Skip to comments.Lesson 19: Confession (Part 1) BY FATHER ALTIER
Posted on 05/02/2006 6:22:04 AM PDT by MILESJESU
Fundamentals of Catholicism by Father Robert Altier
Lesson 19: Confession (Part 1)
[Class begins with a greeting by Father and the recitation of the Hail Mary.]
We will spend this entire lesson talking about the sacrament of confession or reconciliation or penance; whatever title you might want to call it by, it all comes down to the same thing anyway.
We will look at some of the general points with regard to confession and then talk more practically about it so you can understand some of the workings of what happens and hopefully take away any fear that might be there with regard to going to confession.
(Excerpt) Read more at desertvoice.org ...
Lesson 19: Confession (Part 1)
[Class begins with a greeting by Father and the recitation of the Hail Mary.]
We will spend this entire lesson talking about the sacrament of confession or reconciliation or penance; whatever title you might want to call it by, it all comes down to the same thing anyway. We will look at some of the general points with regard to confession and then talk more practically about it so you can understand some of the workings of what happens and hopefully take away any fear that might be there with regard to going to confession.
We all know from revelation, as well as personal experience, that we can be and in fact are unfaithful to God. In other words, we sin. We can reject His grace, we can reject His friendship, and that is really what sin in. A mortal sin is a complete cutting off of the relationship with God, and a venial sin is something that just causes problems in the relationship. We recall that the Catholic teaching with regard to the human person is that we are good, but we are weak, and we are prone sometimes to even the most unfortunate of sins. As we have seen, most heresies tend to emphasize one of these truths to the exclusion or the denial of the other. The New Agers, for instance, think we are god. And some people think we are not good. Some people take the weakness and run out to the extreme without balancing it with the goodness that God has created in us, and they wind up with quite a problem as it runs out to its logical absurdity. We have to find where the truth lies in the middle.
In His mercy, the Lord knows that we are weak and sinful, so He has given to us a way to deal with our sins apart from baptism. We have seen that at baptism you are not to wait until the very end of your life to see if you can sneak in a baptism on your deathbed so you do not have to worry about anything, but rather we need to be baptized and make sure our children are baptized within the first few weeks after they are born. That being the case, what do we do with regards to sin after we are baptized? Well, for those who fall into sin after baptism, there is this beautiful sacrament of penance or reconciliation or confession. The exterior manifestation of the interior disposition towards penance is the confession of ones sins, along with the performance of the penitential works, and the patient bearing of all lifes trials. The penitential works, according to Sacred Scripture, are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Throughout history, people have denied that the Church can forgive sin, that is, they have rejected and denied the reality of this sacrament. The reformers said that sin is forgiven only through baptism. The Montanists and the Donatists said that the Church could forgive venial sin but could not forgive mortal sin. Interestingly, the Church teaches us that the only sins which absolutely must be confessed are the mortal sins. You have some people saying that the Church does not have the authority to forgive serious sin. The spiritual backing for this comes from a couple of different places. We can look, for instance, at Matthew 16 where Jesus says, You are Peter and upon this rock I will build My Church; whatever you hold bound on earth will be held bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Then in Matthew 18, Jesus also extends the ability to forgive sin to all of the apostles, not just to Peter with the binding and loosing, but all the apostles. Most clearly, in John 20 after the Resurrection, Jesus breathes on the apostles and says, Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven, and whose sins you hold bound are held bound. There is the authority for both, to forgive or to refuse forgiveness. We see that God Himself is the One telling us that whatever you hold bound or forgive on earth will be held bound or forgiven in heaven. Therefore, we see that Our Lord Himself invested the apostles with the authority to forgive sins, but again it can also be used to refuse forgiveness. We will address why that would happen further on.
We see that this conferral of power to forgive sins is not a personal gift to the apostles, but rather we believe it was transferred through them to the Church as a permanent institution. All you have to do is think about it and say, If Jesus gave the apostles authority to forgive sin but that authority died with the apostles, the rest of us are up a creek because it means there is no forgiveness of sin. Unless sin ended with the death of the last apostle, there would be no more need to forgive anybody; and we know that is not the case, because we know that we live in the most sinful society the world has ever known. God also said, Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. So we know that His will to forgive and the grace of forgiveness is available to us, but it is a matter of availing ourselves of that grace. The power, then, was transmitted by the apostles to their successors in the same way that the power to say Mass and to preach was passed on to their successors. And it is obvious why. Sin is going to continue for all time; therefore, the forgiveness of sin is necessary for all time.
