Confession of Sins and The Sacrament of Reconciliation

Fr. James Chelich, Lent 2000

What’s in the name?

The Sacrament is called by three names: Confession, because this is the courageous human act at the heart of the Sacrament; Penance, because receiving the Sacrament is a sacred taking of responsibility for our words, deeds and attitudes and their consequences on the people and world around us; and Reconciliation, because it describes the result of the Sacrament: reconciliation with God, with one another and with the world around us.

Fearing the Things Most Essential for Our Humanity

Some skills, disciplines and exercises are constitutive of woman or manhood — of maturity of soul. I call them the Essential Exercises of Adulthood. Sadly, most people are afraid of doing them.

“Examine yourselves” Test yourselves to see whether you are living in faith. 2 Corinthians 13:5a

It is my conviction that any person’s life could be turned around 180 degrees if they would perform a simple spiritual exercise five times a day. Stop all activity of any kind. Sit quietly a moment. Answer these questions to yourself: What did I just finish doing? How do I feel about what I have done? What would I have liked to have done differently? What am I going to do next? How do I want to do it? Now add the following prayer: Lord, I do not want to go ahead alone. Move with me. Help me listen a little longer. Show me what is really going on and help me contribute something constructive. Mother Teresa of Calcutta says, “silence is the friend of God.” I agree and would add, “reflection is the friend of our humanity.” Every time we fail to stop and think, and ask questions about what we are doing, we always end up behaving less-than-human. Even if the activity itself is the most noble in the world, if we do not punctuate it with moments for reflection, we will end up beating someone over the head with it or trampling something under foot doing it. I often ask people: Would you like to marry someone who regularly stops to think about the way they talk to you and treat you, and then comes to you and says, “I regret saying or doing that. I am sorry. Please forgive me?” Or would you rather marry someone who never thinks about the way they speak to you and treat you, and never takes responsibility for the way their words and actions affect you? You want to marry the first one, right? Everyone does, but not every one wants to do what it takes to be the first one.

“Confess your sins” Declare your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you many find healing. James 5:16
“I was wrong” “I am sorry” “I ask your forgiveness”

Saying of these words are essential to healthy human relationship, either relationship with God or relationship with others. Is it so strange that the Bible tells you so and that the Church teaches you to make the saying of them an integral part of your life? It is not easy to examine your words, actions and attitudes. It is not easy to tell the truth about yourself out loud. But Jesus tells us it is necessary…

You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. John 8:32

…and the Bible tells us why: As long as I would not speak my bones wasted away with my groaning all the day, for day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you, my guilt I covered not. I said, “I confess my faults to the Lord, and you took away the guilt of my sin. Psalm 32:3-5 It is essential to name your sins out loud and to another. Doing this objectifies the sin and draws it, in a sense, outside of you where it can be identified as what you do and distinguished from who you are. Now you can address the sin and renounce it as not who you choose to be. The power of God is drawn to the truth spoken and the change desired. Naming your sins also breaks the spell of denial. As long as we refuse to name the truth about ourselves out loud and to another, our life remains hidden in the shadows growing in our Conscience. We live in fear of the truth about our past and present – anxious that it might become known, threatened by those we fear might see and reveal it. We choose “friends” who will enter into what I call an “unholy social contract” with us. They agree to pretend they don’t see the truth about us, and we agree to pretend not to see the truth about them. Relationship is built not upon the reality of who we are, but upon the illusions we wish to preserve about ourselves. This blocks all emotional, spiritual and relational growth.

Are you not aware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death…?

…Through baptism into his death we were buried with him, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life… This we know: our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed and we might be slaves to sin no longer… His death was death to sin, once for all; his life is life for God. In the same way, you must consider yourselves dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus. Romans 6:3-5, 6,10-11 When you are baptized and become a Christian, you make a series of promises that can be summed up in these words:

“I will be dead to sin! I will be alive for God!”

But how does a woman or man “die to sin” in order to “live for God”? Receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the way Jesus gave us to “die to sin” and stay alive for God. On the day Jesus rose from the dead he appeared to the apostles. The first thing the risen Lord Jesus did was to give his apostles the power to forgive people’s sins. On the evening of that first day of the week, even though the disciples had locked the doors of the place where they were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood before them. “Peace be with you,” he said. When he had said this he showed them his hands and side. At the sight of the Lord the disciples rejoiced. “Peace be with you,” he said again. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then he breathed on them and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive men’s sins, they are forgiven them if you hold then bound, they are held bound.” John 20:19-23 This is where the Sacrament of Reconciliation comes from in the Bible. Jesus, himself, created it. The spiritual authority Jesus gave to his apostles continues in the Church through the “laying on of hands” (2 Timothy 1:6-14) in the ordination of Bishops, who are successors of the Apostles, and priests who are living extensions of the Bishop’s apostolic ministry. The spiritual authority to forgive sins confessed is one aspect of this spiritual authority.

If anyone should sin. We have, in the presence of the Father, Jesus Christ, an intercessor who is just. He is an offering for our sins… If we acknowledge our sins, he who is just can be trusted to forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrong. 1 John 2:1 and 1:9

We can be defeated by our past, with its sins and errors and the shame which it creates. The answer is not to deny our sins or hide in shame, but to name them and seek forgiveness, healing and regeneration. Jesus made provision for this by offering Himself in ransom for us and shedding his blood to wash our past clean and set us confidently in the present. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation we find not only the experience of this but the absolute guarantee of it. The Latin word, sacramentum, means “vow”. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is the “Vow of God” that our sins are forgiven and the innocence of the children of God has been restored to us.

What does the Word of God teach us?

Self-examination is an essential exercise if we are to live and behave as human beings. There are words that are absolutely essential to a life-giving relationship with God, with others and with the world around us. Among these words are: “I was wrong.” “I am sorry.” “I ask your forgiveness.” If we are going to stop sinning, it is essential to name your sins out loud and to another. The ongoing effort to die to sin and live more completely for God is an indispensable part of what is means to be a Christian. Jesus has provided a forum for this effort: the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He has vowed to be personally present in it and endowed it with his supernatural power to forgive sin, regenerate life, heal souls and reconcile individuals to a right and life-giving relationship with God, with others and with the world around them.