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Our readers asked:

Why should I go to confession? Doesn’t God already know that I’m sorry for my sins?

Fr. Joe Answers:

Certainly God knows when we are sorry for our sins. And since God’s only relationship with us is one of unconditional love, whenever we turn to God with a sincere sorrow for sin and a desire to make a new beginning, God is there to meet us with forgiveness.

As human beings, however, we may need a more concrete way of experiencing God’s love for us. A person who loves us might show his or her love by making time for us, writing us a note, treating us to a special meal, or buying us a gift. We may already know that our friend cares for us, but the concrete attention is a confirmation and reassurance that human love requires. We Catholics believe that God has given us the sacraments as a way of showing that we are receiving the gift of his love in very real and down-to-earth ways.

One of these sacraments is the sacrament of Reconciliation, more popularly known as “confession.” Reconciliation is a more accurate name, since the purpose of the Sacrament is to provide those of us who celebrate it with a tangible experience of God’s forgiveness and our reconciliation with the church.

There are other ways that we celebrate God’s forgiving power at work in our lives. Each Mass begins with a “Rite of Penance” where we pray for God’s mercy and then are assured that God’s mercy and forgiveness are present to us. The Mass itself is a Sacrament which conveys God’s forgiveness. Many parishes offer “Communal” celebrations of Reconciliation which may or may not include an opportunity for individual confession. When we have sinned, one of these forms of experiencing God’s forgiveness may well serve to heal us and restore us to our union with the church and to an awareness of God’s grace at work in our lives.

There are times in our lives, however, when we may freely and deliberately chose to separate ourselves from God’s love by committing an act that is seriously evil. In such a case, when we have definitely cut ourselves off from God and the church, a more definite reconciliation with the church is appropriate. The church asks that we make an individual confession of our sins to a priest (representing the Holy Spirit present in the community of the church) in case of serious sin. More importantly, whenever we commit such a sin we will likely feel the need to confess it and won’t feel completely comfortable until we do. And when we do confess, we often feel a tremendous sense of relief and joy.

Individual confession and celebration of the sacrament of Reconciliation can be of great value even when we have not committed a serious sin. It is a way of taking an honest look at our own lives and “taking inventory” of our relationship with God. “Naming” the tendencies or habits that cause us to drift from that relationship may be the beginning of a process of our re-centering our thoughts and actions on God.

The priest is present in the confessional NOT to punish or get angry at the person confessing but ONLY to be a concrete, tangible sign of God’s forgiveness. Anyone who has a bad experience with a priest in confession is well within his or her rights to get up and walk out, because that priest is misusing his role. The sacrament of Reconciliation should be first and beyond all else a joyful celebration of God’s forgiving and merciful love for us.

 
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The Author : Fr. Joe
Fr. Joe Scott, CSP, has been a campus minister, pastor and editor as a Paulist priest.
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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.
  • david

    there was a new priest at my church today, and he talked about how so many Catholics today have become so complacent with our lives and how especially during lent we need to go to confession. Often we get to a point when we feel we are good with the person we have become and don’t need to go to confession. It has been probably 10 years if not longer since I’ve been to confession. HELP. I need some advice on how to truly reflect on my sins. I am the person the priest talked about. I do need to go to confession, but how do I truly stop, and reflect on the life God wants me to live. I can say… I go to church on Sunday. Have there been times I’ve missed, yes, but not a lot. I pray the rosary on my way to work every morning, I find peace with my relationship with God, BUT I know I need to go, and I know I am not perfect. How to I search my soul? Where do I begin?

  • Helen

    Phil, I couldn’t have said it better myself. Catherine, please don’t be afraid. I was down that path myself many years ago, and was terrified to go to confession, yet I, too, still felt “dirty” and “bad”. Of course this is not the case, and God has already forgiven you. But go, anyway, because you will truly feel forgiven and able to go on with your life. What a great relief to be reconciled with the Lord who loves you above all, and to be reconciled with the church. I would not receive communion during that time, and that, too, was killing me. I longed to receive Jesus’ body and blood, but wouldn’t. That was many years ago, now, and I am in such a different place in my life. You don’t have to do face-to-face, they still have the screen. It’s ok. Do not be afraid. God loves you, and the priest is there to pull you out of the darkness, not to make you feel shameful or guilty, but rather to free you from it. Please do this for yourself and for God, and then move on with your life, putting those sins behind you. Remember, you are human, and certainly not the first from which the priest has heard these things (and worse!!!) from. God bless you and you will be in my prayers!!!

  • Phil Fox Rose

    Catherine, I know the step of telling someone else can seem so formidable, but it is by keeping it a secret that you are letting it continue to harm you. Secrets fester. Bring it into the light. What you are experiencing, as you continue to hide this, is a disconnection from that of God in you. You are in conflict with your own conscience, as you said. Confession is called Reconciliation because it brings you back into relationship with God, and with that of God in you. It would be wonderful if you have a priest you feel particularly close with to see about it, but if that’s not the case, or if you simply can’t bring yourself to tell someone who knows you, consider going to a priest you don’t know at all.

  • Catherine

    I fell away from God a few months ago, by hanging out with the wrong crowd. I went down a path of destruction. Tried drugs, premaritial sex, stopped going to church. For 3 months now, I have changed. I have gone to church every weekend, made new friends. However, one thing is killing me right now, my conscience. I am so sorry for what i did to God. I am so embaressed and ashamed. I cry all the time about it. I can’t forgive myself for what i did. I don’t want to go to a priest because i feel like i will be judged. I don’t want him to know what i did. I prayed to God for forgiveness, but i don’t feel cleansed. i still feel dirty and for my mistakes. I don’t know how to make my conscience stop..

  • Mike Hayes

    Arnie,
    I’m not sure how that sentence reads “relativism” in your mind, but keep in mind that many readers here are not Catholic, but rather exploring their connection to a faith tradition. The point that Fr Joe makes is that sacraments are tangible signs that we use to show how much God loves us and that that love isn’t amorphous and distant but rather it is real and can be felt in the here and now.

  • Arnie

    Above, it was written, “We Catholics believe that God has given us the sacraments as a way of showing that we are receiving”

    Why is it written like we’re relativists! We must embrace and believe it is the universal truth. Rather…

    “God has given us the sacraments as a way of showing that we are receiving…”

  • Steve

    John 20:21-22… The first thing Jesus says to the Apostles on Easter!

    Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

  • Matthew

    I don’t think you should go. Confession is a practice invented by man, not God. Confess your sins to God, not man.

  • Theresa

    To prepare yourself for confession takes time and reflection. Without the Sacrament, most people may feel sorry, but they don’t sit down and adequately reflect on how they have been disobedient and on how merciful God is. When you have to reflect, it will be a much more real act of contrition, lest one falls into the “sin of presumption” also. It is easy to say, “God loves me and forgives me”, but He gave us confession so we can show are love for Him, too, so we will not be presumptive. He wants us to experience His Mercy throught the persona Christi of the Priest. More could be said.

  • Xavier

    I always thought of the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a most touching testament of Jesus’ love for us. Of course, God’s forgiveness cannot be limited to one only way of deliverance, and I believe that we are instantly forgiven the moment we are truly sorry for our sin. The problem –with me, at least– is that is sometimes not easy to know if I’m truly sorry. But there I have this amazing gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, through which I can be certain of God’s forgiveness. He guarantees it. He promised it.

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