The only limitation to the Churchs power to forgive sin lies in the heart of the sinner. So why would the Church ever say that your sins are not forgiven? Because you are not repentant, because you are not sorry. Let us say that you came in and chuckled and said, You know what, Father, I just stole something from the store and it was so easy that Im going to go do it again! The priest would say, Youre not sorry, so I cant forgive you. An example that would be more typical is if somebody said, Im living with my boyfriend (or girlfriend) and were fornicating and doing all these things. The priest would say, Okay, you have confessed the sin; are you planning to amend your life? What do you mean? Are you planning on moving out? No. Are you planning on getting married? No. Are you planning on stopping what youre doing? No. Then I cant forgive you. In the Act of Contrition we say, I intend to amend my life, or, I intend to avoid the near occasion of sin, or however it is worded depending on which one you use. There has to be repentance. If there is not repentance, there cannot be forgiveness. It is not because the power to forgive is not there. It is because the will to be forgiven or the disposition to be forgiven is not there. We have to have our hearts open. It is not just a matter of going through the motions of confessing our sin, but we have to intend to change our lives to get things in order. One who truly confesses his sin will receive absolution and forgiveness, but we cannot forgive someone who is not sorry. If there is no sorrow for the sin, there cannot be any absolution.
The sacrament of penance requires three acts on the part of the penitent. There has to be contrition, confession, and satisfaction. Of course, they must also receive absolution from a priest. So what is contrition? Contrition is sincere sorrow for having offended God and hatred for the sins we have committed with a firm purpose of sinning no more. We see, then, that contrition is composed of three acts: sorrow, hatred for sin, and the intention of avoiding sin in the future. Also included in that outside of the confessional is the intention to confess ones sins. Now I need to point out that there are some things you can look at as far as sin goes, and think, Im sorry I did it, but chances of me never doing it again are pretty slim. For instance, you can come to confession and confess being impatient. When you leave the confessional, do I really think you are never going to be impatient again? By the time you get out of the parking lot, you may have fallen into that already. Or maybe you confessed having bad thoughts. It is not a matter that you think you are never going to do it again, but it is the point of saying, I dont want to do it again. My intent is to stay away from it.
If somebody comes in and confesses that they were looking at pornography on the Internet, well, what are we going to do about that? Get rid of the stupid Internet if that is the case. Is it worth losing your soul to have the temptation right there in your living room? No. Sometimes they have trouble and will say, But I need it for work; the company requires that I have it. Then put a filter of some sort on it so you cannot get that filth up there. There are things that can be done to protect yourself if you have to have it. Of course, if you talk to any teenage kid, there are ways around just about everything on the Internet and they know how to get around it, in which case it is better just to get rid of it. Do not put yourself in the occasion of sin. When you have young people who are struggling with impurity, you have to lay things out: Set a curfew for yourself, get out by 11:00, dont go to somebodys apartment and be there all alone, do not go into the bedroom. If you are going to be dating this person, you need to keep yourself out of the occasions of sin. It is some very practical things like that. In our weakness, we know we might fall, but there has to be the intention to try not to fall, to work against that and to try to change our lives.
Going back to contrition, contrition is called true contrition when it is interior, supernatural, supreme, and universal. Interior means it is from the heart, not just simply going through a laundry list of sins that you have really no care about, but you truly are sorry from the heart. It has to be supernatural. That is, it springs from the motives of faith, which is the revealed truths of God. It is supreme, meaning that we hate sin above every other evil, and in fact we would rather suffer greatly than to offend God again. That is something we can all look at and ask ourselves: Do I hate my sins so much that I would rather suffer than offend the Lord? Universal means we have to have sorrow for every mortal sin we have committed. That is true contrition.
