Skip to comments.Why Go to Confession? (Part 2) - Pastoral Letter of Archbishop Bruno Forte
Posted on 02/19/2006 2:44:33 PM PST by NYer
Why Go to Confession? (Part 2)
Pastoral Letter of Archbishop Bruno Forte
CHIETI, Italy, FEB. 19, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is the second part of a pastoral letter written by Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, a member of the International Theological Commission, on the theme "Reconciliation and the Beauty of God."
The first part of the letter appeared Friday. The third part appears Monday.
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3. Confess to a priest?
You then ask: Why must one confess one's sins to a priest and not do so directly to God? Of course, one always addresses God when confessing one's sins. However, that it is also necessary to do so to a priest is something that God himself makes us understand: In sending his Son with our flesh, he shows he wants to encounter us through a direct contact that passes through the signs and language of our human condition.
Just as He came out of Himself for love of us and has come to "touch us" with his flesh, we are also called to come out of ourselves for love of Him and to go with humility and faith to him who can give us pardon in his name with word and gesture. Only the absolution of sins that the priest gives in the sacrament can communicate the interior certainty of having been truly forgiven and received by the Father who is in Heaven, because Christ has entrusted to the ministry of the Church the power to bind and to loose, to exclude and admit in the Covenant community (cf. Matthew 18:17).
He it is who, risen from death, said to the Apostles: "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 20:22-23). Therefore, to go to Confession to a priest is very different from doing so in the secret of one's heart, exposed to so many uncertainties and ambiguities that fill life and history.
You will never know absolutely if what has touched you is the grace of God or your emotion, if you have forgiven yourself or if He has forgiven you in the way He chose. Absolved by the one the Lord has chosen and sent as minister of forgiveness, you will be able to experience the freedom that only God gives and understand why going to Confession is a source of peace.
4. A God close to our weakness
Confession therefore is the encounter with divine forgiveness, which is offered to us in Jesus and transmitted to us through the ministry of the Church. In this effective sign of grace, meeting with endless mercy, we are offered the face of a God who knows like no one our human condition and comes close to it with very tender love.
Innumerable episodes in the life of Jesus demonstrate this to us, from the meeting with the Samaritan woman to the healing of the paralytic, from the forgiveness of the adulteress to the tears in the face of the death of his friend Lazarus. We have immense need of this tender and compassionate closeness of God, as a simple glance at our existence also shows: Each one of us lives with his own weakness, goes through sickness, draws near to death, is aware of the challenge of the questions that all this poses to the heart.
No matter how much we wish to do good, the frailty that characterizes us all, exposes us continually to the risk of falling into temptation. The Apostle Paul described this experience with precision: "I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do" (Romans 7:24).
It is the interior conflict from which is born the invocation: "Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24). To it responds in a special way the sacrament of forgiveness, which comes to rescue us always again in our condition of sin, reaching us with the healing power of divine grace and transforming our heart and our behavior.
Because of this, the Church does not tire of proposing the grace of this sacrament to us during the whole journey of our lives: Through it Jesus, true heavenly physician, takes charge of our sins and accompanies us, continuing his work of healing and salvation. As happens in every love story, also the Covenant with the Lord must be tirelessly renewed: Faithfulness is the ever-new desire of the heart that gives itself and receives the love offered it, until the day that God will be all in all.
[Translation by ZENIT]
1. Why go to Confession?
Among the questions that my heart as Bishop asks, I choose one that I am often asked: Why must one go to Confession? It is a question that is posed again in many ways. Why go to a priest to tell one's sins and not do so directly to God, who knows and understands us much better than any human interlocutor?
And, in a more radical way, why speak of my affairs, especially of those that even I myself am ashamed of, to someone who is a sinner like me, and who perhaps assesses my experience in a completely different way than I do, or doesn't understand it at all? What does he know is a sin for me? And some add: Does sin really exist or is it only an invention of priests so that we will behave well?
I think I can answer this last question right away and without fear of being refuted: Sin exists, and not only is it wrong but it does evil. Suffice it to look at the daily scene of the world, where violence, wars, injustices, abuses, egoisms, jealousies and vengeance burst out (an example of this "war bulletin" is given to us today in the news in newspapers, radio, television and the Internet).
He who believes in the love of God, moreover, perceives that sin is love that falls back on itself ("amor curvus," closed love, the medievals said), ingratitude of the one who responds to love with indifference and rejection. This rejection has consequences not only in the one who lives it, but also in the whole society, to the point of producing conditionings and interlacements of egoisms and violence that become authentic "structures of sin" (think of social injustices, of the inequality between rich and poor countries, of the scandal of hunger in the world ).
Precisely because of this, one must not hesitate to emphasize the enormity of the tragedy of sin and how the loss of the sense of sin -- very different from that sickness of soul that we call "guilt feeling" -- weakens the heart in the face of the spectacle of evil and the seductions of Satan, adversary who tries to separate us from God.
2. Experience of Forgiveness
Despite all this, however, I do not think I can say that the world is evil and that it is useless to do good. On the contrary, I am convinced that good exists and is much greater than evil, that life is beautiful and that to live correctly for love and with love is really worthwhile.
The profound reason that leads me to think this way is the experience of God's mercy that I feel in myself and that I see shine in so many humble people: It is an experience that I have lived many times, both giving forgiveness as minister of the Church, as well as receiving it. I have been going to confession regularly for years, several times a month, and with the joy of doing so.
The joy stems from feeling myself loved in a new way by God, every time that his forgiveness reaches me through the priest who gives it to me in his name. It is the joy I have seen often on the face of those coming to Confession: not the futile sense of relief of the one who has "emptied the sack" (Confession is not a psychological relief or a consoling meeting, at least not primarily), but the peace of feeling well "within" oneself, touched in the heart by a love that cures, that comes from above and transforms us.
To ask for forgiveness with conviction, to receive it with gratitude and to give it with generosity is a source of inestimable peace: Because of this, it is right and beautiful to go to Confession. I would like to share the reasons for this joy with all those whom I may reach with this letter.
The Catholic Church is a breath of Fresh Air in a very polluted world.
Agreed! God bless you!
It's more than a feeling ... it's a reality! As with all the Sacraments, its primary purpose and effect is the bestowal of God's Grace, Sanctifying Grace and Sacramental Grace. It's secondary purpose is the forgiveness and absolution of sins.
This, of all the Sacraments, is the most personal and intimate. Baptism, although it is conferred on an individual, is a community event. It is the initiation of the individual into the Body of Christ, the Church. The Eucharist, although it is an intimate union between Christ Himself and the communicant, is also a sign of the communion and unity of the whole Church. Marriage is a Sacrament for the couple in the presence of their families and the whole Church. But, Penance is a Sacrament that we attend alone, particularly when we are in a state of mortal sin, when we are alone directly with our loving Father. We are like the Prodigal Son who returns to his father and is received joyfully, a huge banquet being thrown in our honour. But, we do not have the jealous elder brother who has not strayed resenting our return, we have only Christ who consoles us and brings us the joy of forgiveness
This is a beautiful article. Glad to say my youngest daughter made her First Penance last Sunday. She was scared, but she did fine. She wrote her sins on an index card and when we returned home from Mass that day, she tore her "sin card" into little pieces and happily proclaimed she was free!!!