One of the topics I get asked about most often by my Protestant friends is Confession. So here is a humble attempt to explain what the Sacrament of Confession means to me.
Let me start by saying I love Confession. Love it. It’s awesome. More on that in a moment.
And then, let me also start by explaining a bit about what Confession is not to me.
Confession is not a guilt-induced act that is forced upon me by a strict and rigid institution.
Confession is not my only means of being connected with God, nor is it my only means, in most cases, of being forgiven by God.
My history with the idea of Confession, in any form, was rather shallow. I understood that I needed to ask Jesus to forgive me of my sins to commit to Christianity, but, honestly, I was a young kid and I didn’t really think much about what “sin” meant… not listening to my parents, spreading a rumor, being selfish… all things I knew were sin, but for the most part, I, personally, felt like I was doing pretty well overall. Also, many Protestant traditions believe that once you are a Christian, your past, present and future sins are forgiven. So I didn’t feel like there was a lot of motivation to think about my sin.
Also, growing up in different Protestant Churches, most of them would have a time of private confession at some point in the church service. It’s where the pastor or whoever was leading that part of the service would have everyone take a moment and think about their sin, and then pray for and thank God for His forgiveness.
To be honest, in my experience, nearly every time that happened whoever was leading the confession didn’t even give me enough time to begin to contemplate my own sin. The pause lasted for like 5 seconds. And… 5 seconds is inadequate for a true examination of conscience. So I usually just stood quietly and looked prayerful during that time. And still, I continued on not thinking much about my own sin.
I have since found out that the community confession time in many Protestant churches harkens back to the early Christians, but it isn’t really a full representation of what early Christians practiced. It’s more of a shadow of it. Though, I think most Protestants would agree that confessing one’s sins is important in some regard, the actual practice of it in many churches today doesn’t reflect the depth and purpose and history of Confession itself, or why it is important.
This is how I have come to understand sin. I have come to understand that God is offering, every moment of my life, to come alongside me and walk with me. Everywhere. And all the time. He never will leave me. Sin is where in my heart and my actions, I block God out of my life.
In Catholic Confession, prior to going to Confession, it is most appropriate to process through an Examination of Conscience. Many are based on the ten commandments, but there are others as well, for children, married people, single people, etc. It is a really thorough way to discover where I am not allowing God fully into my life. Even just the 1st Commandment examination… I reflect upon where in my life I am not putting God first. Where am I putting something or someone else in God’s place.
One thing I’m definitely not doing is sitting around with my head in my hands in hopelessness over how sinful I am. It’s actually really helpful for me, and I can use those reflections to allow God into more of my life.
I’ve also come to understand sin as that which wounds our soul and our relationship with our Creator. God is there, all the time, but when I turn away from Him and do my own thing, it is bad for me… left unchecked, it will contribute to my walk with God becoming unhealthy over time… sick even. Many of humanity’s own classic tales reveal what happens when someone is overcome by sin in their own life. Ebeneezer Scrooge and his greed, the Beast and his lack of charity, the Grinch and his desire for revenge.
Catholics believe that Sacraments are ways that God makes tangible (something we can see, smell, taste, touch, or hear), something that is a spiritual reality. So, for example (briefly, because this is a whole ‘nother post), marriage is a Sacrament. It’s meant to be a tangible representation of Christ’s relationship with the Church. Something we can see, and, within the marriage itself, touch, that is meant to draw our minds towards heavenly truth.
Confession, is another Sacrament.
This is where it gets good. This is the stuff.
I think it is easy for many to think about confession in a church service, or praying directly to God for forgiveness. Catholics also have a time of confession communally each Mass, and Catholics also can pray directly to God for forgiveness in most cases.
I also think it’s easy for Christians to acknowledge that we are to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the world around us.
When I walk into the confessional, I am walking in and talking to the Priest, who is acting as the hands and feet of Jesus for me. Instead of silently admitting my sins in private or at church, or to myself alone, I get to verbally share about the areas in my life where I am struggling to let God in. I verbally ask for forgiveness.
And then I audibly hear I am forgiven.
And that is huge. God knows we are both spiritual and physical. I love that this Sacrament exists, and I can hear the truth of my forgiveness time and time again, audibly, from someone who is representing Jesus.
But that’s not all. The Priest then spends a bit of time talking to me about some of my struggles, and prescribes penance. That word is one that may cause someone who isn’t Catholic to go… Yikes! Danger! Or What is that?
Let me explain what penance is. Just as unrepentant sin can hurt our walk with God, and even make our souls sick, penance is a sort of medicine that helps me to turn back to God in the areas in which I struggle.
Example. If someone hurt me and I am struggling to forgive them fully, my penance for that might be to spend some time praying for those people. Penance is simply helping me turn back to God and let Him into more of my life, in the areas where I am blocking him out through my actions.
And I leave the Confessional full of the Holy Spirit, and so thankful for God’s redeeming work in my life. I leave with joy, and I always look forward to going. It helps keep me tuned into and focused on my Savior, and helps me be more aware to walk more closely with Him. More than ever before.
Here is what, to Lorelei, Confession is.
Confession is one of the many ways that I can receive God’s grace.
Confession is a tangible representation of my forgiven and restored relationship with God.
Confession is a Sacrament of healing, and of helping me walk more closely with God.
And that, is why I love Confession. 🙂