Contrition is called perfect contrition when it stems from the motive of the love of God. It is called imperfect contrition when it stems from any good motive which is less than the love of God. If you think about the Act of Contrition, again there are various forms of it, but they will say things like I am sorry for my sins, and I detest them because I dread the loss of heaven and I fear the pains of hell imperfect contrition but MOST OF ALL because they offend Thee, my God perfect contrition. In confession, imperfect contrition is all that is necessary to be forgiven. Outside of the confessional, you must have perfect contrition to be forgiven. In other words, what would happen if you fell into sin today and you said, I cant get to confession until Saturday? This is something to be cautious of because this is one of those practical things that people do all the time and it is one of the devils favorite tricks: You already fell, so go ahead and do it a few more times. After all, youre not going to go to confession till Saturday and youre already in the state of mortal sin, so what difference does it make? Go for it! I always say that if you are pounding a nail and you miss, and hammer your thumb instead, you already did it, so smash it a few more times! You would say, I wouldnt do that! Why not? Because it hurts! It is hurting your soul every time you sin, but just because you do not feel it or see it does not mean it is not happening. In fact, every time we fall into serious sin, we knock ourselves backwards in the spiritual life and we harm ourselves very badly. The further along one is in the spiritual life, the more one will notice it because with literally one sin you could knock yourself back a long way in the spiritual life, sometimes even up to a couple of years. These things have major consequences, and it is not something we want to play around with. So when the devil hops on you and starts playing these little games and says, Youve already sinned once, so live it up until you go to confession, what you need to do is get up and make a perfect act of contrition. A perfect act of contrition will restore you to the state of grace even before you get to confession, which means you can pick up with your prayer life again and you are in the state of grace if something were to happen. But you cannot go to Communion until after you have been to confession because you never know what the state of your soul is. Part of a perfect act of contrition is the intention to confess your sins as soon as reasonably possible. That is what is required, and it is the way to break the devils hold. If you fall, get right back up, make that perfect act of contrition, and get back on track. The old saying is: The difference between a saint and a sinner is that when the sinner falls he stays down and when the saint falls he gets back up. That is what God wants of us, not to kick ourselves around, not to feel sorry for ourselves, not to fall into the devils lies, but to get back up and get back on track. Make that perfect act of contrition and get back on track.
I should also point out another of the devils little games is that when we fall he gets us to kick ourselves. We call ourselves all kinds of names: What an idiot! How stupid! I cant believe I could be such a jerk! He has you doing his work for him. He does not even have to accuse you because you are doing it to yourself. Do not play his game. Just get up and tell God you are sorry. All this stuff about I shouldnt have done that and I should be stronger than that and I should be further along is just pride. All it is is pride because it says, I should be so holy that Im beyond that now. It also says, I can do this all by myself. The humility says, Im weak, and I fell because I tried to do it myself instead of relying on the grace of God. We need to be humble. Sometimes, if our head is getting a little too big, God will allow us to be humbled and we do something idiotic sometimes. It is good for the humility because we think we are saints, and God lets us know that we are not. He has very quick ways of letting us know that. So that is the way we need to learn to handle it.
So when you fall, as I mentioned, do not start calling yourself names. It is a very common thing for people to do, and what you need to do is just cut it off. But the next trick the devil does is that he starts getting you to call yourself names because you were calling yourself names. I cant believe Im such a jerk; I fell again. Oh, no, I cant do that. I cant believe Im such a jerk for calling myself a jerk. Do not play with the devil. Just cut him off and simply say, I fell; I blew it. Then get up, make an act of contrition, and get back on track. That is what the Lord is looking for, and that is what is going to thwart the devil. Humility is what he cannot handle, so that is how you are going to crush his head. You can join with Our Lady in crushing the vile creature. If it is our pride, all we are doing is playing right into his hands. But if we can be humble, then we can overcome it.
When you go to confession, you must confess all mortal sins you have committed since the last time you were at confession, along with the number of times the sin has been committed, and any other information that will change the circumstances. People think that the Church invented confession so the priests can know the dirt of peoples lives. I guarantee that I can think of a lot of better things to do with Saturday afternoons and evenings than to be listening to peoples dirt. That is not the point. The thing with the confession of the number of times is very important. Let us say that you came to confession and said, Forgive me, Father, it has been ten years since my last confession, and Ive stolen things on ten occasions. Is that different from, Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been one week since my last confession and I have stolen things on ten occasions? You see that in one we are dealing with an infrequent problem, and with the other we are dealing with quite a major problem. If you just come in and say, I stole. Does that mean you stole one thing? Does that mean you stole a hundred things? Does that mean you stole something very small? Or are we talking about something very large? What are we talking about? That is pertinent information. You do not need to explain your sins; that is not why you are there. You are there to confess your sins, not to explain them, but you need to make sure the priest understands what it is you are confessing. If you have committed mortal sin, he needs to know how many times you have done it. We will talk later about how people try to hide what their sins are. People are funny in the confessional, so Ill tell you a few stories about some of that; obviously not violating the seal in any way, but just to show you what people do.
