I was raised in a protestant church but have always felt drawn toward Catholicism and for the past two years I have began studying the teachings and gathering information about RCIA classes. I have one major stumbling block though; the need to confess one’s sins to a priest. While studying this, I feel like I have found many more passages saying that only God can forgive sins and that there is only one mediator between us and God - Jesus Christ. My other problem is with John 20:23, as when I bring this up, many people quote the “if you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven” but don’t include the second half of the verse, that if you don’t forgive the sins of some then they are not forgiven. But what about in Mt 6: 15 were we are told that if we do not forgive the sins of others, our father will not forgive our sins?
After being thoroughly confused and seeming to get no where in my research, I sat down with a priest and told him that I would not feel comfortable converting when I can not say that I fully believe this practice. He basically said that no Catholics believe everything and that I don’t have to understand or agree with it, but just do it. Then he spent the rest of the meeting trying to set me up with his Nephew (pulling up pictures on facebook, giving me his phone number…) which was just awkward.
A friend recommended reading some of Scott Hahn’s works (I’m currently working my way though Catholic for a Reason III) and was told that he has one specifically on the healing power of confession.
Can anyone help me with this? I do think that needing to go and speak to someone about your sins will help you not repeat them and feel truly sorry for them, but I don’t know why it has to be a priest and why he has the power to FORGIVE. I would be much more open to the idea if confession was encouraged because it strengthens one’s relationship with God and community and the priest was seen as a mentor and helper instead of someone who can actually forgive your sins.
Sorry this was so long, but any help would be appreciated!
I would offer you these excerpts from the Catholic Catechism for some study. After that may you could refine your question some.
Catholics believe that sacraments were instituted by Christ and are efficacious. Confronting our sins by confessing them to another requires a more deliberate action and is also theraputic. In his role as confessor the priest is acting on Jesus’ behalf and through the power he received at the sacrament of ordination can forgive sins as well as provide council for the growth in holiness God expects of us.
[quote=CCC, 553]Jesus entrusted a specific authority to Peter: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."287 The “power of the keys” designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, confirmed this mandate after his Resurrection: "Feed my sheep."288 The power to “bind and loose” connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgements, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church. Jesus entrusted this authority to the Church through the ministry of the apostles289 and in particular through the ministry of Peter, the only one to whom he specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom.
[quote=CCC, 1421]The Lord Jesus Christ, physician of our souls and bodies, who forgave the sins of the paralytic and restored him to bodily health,3 has willed that his Church continue, in the power of the Holy Spirit, his work of healing and salvation, even among her own members. This is the purpose of the two sacraments of healing: the sacrament of Penance and the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.
[quote=CCC, 1468]"The whole power of the sacrament of Penance consists in restoring us to God’s grace and joining us with him in an intimate friendship."73 Reconciliation with God is thus the purpose and effect of this sacrament. For those who receive the sacrament of Penance with contrite heart and religious disposition, reconciliation "is usually followed by peace and serenity of conscience with strong spiritual consolation."74 Indeed the sacrament of Reconciliation with God brings about a true “spiritual resurrection,” restoration of the dignity and blessings of the life of the children of God, of which the most precious is friendship with God.75
[quote=CCC, 1536]Holy Orders is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time: thus it is the sacrament of apostolic ministry. It includes three degrees: episcopate, presbyterate, and diaconate.
[quote=CCC, 1446]Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance for all sinful members of his Church: above all for those who, since Baptism, have fallen into grave sin, and have thus lost their baptismal grace and wounded ecclesial communion. It is to them that the sacrament of Penance offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification. The Fathers of the Church present this sacrament as "the second plank [of salvation] after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace."47
Hi David, thanks so much for the very detailed reply! I appreciate you quoting all of those sections.
I don’t think I made myself very clear. I really do think confession needs to be necessary (growing up Protestant, it was basically “sin, feel bad, move on” but there was no stress on asking God’s forgiveness. The stress was on trying to not do it again). Obviously confession is beneficiary, but I don’t understand why a priest has the power to forgive sins? I guess the way I understand it, it should be if I sin, I go to a priest to confess, we talk about it and how to prevent it in the future, and then I ask GOD for forgiveness. Why would I ask the priest for forgiveness? Can’t God forgive me? I think if I sinned against someone else like my friend, I should ask them for forgiveness and also God, but not the priest?
When you go to confession you are not asking the priest for forgiveness, you are asking God to forgive you. The priest is acting in personna Christi (my spelling may be off on the Latin) or in the person of Christ when he absolves you of your sins in the sacrament of reconciliation.
I converted ten years ago and becoming comfortable with going to confession was one of the hardest things for me. At the time of my conversion I just accepted it as something I had to do, like it or not. It wasn’t until last year that I came to fully appreciate this sacrament.
Ah, thanks! I have always thought it was asking the priest to forgive because you say “forgive me father for I have sinned…” so can it be seen as more of a gesture of the priest’s behalf? I don’t want to oversimplify by using the word “gesture” though.
According to CCC 1441 and CCC 1466 Catholics believe that it is God who forgives sins, but priests have been allowed to serve Christ by administering the sacrament, as in John 20:23.
