a Protestant belief, not a Catholic one) comes about, is by a misunderstanding of what Christ taught. " if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, 'I repent,' you must forgive him" (Luke 17:3-4).
Forgiveness is of God, and we are called to forgive those who sin against us. Our Lord gave us the prayer which reiterates this. "Forgive us our trespasses (sins) as we forgive those who trespass against us." One can find numerous passages that reiterate this theme. " forgive, and you will be forgiven;" (Luke 6:37). " And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one; so that your Father also Who is in Heaven may forgive you your trespasses" (Luke 11:25).
But note, this is not forgiveness of sin. "the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, 'Who is this that speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God only?' When Jesus perceived their questionings, He answered them, 'Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Rise and walk? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins' - He said to the man who was paralyzed -'I say to you, rise, take up your bed and go home.'" (Luke 5:21-24).
Of course, only God can forgive sins, and Christ is God. He has the authority to forgive sins. Let's look at two other examples. "'Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?'" This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with His finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask Him, He stood up and said to them, 'Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.' And once more He bent down and wrote with His finger on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before Him. Jesus looked up and said to her, 'Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?' She said, 'No one, Lord.' And Jesus said, 'Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.'" (John 8:4-11).
The key word here condemnation vs. forgiveness. Our Lord didn't forgive her, He just didn't condemn her. Her life was not yet over, so repentance is still possible. Contrast this with: "And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that He was at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed His feet, and anointed them with the ointment...Then turning toward the woman He said to Simon, 'Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she has anointed My feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.' And He said to her, 'Your sins are forgiven.'" (Luke 7:37-38, 44-48). Here is action, here is a plea for forgiveness.
"But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to Heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 18:13-14). Isn't it one of the highest forms of pride to 'presume' God's forgiveness? If we look at the parable of the prodigal son, though the son was sorry for what he did, he was not 'reconciled' with his father until he swallowed his pride and 'returned' to his father in humility. Christ said that Heaven rejoices over one sinner who repents and returns to God. How many are there of us who are sorry but God is waiting for us to return.
However, even with these, we can, and do, hear, "Yes, but only God can forgive sins, I can't and won't go to a mere man to ask God for forgiveness." At this point, we reject what the Lord tells us. "Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I send you.' And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.'" (John 20:21-23).
Firstly, " As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." The Father sent the Lord to reconcile the world to God. To forgive sins, remember…." the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins" Just as His Father sent Him, so He sends the Apostles.
Many look at this passage and say that it's just a reiteration of our forgiving our brothers and sisters. Not so. In that regard, we are called to forgive even if the other person doesn't ask for it. We can forgive the sin made against us, but not sin in general. We can forgive the offense, but not the penalty. After all, we cannot condemn, nor reward, that belongs to God.
In this passage, our Lord goes further, He commands the Apostles something entirely different. ". If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." If 'they' forgive sins, they are forgiven, if they hold them fast, they aren't forgiven. This not only goes beyond our call to forgive sins against us, but demands that they 'hear' the sins, the repentance, otherwise there is no reason to add the part about retention.
Christ has passed on His authority to forgive sins to His Apostles. And from them, to their successors, and their successors' representatives, the priest.
So, if this is so, if by this wonderful continuation of God's gift of mercy we are reconciled to Him, why are the confessionals so empty? If by this Sacrament of Reconciliation, we are not only forgiven our sins, but given the grace to avoid the sin, why do we avoid it? "...at that time the fear of God and love of God had died out in the country and no one spoke of penance which indeed was considered as folly. This attitude was caused by the temptations of the flesh, the cupidity (inordinate or unlawful desire) of the world, and the pride of life; the whole of mankind seemed engulfed in these three evil forces." (Legend of the Three Companions, #34; St. Francis of Assisi; Omnibus of Sources, pg.922)
Isn't it a great pride to say we do not need God's forgiveness through His priest, even though He tells us so?
Isn't it the sin of presumption to feel we have His forgiveness automatically?
Isn't it the temptations of the flesh and unlawful desires of the world to say that what the Church (and Christ) call a sin, isn't?
" If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us." (1 John 1:8-10)
Our Lord is waiting to give us His forgiveness and mercy. Why do we reject His hand?