Venial sins (these would be the smaller sins) do not have to be confessed. However, it is a good practice. Venial sins are actually forgiven at the beginning of Mass at the Penitential Rite. They are also forgiven in the reception of Holy Communion, which is why they do not have to be confessed. However, it is a very good practice to do so. A venial sin is an offense against God, but it is less serious than a mortal sin and does not separate us from the love of God. The term mortal sin implies that the love of God is dead within us at that point. We lose the theological virtue of charity and the relationship with God is broken. With a venial sin, it is more like having a cold as opposed to being dead. It is still not good, you do not feel well, but at least the love of God is still there and you can grow in the spiritual life.
From experience, I can tell you that although venial sins and imperfections are forgiven at the beginning of Mass and when you receive Communion, when you go to confession there is a huge difference that you can feel and see in your life. The grace that you receive from that sacrament is very powerful and very helpful for growth in the spiritual life. The other thing is not to wait until you are in the state of mortal sin to go to confession; otherwise, it is going to happen. If you say, Well, I havent committed a mortal sin so I dont need to go, that is true; you do not have to. But if you wait until you commit a mortal sin, eventually you will. It is a lot better to get there long before that so you do not get yourself into trouble with mortal sin. If you are accustomed to going to confession regularly and dealing with the small things, chances are you are not going to fall into something big.
A sin can be venial either because the matter, that is, the sin itself, the action, is less serious, or because there is a lack of knowledge or a lack of freedom. For a sin to be mortal, there are three things that are necessary. It has to be serious, you have to know it is a mortal sin, and you have to make a free act of the will to do it. For instance, when you look through the Examination of Conscience booklet and go down the list and say, I never knew that was a serious sin, then you are not guilty of having committed a serious sin. However, if you do it again tomorrow, you cannot say that you did not know. Then you are guilty of a mortal sin. And it has to be freely willed. People come into confession and say things like I had an impure dream. I will say, Thats not a sin. But, Father, it was really horrible. I understand that. It was a dream; it was not a freely willed thing. It may be that what you were dreaming about was really bad, and it may be that you even know that junk is bad, but you did not make a free act of the will to do it. That is where the difference comes. All three conditions have to be there simultaneously. If you find out tonight that something you did ten years ago is actually a mortal sin, that does not put you into the state of mortal sin tonight because you did not know then. If you do it from this point forward then it becomes a mortal sin.
The benefits of confessing a venial sin are that we receive the sacramental grace, we grow in humility, and we become more aware of the evil of sin. We receive a lot of very good stuff. If all you have are small things, little venial sins and imperfections, if you get to confession it makes such a huge difference in the way you are going to be living your life and how it affects you. It is very powerful.
That having been said, let us look at some of the practicalities of it. When we think about confession, this is the one sacrament that people seem to have trouble with. God gave us seven sacraments, and all of them are beautiful. We think six of them are good and one is bad. It is not true. We do not have a problem bringing our babies to baptize them. We like the idea of having our wedding at the church. We dont have a problem with all the others, but when it comes time to go to confession we say, Oh, I dont need to do that. No, I can just lay on my bed and talk to God. He knows that Im sorry. I dont need to confess my sins to a man. On and on the excuses go. Let us debunk a few of these things.
The biggest problem most of us face when we think about going to confession is What will the priest think if I tell him the worst thing Ive ever done? Isnt that what goes through our mind? Whats this guy going to think? Well, we really need to look a little more carefully at that. I think the real problem is that none of us really wants to face ourselves with the truth of what we are actually capable of doing. We do not like to admit to ourselves that we have done something so horrible, and we do not even like to think that we are capable of it. But Saint Augustine said sixteen hundred years ago: Whatever anybody else is capable of, so am I. And as he very famously said, Were it not for the grace of God, there go I. We know that we could fall into the worst possible sin. You can point your finger at somebody else and say, How thankful I am that I never did what that person did. But that does not mean we couldnt have. The capacity for it is there, and we all know it. We know that we could fall so easily, and we do not like to admit that we would have the ability to do that, or that we actually would have done it.
