Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost—10 August AD 2008
On Confession

“Go and show yourselves to the priests.”

Ordinary of the Mass
English Text
Latin Text

    The Old Testament understanding of leprosy was that it was a punishment for sins. So, when our Lord cured the ten lepers of their disease, he sent them to the Jewish priests, who would have to certify that they were free of the disease. Under the Mosaic Law, the priests were the ones empowered to decree the forgiveness of sins, because they were the ones who offered the sacrifices for the people to God.

    In the Christian dispensation, it is the same. The priest who offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, in union with Christ, to God the Father, is the one empowered to forgive sins. It is an essential part of the priesthood—not something added on as an “afterthought.”  The Apostles, made priests at the Last Supper, were specifically given the power to forgive sins (or not) on Easter Sunday.  “Receive the Holy Ghost.  Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them.  And whose sins you shall retain, they are retained” {John xx: 22-23).  Likewise, when a man is ordained priest, the bishop lays hands on him twice—once to confer the Sacrament, and a second time, with the very same words spoken by our Lord, to make it clear that the new priest has the power to forgive sins.

    I had a conversation recently with a young woman—about 25—fairly well educated—and raised in a traditional Catholic home. I was bothered by what she didn't know about the Sacrament of Confession, even though her background would indicate that she should have had a good understanding of it. I thought it might be good to share with you some of the things I told her.

    Perhaps the most important thing to understand is that the Church does not condemn sinners—It doesn't have any hatred for them—It doesn't wish the punishments of hell on them. Quite the contrary, any strong words the Church may have for sinners are intended to bring them back into full union with Christ and His Church through the repentance of their sins. As is often said, “We must hate sin, but love the sinner.” The priest’s primary intention should always be the restoration of sanctifying grace.

    After all, this is precisely the attitude of God Himself. He was grievously offended by the sin of Adam and Eve, yet He continued to love them. In fact, He loved them to the degree of sending His own Son Jesus Christ into the world to take the sins of the world upon His own shoulders, and to forgive us.

    Through the Sacrifice of the Cross and its renewal in the Sacrifice of the Mass, all of mankind is redeemed. That is, all mankind has been made capable of receiving God’s graces—made capable of repentance and of receiving forgiveness. The normal way individuals are forgiven of their sins is first through Baptism, and then through Sacramental Confession if they sin after Baptism.

    But is important to understand that the Sacrament does much more than just provide for those who have sinned seriously. This is important, in that we should not think of it as a Sacrament to be received only on those (hopefully) rare times when we commit mortal sin. It ought to be received much more regularly—weekly, or at least monthly. The Sacrament of Confession should be viewed as a means for drawing closer to Christ, and becoming more perfect in our spiritual life.

    In order for this to be, we should make a regular examination of conscience. Usually, that means that before we say our night prayers, we should review the events of the day and ask ourselves what we did wrong, what we failed to do, and what we could do better. We might make a quick review of the Commandments, the Precepts of the Church, and the various virtues. We should be able to identify specific failings; not just tendencies. Such an examination, made every day, will enable us to make a concise, accurate, and sincere Confession at the end of a week or a month. We will be conscious of those serious sins, which must be confessed, and also of those lesser problems which we can confess and make an effort to change before they become serious.

    A careful examination will aid our humility, as we learn to admit to ourselves and to the priest that we are not perfect: “I am a sinner, Father, I have done A, B, C, and D.”

    We should remember that Confession is not simply the means of having our sins forgiven. Like all of the Sacraments, it also imparts grace. And this positive aspect is at least as important as the negative. The Sacrament imparts Sanctifying Grace, which essentially is to say that it restores or strengthens the life of God dwelling in our soul—makes us more nearly perfect temples of the Holy Ghost. As do all Sacraments, Confession also imparts Actual Graces—in this case, it aids us to resist sin in the future, and to return to receive it often.

    All too often, people are ungrateful for their spiritual gifts. There were ten people healed of leprosy, but only one came back to thank out Lord. He is the one that we want to imitate in connection with this Sacrament of Confession often certainly, we want to have our sins removed—but we should also want to keep coming back, so that we can become more and more perfect. We need to come back regularly, until the day our Lord admits us to heaven and tells us, as He told this Samaritan, “thy faith has made thee whole.”




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