Please consider this:
Although you may be thinking that this is the Old Testament and that things changed Jesus did not abolish the law, but fulfilled it (Matthew 5:17). I heard Rosalind Moss explain something similar on Household of Faith on EWTN, though I may not remember exactly how she put it. Consider, that though many of the ceremonial and judicial rules changed, that there was still a priesthood, albeit a new priesthood. If the old priesthood had a part in the forgiveness of sin (as I understand Leviticus 5:5-6 to mean, though I may be wrong), then I see know reason why the new priesthood would not also.
I don’t really have an answer about that particular phrase, but when I go to confession I don’t say “Forgive me father, for I have sinned,” but rather “Bless me father, for I have sinned.” As far as I am aware, though both are acceptable, the latter makes more sense to me. Hopefully someone will answer who can explain “Forgive me father…” since it probably makes sense in a way that I haven’t thought of.
As both physical and spiritual beings God comes to use both physically, in the forms and matter of the sacraments, and spiritually, through the power of the Holy Spirit. We ask a priest to forgive us because we believe that this is the way Jesus asked us to do so. God certainly can forgive us directly, but doing so denies the human need for the physical. Your friend can forgive you for the wrong that you inflicted on them, but they cannot forgive you your sin before God. Only God, and those He authorized to do so, can do that.
I was taught in Catholic school to say to the priest in confession – Bless me Father for I have sinned, it has been XX since my last confession. Then go on with the details.
We really are speaking directly to Jesus during the Sacrament of Reconcilliation. The priest is acting for Jesus on earth. This goes back to the original Apostles when Jesus gave them the power to forgive or not to forgive sins. Believe me when I say that I have made a couple of difficult confessions but knowing I was talking to Jesus was the only thing that got me through it. Soon you might even be ready for a face to face as is done in many parishes.
The priest also hears so many confessions and through the power of the Holy Spirit they don’t remember one from the other. I suggest you read about St. Padre Pio as he was known as a great confessor. Reading about him gave me a greater appreciation for the sacrament.
Lastly, reconcilliation brings many graces from God to help us get through life. We couldn’t do it without Him and His Grace.
I will add you to my prayers as you sincerely seem to be searching for the right decision here. Think of this, though…
As you go through this forum you will see hundreds of posters who have a saying at the bottom of their signature which says something to the effect of “Tiber Swim Team, Class of __.”
These are all people who, like you, were attracted for one reason or another to seek answers to questions about the Catholic Church. The Tiber River sits just outside of the Vatican in Rome. The “Tiber Swim Team” is a reference to those who have taken the dive and come out on the other side of the river. It’s a process. You will find that almost all of them had difficulty with certain aspects of the Catholic faith, yet their swimming strengthened their muscles and helped put things into perspective over time.
So…go get in the river. If the priest referring you to his nephew made you feel awkward, then maybe you can join RCIA. There is absolutely nothing that says once you join RCIA you must become Catholic. It’s a process and you can meet people in there who are also on the journey.
Think about confession in this light. Sin begins with Pride, i.e. what I want, when I want it, how I want it, because I want it.
Confession requires the opposite of Pride, i.e. Humility.
Jesus instituted a sacrament of Humility to break the practice of Pride. If you chose to confess to God on your own, you are continuing sin by Pride, i.e. I will confess what I want, when I want, how I want, because I want.
Now we are allowed to confess to God directly, but only in times of immenant death or dire circumstances when a priest does not work into the scenario.
Otherwise, Jesus truly wants us to humble ourselves and come to HIS priests to confess. Humility is the perfect reflection of Jesus. Pride is the perfect embrace of satan.
I have never heard “forgive me father…” before, although I’m not refuting that it may be said, but I would find asking the priest to personally forgive me not to have the same meaning as asking him to bless me and hear my sins so that he might absolve me with the power given to him in Holy Orders.
I was watching a program on EWTN on Divine Mercy Sunday. One priest was interviewing another priest and asked about the second part of scripture, “Whose sins you shall retain on earth shall be retained in heaven”. The second priest looked a little surprised and answered that in the twenty years he had been hearing confessions he couldn’t remember ever having retained anyone’s sin. The interviewing priest said he couldn’t remember ever having done so either.
I hope you continue with your reading of Scott Hahn. He is such a powerful witness and his knowledge of the scriptures is truly inspired by the Holy Spirit. I am currently reading one of his books “Reasons To Believe”. He has a program on EWTN that shows on Monday night at 9:30 PM Eastern. He mentions frequently how wonderful he felt after his first confession and how it continues to be such a rich blessing to him.
Also, if you haven’t watched the EWTN program, Journey Home with Marcus Grodhi Monday at 9:00 Eastern, I hope you will. Most of his programs are interviews with former protestants (sometimes returned Catholics) who regularly report struggling just as you are in reaching acceptance of certain facets of Catholic belief like the role of the priest in Reconciliation.
I will pray that you are able to discern that reconciliation is real and that it is right for you.
Your help has already come, I hope but one source you can always count on is the trusty and definitive…Catechism of the Catholic Church. There is an online version which I use most often. If you refer to Chapter 2 article 4 regarding the Sacrament of Reconciliation I think some things may be cleared up. On a personal level I found my first Confession a little awkward at first because I was an older male with a lot of life experience…so to speak and it took me some time but the feeling of dealing with your mistakes with a priest was a liberating and cleansing experience. That is a big plus for our faith. Even if the confession process was not a Sacrament…I would still want to do it that way. I hope you can open your mind to it and remove it as a stumbling block…it is a blessing;)