Do it yourself confession?!?
There you are, in the doctors office. "I'm sorry to tell you, but you
have cancer." "That's ok", you respond, "I can cure myself." Ridiculous
isn't it? I mean, one needs help to overcome something this serious. But, in
a way, that is precisely what we do in regards to sin. Sin is a cancer, a
cancer of the soul. In order to cure it, we need the loving care of the
Divine Physician, our Lord Jesus Christ. However, today hear a sort of self
cure notion going on. Of all the Sacraments, it's this wondrous sacrament
that we decide for ourselves we don't need.
"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
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, rememberů." 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
". 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
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
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?