“Believe the love that God has for us” – 1st John 4:16
In part one of this two part series, I shared a talk I gave on a youth lock in about how much God loves us, how much He wants us to be with Him, and how He makes His mercy available to us in the Sacrament of Confession. I used the example of the Parable of the Prodigal Son because it shows such a beautiful act of love, mercy, and forgiveness. God loves us. His mercy is waiting for us in Confession. These are teachings that we’ve been taught and known for years as Catholics. But do we BELIEVE them??
Let’s start with Confession. Confession is one of the Sacraments of the Catholic Church instituted by Jesus Christ to administer His grace. A sacrament is the ordinary means by which God, through His Son, gives us His grace, through the Church founded by Jesus to preach, teach, and act in His very Name, power, and authority. The Catholic Church recognizes seven Sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Confession, Marriage, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the Sick.
So, the main questions that are usually asked about Confession are these:
- Where is it/when did Jesus institute it in the Bible?
- Why do I have to confess my sins to a priest when I can go directly to God?
To answer the first question of “where is it in the Bible”, we look to John 20:21-23 which reads –
“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.'”
Jesus, on the night of the Resurrection, gives the Apostles the power to forgive sins. Jesus was sent to forgive sins, now the Apostles are sent to do the same. This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that Jesus gives the Apostles power and authority to do things in His Name and by His power, but we’ll come back to that later.
In the Letter of Saint James 5:14-16, while being an example of the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, it also mentions Confession. The verses read –
“Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.”
It is clear by these passages that Jesus instituted the Sacrament and it was practiced in the early Church.
Now, on to the second question: why do I have to confess to a priest?
The answer to this, once again, comes back to Jesus: because He said so.
In the ending of Saint Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says –
And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
Notice here, Jesus says that the Apostles are to teach us to obey everything that He commanded of His Apostles. And we know from Saint John’s Gospel that He commanded them to actually forgive sins. So we confess because Jesus commanded it of us. When we try and say, “Only God can forgive sins” then we start to sound like the Pharisees to Jesus when they ask who He thinks He is since only God can forgive sins. Now, yes, to be completely fair, Jesus IS God, so ya, He can forgive sins all right. But, when Jesus forgives, He makes it clear that He’s not JUST forgiving sins as the Eternal Word, but as a human being. This is especially clear in His forgiving of the paralyzed man lowered down to Him from the roof. To prove that point, He says –
But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the one who was paralysed—‘I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home.’ – Luke 5:24
The phrase Jesus uses, “Son of Man” is translated as also “son of Adam” or, basically, a human being. Jesus is both God and Man and He forgives as God and Man.
I don’t want to go on and on with Confession apologetics, so if you want more information, I highly recommend the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1441-45, 1461-67, and 1468-70 as well as this article by Tim Staples over at Catholic Answers here –
So, we’ve established that Confession is a Sacrament instituted by Christ to forgive us of our sins. And why? Because God loves us. But, do we believe it? We should. And if we don’t, why don’t we?
The rest of this article I want to specifically address those points
Today, in so many Churches the confession lines are non existent. Why? Is it because, like Protestants, many Catholics just don’t believe that Confession is necessary? Probably. Do they think “I can just go directly to God and tell Him my sins”. Definitely. Yet it is God Who is there in confession in the person of the priest ready and wanting to forgive you. But what is the underlying issue, the root of the problem, as to why people don’t go to Confession? Because we don’t believe.
God loves you. I want you to say that out loud as you’re reading this: God loves YOU. Now, make it personal. Say, “God loves me”. Now, repeat that three more times, but put the emphasis on a different word each time: “GOD loves me. God LOVES me. God loves ME”. Say it, hear it, own it, BELIEVE it!!
When we believe that God loves us, then that is when everything changes. We see ourselves in a different light. We see our God in a different light, not as some angry Judge Who sits on a cloud ready to strike us down, but as a Father Who wants us to accept the love that He gives that is Himself in the person of Jesus Christ Who loved us so much that He died for us so that we could be forgiven and live forever. Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Love to be real, it must cost—it must hurt—it must empty us of self.” Isn’t that what Jesus did when He went to the Cross? That is the love that He showed us. That is the love that we must believe in, a love from an infinite God Who died so that we might love Him in return. So why do we struggle with this? Why do we struggle with believing that God loves us? What hurt do we still endure? What burden do we carry? What sin do we still hold on to? Because when we don’t give those to God, when we don’t surrender them to His mercy, when we don’t believe in His love that wants to forgive us, then we can’t love in return and can’t be forgiven in return. 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your worries upon him, because he cares for you”. And so I ask you: what is keeping you from believing God’s love for you? Whatever it is, God already knows it. And He sees you and He sees it and He wants you to give it to Him so He can take it from you. He is waiting for you in that sacrament of His ocean of loving mercy and forgiveness. No matter what it is, I promise you that it is not bigger than God’s forgiveness. No sin could make God love you any less because no matter what sin we’ve committed, hurt we’ve experienced, addiction or burden we carry: God loves us still. And He sees us at our most vulnerable, and our weakest, and at our end and He wants to tell you, “I’m here”. God can take whatever we throw at Him. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in paragraph 1470:
“In this sacrament, the sinner, placing himself before the merciful judgment of God, anticipates in a certain way the judgment to which he will be subjected at the end of his earthly life. For it is now, in this life, that we are offered the choice between life and death, and it is only by the road of conversion that we can enter the Kingdom, from which one is excluded by grave sin. In converting to Christ through penance and faith, the sinner passes from death to life and ‘does not come into judgment.'”
In Confession, we choose life over death, we choose freedom over slavery, and we choose Christ above all.
Are you angry at God? Okay. Something a good friend of mine Jeff Miller once said in a talk he gave on communication through prayer on a youth retreat weekend was, “Angry prayer is still valid prayer. God is a big enough God that He can handle it”. I’ve had multiple angry prayer conversations with God (of course, He always wins). But it’s okay to be angry about something if there is a valid cause. We just have to remember: God isn’t the cause. But we shouldn’t hold on to that anger. And God wants to take that anger from us. Are you afraid that, after you return to loving and believing, that you’ll sin again and fall into the same rut? That’s okay too, because God NEVER tires of forgiving us. Are we addicted to something that we can’t break free of such as pornography, masturbation, drugs, or alcohol? That’s what Jesus most wants us to give to Him. Is it easy? No. But Jesus tells us in Matthew 11:28-29, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls”. As long as we approach with a repentant heart in confession, we are ALWAYS forgiven. Always. No matter how many times we fail, no matter how many times we fall, no matter what it is, He is there. Always. Because He loves you. Believe it!!
Pope Saint John Paul II said, “Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it. This is why Christ the Redeemer ‘fully reveals man to himself’”. God loves us and so we must love Him in return Who gave everything of Himself that we might do just that. And we love Him by loving our neighbor, by being a neighbor, because in them we must see Christ and love them as we would Him. God loves us so we must love Him in return Who has forgiven us our sins and run to His open arms in the Sacrament of Confession. There the floodgates of mercy and love are opened. There are we set free again and again and again. Because the Father is waiting, just as the father in the parable of the prodigal son waited. There we can begin to love again and believe again, so that when we approach the Sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist, Christ may come to dwell in us and become one with us in His eternal love Who is love Himself.
“I run to the Father
I fall into grace
I’m done with the hiding
No reason to wait
My heart needs a surgeon
My soul needs a friend
So I’ll run to the Father
Again and again
And again and again”