But in case we want to look at it the other way and we say, Whats Father going to think if I tell him; whats he going to do, let me point out a few things for you. First of all, any priest who has been ordained six months or longer has heard just about everything there is to hear. So whatever you tell him is not going to shock him. We have to learn what we call eyebrow control. We are not going to make weird faces at you and gasp. The priest will be able to sit there and deal with what you bring up. I used to say that I could not think of anything I had not heard, and that is true. I cannot think of anything I have not heard. But once every two years, someone thinks of something I never thought of. And so, every once in a while something comes up that I have never ever thought of in my life; but for the most part, there is nothing that comes up which is out of the ordinary. No matter what it is, the priest has heard it, unless it is something really strange. Even so, you are not going to shock him. After hearing hundreds in fact thousands of confessions, when you think about it, no matter what you are going to confess it is not going to bother the priest a whole lot. He has heard pretty much everything, and literally everything. When you look down the list of all the sins, when you think about the absolute worst things you could possibly think of, I have heard it all, no matter what it is. More than likely, you have not done a lot of those things, and so you do not need to worry about what the priest is going to think.
Number two, the bigger the sin, the more the priest is going to rejoice. That does not mean go out and do something really big so you can make some priest really happy about the fact that you are in confession. That is not the point. By the way, the same thing holds true the longer you have been away from confession. The longer you have been away, the more the priest is going to rejoice that you are back. Once again, that does not mean put it off another ten years because that will make the priest even happier when you come back. If you have been away for a while, it takes a long time to get the courage up to come. People get here and get into line, and then they leave. They come back, get into the line, and get a little closer to the confessional this time before they leave. Then they try it again and get right up to the front, and then they leave. Finally, they make their way into the confessional after weeks or months of this and they can finally confess their sins. You can see what is going on. The devil is playing on their fear and getting them terrified. There really is not anything to be afraid of. If you could see what is happening on the other side, it is not that we are losing our eyebrow control, but when somebody comes in and says, Its been a long time since my last confession, that just makes the day for the priest. And no matter how long it has been, I do not think you are going to outdo the longest one I have heard so far. When I sat down with this particular person, the individual began by saying, Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been 78 years since my last confession. I had to fight back the tears as I was dealing with this person. It was one of the happiest things, to know that there was somebody who had been away from God for so long and now was being reconciled. That is what the joy is about. The priest is not happy that you went out and committed a big sin, and is certainly not falling into Martin Luthers problem: If youre going to sin, sin boldly. That is not the point. The point is that the people who have the bigger sins need the confessional all the more. Jesus said there is more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine righteous people. So I will sit there all afternoon and hear all kinds of venial sins and imperfections for that one person who is going to come in with some big stuff, and it makes it all worthwhile. The people who are really striving to grow in their spiritual life, they need the confessional too, even though they are not committing any big sins. But the ones who really need it are the ones who have the trouble with sin, the ones who have fallen away from their faith and are struggling to try to come back. The point of this is that you do not need to be afraid. The priest is not there to yell at you and he is not there to judge you. He is there to forgive you. That is a beautiful thing.
Another practical point, and this is something you would not know and you might not even believe me when I tell you this unless you have the opportunity to do it, but I remember asking a priest one day when I was in the seminary, Father, how long do you remember the sins of the people? He said, Well, by the time you leave the confessional, Ive forgotten everything. I said, Yeah, right. But he was telling the truth. By the time you are out the door, it is gone. That is purely the grace and mercy of God. Let me explain practically to you why. Remember that the priest can say nothing about the sins that are confessed in the confessional. We cannot talk to other priests about it; we cannot talk to anybody about it. Imagine if I had all that stuff floating around in my head. I would be in a loony bin. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, what if I got mixed up? What if you came in and confessed that you had been angry at somebody and maybe you cut somebody off on the road and told a little white lie and I got mixed up with the person before you and said, Now about that adultery ? You would say, I didnt commit adultery what are you talking about? Oops, sorry. That was Victoria. It would not be a good thing. So what God does in His mercy is as soon as the absolution is given, the sin is gone. It is gone off of your soul and it is gone out of my mind as well. It is gone forever.
