Confession is a gift to yourself – use it frequently

By William Sockey –

In the Old Testament, repentant sinners could only pray to God for forgiveness of their sins and hope that they were forgiven. Many Christians today believe this is the only way to obtain forgiveness for sins: pray and hope.

Jesus knew that it is better for us to confess our sins to someone, to have that personal encounter of forgiveness with someone who has the power and authority to say the words, “Your sins are forgiven.” Therefore, He gave that power and authority to the Twelve Apostles. Jesus gave the first charism of the Holy Spirit to the Church, when He appeared to the apostles after the Resurrection, breathed on them and said, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (Jn 20:22-23).

This was a great gift. We are no longer limited to the hope of forgiveness, but through faith, we have the certitude of forgiveness, provided we admit to our sins and have a firm purpose of amendment. There is tremendous comfort in knowing that, no matter how grievous our sins, we can confess them to a priest who has the power to forgive them in Jesus’ name.

Jesus didn’t give this power to everyone in the Church. He didn’t give it to the 72 disciples. He gave it to his Twelve Apostles, the first bishops of the Church. He also gave the apostles the authority and responsibility to pass this on to their successors, the bishops and priests of the Church. Today, those who have received the authority to forgive sins in Jesus’ name include all Catholic priests and bishops and Eastern Orthodox priests and bishops. The power comes from apostolic succession, not from one’s position of leadership in a church community.

There is a certain tension between the terms “sacrament of confession” and “sacrament of reconciliation.” Reconciliation conveys the notion that a relationship has been broken; confession simply that one admits to an offense. Anyone who has committed a mortal sin needs to be reconciled with God. Baptism accomplishes this for those entering the Church. After baptism, the sacrament of reconciliation is the way Jesus provided for reestablishing a good relationship with God. But the sacrament is also for confessing one’s sins, even venial sins that don’t break our relationship with God, and receiving forgiveness and the grace to grow in holiness.

Spiritual teachers of the Church have always advised frequent confession. The holy priest, Fr. Walter Ciszek, S.J., said once a month is best, and “if you go more than six weeks, you are fooling yourself.” We need to constantly remind ourselves of our sinfulness, even venial sinfulness, in order to prevent our sins from becoming ingrained habits. Jesus told us to be perfect, not just “good enough.” Nobody will be good enough until we get to heaven!

Confession is a powerful way to break bad habits. We all have them. Am I constantly in a bad mood and let others suffer for it? Do I have a habit of making sarcastic remarks that hurt people’s feelings? Do I waste time on the internet surfing, playing video games or watching television more than is reasonable? If you have bad habits that you wish you could break, start by confessing them. Even habits of smoking, drinking or eating to excess that are harmful to your body should be brought to confession. Psychologically, honestly admitting bad habits over and over to someone else, helps one make a firm purpose of amendment. ‘No excuses! I have sinned!’ Spiritually, through the sacrament of confession and reconciliation, God provides the grace to overcome them. With particularly ingrained bad habits, we should add Holy Communion, daily if necessary, for the added grace. In order to break mortal sins that are habitual, more frequent confession along with daily Holy Communion, is vital.

It is a very good practice to schedule monthly confession for the First Saturday of the month, and offer it as reparation for sins against the Immaculate Heart of Mary, as Our Lady of Fatima requested. That way our confession is also the means for converting sinners, saving souls and bringing peace to the world, even if we can’t offer the complete First Saturday devotion or have already completed the Five First Saturdays.



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