This command applies to the whole Church; and, in this moment of her history, the Church in America is called to take it up and respond with loving generosity to the fundamental task of evangelization. This was what my Predecessor Paul VI, the first Pope to visit America, stressed at Bogotà: “It will be our task, [Lord Jesus], as your representatives and stewards of your divine mysteries (cf. 1 Cor 4:1; 1 Pt 4:10), to spread among men the treasures of your word, your grace, your example”.(2) For the disciple of Christ the duty to evangelize is an obligation of love. “The love of Christ impels us” (2 Cor 5:14), declares the Apostle Paul, recalling all that the Son of God did for us in his redeeming sacrifice: “One man has died for all . . . that those who live may live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for their sake” (2 Cor 5:14-15).
The celebration of anniversaries which evoke in a particular way Christ's love for us stirs in our soul not only a sense of gratitude but also a sense of the need to “proclaim the wonders of God”, to evangelize. Thus, the recent celebration of the five hundredth anniversary of the coming of the Gospel to America — the moment, that is, when Christ first called America to faith — and the approaching Jubilee, when the Church will celebrate the two thousandth anniversary of the Incarnation of the Son of God, are special times when our hearts spontaneously ring out in gratitude to the Lord. Realizing the greatness of the gifts received, the pilgrim Church in America wishes to bring the whole of society and every man and woman to share in the riches of faith and communion in Christ.
To be sure, a number of earlier events contributed in a preliminary but powerful way to creating an atmosphere of fraternal encounter in the Synodal Assembly. First, there were the prior experiences of communion in the General Assemblies of the Bishops of Latin America in Rio de Janeiro (1955), Medellin (1968), Puebla (1979) and Santo Domingo (1992). These were moments when the Pastors of the Church in Latin America were able to reflect together as brothers on the most urgent pastoral questions affecting that part of the continent. There are also the periodic pan-American meetings of Bishops, in which the participants can address issues affecting the entire continent, and exchange views on the common problems and challenges facing the Church in the countries of America.
This concern was all the more prominent, given that I myself had outlined an initial program for a new evangelization on American soil. As the Church throughout America prepared to commemorate the five hundredth anniversary of the first evangelization of the continent, when speaking to the Council of Latin American Bishops in Port-au-Prince (Haiti), I had said: “The commemoration of the five hundred years of evangelization will achieve its full meaning if it becomes a commitment by you the Bishops, together with your priests and people, a commitment not to a re-evangelization but to a new evangelization — new in ardor, methods and expression”.(9) Later, I invited the whole Church to respond to this call, although the program of evangelization, embracing today's world in all its diversity, must take different shape in the light of two quite different situations: on the one hand, the situation of countries strongly affected by secularization, and, on the other, the situation of countries where there are still “many vital traditions of piety and popular forms of Christian religiosity”.(10) There is no doubt that in varying degrees both these situations are present in different countries or, better perhaps, in different groups within the various countries of the American continent.
If it is genuine, the personal encounter with the Lord will also bring a renewal of the Church: as sisters and neighbors to each other, the particular Churches of the continent will strengthen the bonds of cooperation and solidarity in order that the saving work of Christ may continue in the history of America with ever greater effect. Open to the unity which comes from true communion with the Risen Lord, the particular Churches, and all who belong to them, will discover through their own spiritual experience that “the encounter with the living Jesus Christ” is “the path to conversion, communion and solidarity”. To the extent that these goals are reached, there will emerge an ever increasing dedication to the new evangelization of America.
NEXT MONDAY: Installment Two - Chapter One: The Encounter with the Living Christ part one: Encounters with the Lord in the New Testament
While he holds membership in the two Curial offices of the Secretariat of State and the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See, he is most influential in his native land. He was chosen to head the Australian Episcopal Conference as President and has remained a steady influence throughout the Oceania region, fending off the various splinter groups that have arisen over the years in trying to water down the disciplines of the Church. Cardinal Clancy has successfully kept the Church a strong force overseeing nearly five and a half million Catholics, twenty-nine percent of the total population of Australia. Because of his lack of curial experience and age, he might not be considered papal material but he is well revered in his own land. Because Australia only boasts of two cardinals it is highly likely the Holy Father will name one, possibly two more in his next Consistory.