Sermon Review: Confession

May 23, 2010. “John the Baptizer part 2.”

One of the best experiences I’ve had as a Catholic was being on a retreat in college in which the Sacrament of Reconciliation was celebrated.  I sat in the back of the Church as many of my friends approached the priests and, many of them with tears in their eyes, spilled their guts.  Many of them were making their first confession in quite a while, so there were years of sin being confessed and absolved.  It was a wonderful celebration of God’s mercy, one that I am looking forward to celebrating very often if I am ordained to the priesthood.

Many people, both Catholics and non-Catholics, misunderstand the nature of this sacrament.  Many Catholics see it as a form of religious magic.  Because of this, many Catholics simply reject the sacrament and rarely make use of it.  Others (far fewer) think that they can live a life of sin and as long as they go to confession they get that ticket to heaven.  Both of these are significant pastoral problems that the Catholic Church faces regarding the proper celebration of this sacrament.  In turn, it has caused many non-Catholics to develop erroneous views regarding the sacrament

Hence, this quote from Mark Driscoll:

And then we get basically a cultural equivalent of pagan Catholicism. Let me unpack all of

this. I grew up as a Catholic boy, went to Catholic school, was an altar boy for some years. And the way it would work in Catholicism is you would go into the confessional with the priest. You would say, “Bless me, father, for I have sinned. It’s been so long since my last confession.” And then you would tell the priest what you did, and then the priest would say, “I declare you forgiven. I forgive you. Go say this many ‘Hail Marys,’ or ‘Acts of Contrition,’ or ‘Our Fathers’, or go do these good deeds, and then you’ll make it up to God, and everything will be okay,” something like that.

So what happens in culture is someone has worldly sorrow. They know they’ve done wrong, so they need to find someone who’s in the cultural position of a priest. And just so you know, I don’t believe in any of this. Jesus is my great high priest. A priest can’t forgive me. The psalmist says, “Against you only, Lord God, have I sinned.” So I don’t go to a priest, I go to the great high priest, Jesus. But what happens in our culture then, we’ve gotta find someone to play that morally superior role, so we get Barbara Walters, or Larry King, or Oprah, or Dr. Phil. We go get somebody to set up their stage for their show, their set, like a confessional. And the person who has sinned walks in looking very sad, and very scared, and, “I’m really sorry for what I’ve done.” And then the person in the position of moral, spiritual authority, the priest of culture says, “Tell us about what you’ve done, and how you feel.” And then you cry, and you say the things that your PR rep told you to say.

These words beg comment because they could give the listener (or reader) the impression that a Catholic who makes use of the sacrament of reconciliation (confession) does not believe that Jesus Christ is their High Priest.  The truth is that Catholics believe there is only one priest, and his name is Jesus Christ.  All other ‘priests’ merely participate in His eternal priesthood.  Through God’s grace, priests become God’s co-workers (1Cor3:9).

When Catholics speak of participation we do not mean that the participant functions apart from Jesus Christ.  Rather we mean that Jesus works in and through them to accomplish His work.  In the context of the sacrament of reconciliation, this means that Jesus works through the priest to forgive the sinner.  We don’t believe that a priest is operating on his own authority.  We believe that Christ shares his authority with a person.

A good parallel to bring up here would be scripture.  God did not physically take a pen and write the scriptures himself, although he could have if he had wanted to.  He used people to write it.  He worked through John.  He worked through Paul.  He worked through Luke.  They were co-workers with God and collaborated with him and followed God’s inspiration to write the scriptures.  God allowed them, by His Grace, to reveal a little bit of God’s very self through their writings.  It is in a similar way that God uses priests as instruments in His ministry of forgiveness.

It is a fact that Jesus Christ shares His ministry of forgiveness with other people.  After the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to the disciples who rejoiced when they saw him.  Scripture then tells us that, “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’   And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit.   Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (John 20:21-23)

Scripture is clear.  Jesus Christ shared his power to forgive sins with the Church.  While this scripture is ambiguous as to who specifically received this power (all disciples of Jesus or only some members) the bottom line is that it is not incorrect to seek God’s forgiveness through another person.  If it was incorrect, Jesus would not have given these disciples the power to forgive and retain sins.

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One comment on “Sermon Review: Confession

  1. Christian says:

    Everyone who received forgiveness from Jesus in the NT did so through His physical nature. It’s no surprise that the Church continues this tradition of a physical encounter in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

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