I found that there are a couple of exceptions to that. Sometimes, and this is very rare, s God will bring things back for the purpose of helping the person. For instance, there are times when people come into confession and if I see them I will not remember what their sins were; but all of a sudden this thing will come up and Ill say, You know, the last time you were here you confessed this, and the time before that you confessed this. Look at the pattern that is here. Once in a very great while God will bring something like that up solely for the sake of helping the person, and then it is gone. It is not like the priest is remembering anything. Even with that, you might wonder, What if the priest recognizes my voice? What if I go to face-to-face confession, what is the priest going to think if I see him out on the street? Actually, the priest will have more respect for you after you leave the confessional than he did before you came into the confessional. The reason for that is several fold, but primarily it is the matter that when he sees you he is not going to look at you and say, Oh, youre the one who did this and this and this. No. You are the person who cared enough about your relationship with God to want to be reconciled. If he remembers anything, that is all it is going to be. But the sins are gone. Not only are they gone from your soul, as I said, but they are gone from the priests mind. Literally, by the time you are out the door, the sins are gone forever, thanks be to God.
The point I just made about the priest having more respect for you after you leave than when you came in, why is that? First of all, you were honest with yourself. Second, you were honest with God. Third, you trusted that priest enough and made yourself vulnerable before him to tell him your sins. When that happens, he cannot help but have his heart go out to you. Just ask yourself: What would I do if one of my kids came to me and said, Mom (or Dad), I have a problem; I need some help, and they went on to admit what they did, which was pretty stupid? Are you going to pull out the rolling pin and beat them over the head? No, because they have come to you humbly and asked for help. Your heart goes out to them. You are not happy about what they did, but you are elated that they came to you. I cannot tell you how many parents have told me that one of the most painful things in their life is that their kids will not talk to them and will not tell them what is going on in their life. That just destroys the parents because their kids are afraid of what the parents are going to do, or whatever it might be. Who knows why they are not talking to them, but it is very devastating for a parent. We call a priest Father for a reason. He is a father of a spiritual family, and part of what we need to be able to do is come and confess our sins. We priests do not fly off the handle; we have to reach out in love. That is what happens in the confessional.
And it does not matter what your sin is. It does not matter how big it is. It does not matter how bad it is. There was one particular sin that I was really concerned about what I would do if somebody came in and confessed this thing. So God, with His infinite sense of humor, allows what to happen? First day that I am sitting in the confessional, boom, there it is. Oh, no! But it was not a problem. He just took care of it, and He put me at ease. Then I did not have to worry about what might happen if somebody ever confessed that, because I could see that God was going to take care of it. It was not just me sitting there dealing with this all by myself; it was God who was there working through me and in the heart of that person. That is a very powerful thing.
There is a little story I can tell you about something that happened many years ago. Somebody came into confession and they confessed something that I had, like I said, never even thought of before. It was pretty obvious what needed to be addressed and I had absolutely no clue what to say to this person, absolutely no idea. I sat back and all of a sudden stuff started coming out of my mouth, and it was pretty profound. It did not come through my brain. I sat there listening to myself talking to this individual, thinking, I need to remember this in case anything like this is ever confessed again. Well, as soon as the person was gone, not only could I not remember what the sin was that they had confessed, but I could not remember a word that came out of my mouth. It was not for me; it was for that person. I realized on that particular day that if both the priest and the penitent are there for the right reason, the right intent, miracles happen, miracles beyond the obvious one that your sins are forgiven. You can see the way God works in the sacrament. It is very profound. I have talked to priests who would gave Scripture readings for penance, so maybe the person comes in and confesses the sin and the priest says, For your penance, I want you to read from Matthew 3, and the person leaves and then the priest thinks, Rats! I wanted them to read John 3 not Matthew 3. The person comes back the next week and says, Father, I just want to thank you so much for telling me to read Luke 8 it was perfect. I know I didnt tell you to read Luke 8. But that is what happens. The priest was not trying to tell the person something wrong, but God knew what the person needed. What they heard the priest say and what the priest actually said were two entirely different things. Again, you see the kinds of things that God is going to do in that sacrament. There are profound things that happen. People have told me the same thing: Oh, Father, that counsel you gave me when you told me this And Ill say, I never told you that. I know I never said that, but that is what God said to them because that is what they heard, even though it did not come out of my mouth; unless God just put me out for a while and did something I was not aware that He was doing. But that is the kind of thing that can happen in the confessional. Very, very profound things if we have the right disposition.
