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Caitlin Kennell Kim
Fr. Rick Malloy, SJ
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Fr. Tom Ryan, CSP
Ecumenical, Interfaith
Neela Kale
Culture, Moral Theology
Ann Naffziger, M.A., M.Div.
Mike Hayes
Our readers asked:

Why Don’t All Religions Have Confession?

Thomas Ryan, CSP Answers:

If by “confession” you mean acknowledgement of wrongdoing and seeking of forgiveness, other religions do have confession. In Judaism, for example, it’s called Teshuva or “repentance”, apology, return, going back to who you are meant to be. Teshuva is the gesture of returning to God, of letting go of your arrogance, your waywardness, your sinfulness and going back to your ultimate Source. It represents the possibility that even the most degenerate sinner can be reunited with God. Teshuvah is the dominant theme during the ten days between Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year, a day of awakening) and Yom Kippur (the day of Atonement and asking forgiveness) in the early Fall.

I was talking with a Muslim teacher last week, and he, too, was sharing how, when a Muslim sins, there must be an acknowledgement of wrongdoing, a spirit of repentance, and the person must ask God for forgiveness and trust that it is given. Repentance for sin is part of what Muslims are expressing during their month-long fast of Ramadan.

What you don’t find, however, is a “middleman” such as the priest-confessor in the sacrament of reconciliation. Why does Catholicism offer this? Because it’s an incarnational faith. Given the defining event we celebrate at Christmas–the Incarnation/enfleshment of God–the enfleshment of grace is a profound theme that emanates throughout all of Catholic spirituality and finds concrete expression in the sacraments. We are initiated into the divine life through baptism/water. We are strengthened in our faith in confirmation as oil is rubbed upon our heads. We draw closer to God week by week through the consecrated bread and wine of holy communion.

And similarly, when we confess our sins, God wants us to know that our offenses are forgiven by letting our ears actually hear the words for which our hearts long: “I absolve you from all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Go in peace.”

The incarnation of God in a historical person who gave his life to set us free from our sins is an article of faith that is unique to Christians. Jesus is our mediator. The presence of a “middle-man”, a mediator, in the Catholic way of seeking forgiveness of sin, therefore, is totally consistent with our conviction of faith that God’s grace to us is mediated in visual, audible, palpable ways.

The Author : Thomas Ryan, CSP
Fr. Tom Ryan, CSP, directs the Paulist North American Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations in Washington, D.C.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Marissa

    God doesn’t hate liars, murders, thieves, homosexuals, gossiped…He hates sin. God made us in His likeness. God’s nature is love. His greatest command is love, not for you or anyone else to be condemn. Read about Sodom & Gomorrah in the Bible. Don’t be mislead by folks telling you that homosexuality is ok. Know God and His love for yourself. I challenge you to read the Holy Bible, pray and ask God to show you if homosexuality is a sin. Be real with God. Talk to him like you’d talk to your best friend. He’ll is real & I want you to know God for real and not be mislead. I challenge you to read and pray for 30 days. If the God I’m speaking of is real, you won’t have to keep confessing to man, but to the true Father God who loves you dearly. He’ll never hate you because that’s not his nature. If you don’t believe me…I understand, but God is more real than you think. Trust Him. God Bless you!

  • Hazard

    That really helped me, thanks

  • Mike

    I think it’s probably also worth noting that nearly all mainline Protestant churches also make provision for the reconciliation of penitents. Though it’s not considered a sacrament, obviously.

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