I’m trying to pinpoint exactly where I went wrong. Maybe it’s from putting stuff like this in my e-newsletters:
[LEFT]Last week our second graders participated in their first reconciliation. I can remember the anticipation, nervousness, and excitement that I experienced when I made my first confession as a child, but also as an adult when I came back to the church after haven fallen away several years ago.[/LEFT]
[LEFT]For many Catholics, the sacrament is one of the first practices to go as elements of our childhood faith fall away. There are many rationalizations that people tend to make to keep themselves out the confessional, and I will look at a few of these:[/LEFT]
Why can I not just confess straight to God?
The short answer is because this is not the way that God planned it. Paul writes that Christ gave them the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18), and we witness this happening in John 21:21, when Christ told the leaders of his Church that what sins they forgive are forgiven and what sins they retain are retained. We simply do not have a right to tell Christ that we prefer to do it a different way. Christ understood that, as physical creatures, we have a need for physical interaction. Think about Peter, after all – he was not repentant of denying Christ until he looked across the crowd, saw the eyes of the Lord and wept (Luke 22:60). Christ understood the power of actually sitting down and humbling oneself before another individual, hearing another human voice tell us that we are forgiven.
The priest is a sinner, just like I am.
Pope John Paul II went to confession weekly. If he was this conscious of his sins, we can be assured that our parish priest is conscious of his. Yet, this does not invalidate the sacrament of reconciliation anymore than having an overweight doctor invalidates the medicine he prescribes. The power of the sacrament comes through the grace of Christ, not the merits of the confessor.
I am not aware of any serious sins. I have not killed anyone.
The three conditions for mortal sin are that it must be grave matter, one must have knowledge of this and consent to the act. While killing a person is certainly a grave sin, so is missing Mass on a Sunday or Holy Day of obligation. Contracepting a marital act is also a grave sin. Once we have participated in a mortal sin, we have removed ourselves from a relationship with God and put our soul in danger of eternal separation from him in Hell.
And if we receive communion while in this state, our condition becomes even worse. Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 11:27 that to partake in communion without examining ourselves is to sin against the body and blood of Christ.
The good news is that, no matter what sin we have committed, the sacrament of reconciliation is always ready to bring us back into a right relationship with Christ. Not only do we receive forgiveness for our sins, but we receive graces that help us from sinning again. In addition, when we sin, we have wronged the entire body of Christ, which means even our most private sins affect those around us, and the priest sits as a representative, not just of Christ, but of our fellow man, and we can offer him our apologies in that regard.
I was reluctant to return to the sacrament of reconciliation for some time after coming back to the Church, and I offered a number of excuses and arguments for why I did not need to. In time, however, I realized the real reason I was resisting had everything to do with personal shame and that my intellectual arguments were only distractions from that. When God finally called me back into the confessional, though, I realized the magnificence of his grace and left feeling a hundred pounds lighter.
I think that many of our second graders had a similar experience. One girl in particular got home with her parents and, two hours later, told her mother she wanted to go back again … that night!
If you have not been to the sacrament of reconciliation in a while, please do so before receiving the Eucharist this Saturday, which is a Holy Day of Obligation, recognizing the Immaculate Conception of Mary. While the rest of us were not conceived immaculately, what better way is there to celebrate the Advent of Christ by striving for her holiness by having our sins wiped away and presenting ourselves pure and without blemish to receive our bridegroom Christ in the Holy Eucharist?