Remember that in the confessional the priest is not there to condemn you. He is not there to judge you. He is not there to yell at you. Understand that you have already judged yourself. You would not be there if you had not judged yourself to be a sinner. I do not need to tell you that you are a sinner because you are the one telling me. Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. You are already announcing the fact that you are a sinner, so you do not need me to sit there and say, You know what, youre a sinner. No. What good is that going to do? The priest is not there to make any kind of negative judgment about you. We have to sit as the judge, the Church teaches us, and the judge in the sense of making the determination whether or not this person is truly sorry for their sins. That is the only judgment we can try to make. I am not there to judge you, and I am certainly not there to condemn you. The most beautiful thing about this is for the priest is that he is there to forgive you. What an incredible gift from God! All you have to do is think about this for a second. I have oftentimes found myself wishing as I teach this class that just for one confession each of you would have the opportunity to sit in the priests chair. Just one. That is all it would take. Of course, it is not going to happen, but if you had that opportunity, ask yourself what you would do. Would you bust your fist through the screen and grab the person by the neck and throttle them? Would you scream and yell and holler at them? Would you call them names? Would you tell them that you are not going to forgive them? No. When you are sitting there as the one to whom people are coming to confess their sins, your heart goes out to them and all you can do is love them. That is what the priest is there to do, to bring the love and mercy of God to His people, not to condemn them and yell at them.
Unfortunately, there are some priests who have bad days and maybe scream at somebody every once in a while. There was a priest many years ago at the neighboring Basilica, he was the pastor there, and this guy was as tough as nails. There are loads of stories still going around about this guy 50 years after his death. Anyway, Monsignor was telling me that one day when he was just a young priest he was over there to help with confessions during Holy Week. He got there about ten minutes early. They were going to rotate the priests at a certain time, and he noticed that there were lines at all the confessionals throughout the church except for this one priest. Well, this man comes in and walks into the confessional. Monsignor thought, Im just going to stand right here by the pillar, and when this guy comes out of the confessional, Im going to ask him what its like going to confession with this priest. So the guy comes out of the confessional and Monsignor says, I dont want you to divulge anything of your confession. If you dont want to answer this, dont worry. But whats it like going to confession with this priest? The man says, Oh, man! He chews you up one side and down the other and he screams and yells and hollers at you! And Monsignor asked, Did you know that before you went in? He said, Oh, yeah. Well, why did you go? Oh, I go to him once a year because when youre done you really feel like you got cleaned out! If that is what you want, I guess that is up to you. I would not recommend it. That is not what I would want going to confession. At any rate, there are different people who have different ideas of what they need, but that is not what the priest is there to do. He is not there to yell at you. Maybe he needs to give you some counsel. He might need to challenge you on some things. But he is not there to judge or yell or condemn. He is there to forgive.
I can tell you from experience, the single most difficult thing I have ever had to do as a priest is to tell somebody that I cannot give them absolution. It just tears my heart out to say, Im sorry, I cannot forgive you. And it is because they are not sorry, because they do not intend to amend their lives. You try every possible way to see if you can find some way that you can give them absolution, but when there just is not any possible thing that the person is willing to do to try to make a change in their life, you are stuck. From a priests perspective, I think that is the most difficult thing I have had to do as a priest, to tell people that I cannot give them absolution. You are there to forgive; that is what it is about. And when you cannot, it is really painful. It is very hard. All of that is simply to say, Do not be afraid. The priest is there to bring the mercy of God to you, not to bring condemnation. That is the devils work, and that is not what the Lord wants.
[End of Lesson 19]
Lesson 19: Confession (Part 1) BY FATHER ALTIER PING!
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Lesson 19: Confession (Part 1) BY FATHER ALTIER BUMP
FUNDAMENTALS OF CATHOLICISM BUMP
THE SACRAMENT OF CONFESSION BUMP
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