Friday, June 07, 2002

The confession (or disclosure) of sins, even from a simply human point of view, frees us and facilitates our reconciliation with others. Through such an admission man looks squarely at the sins he is guilty of, takes responsibility for them, and thereby opens himself again to God and to the communion of the Church in order to make a new future possible.

---From The Catechism of the Catholic Church

Confession, Part I

For many years, my attitude towards Confession has been that of most American Catholics. I never went out of my way to attend it, and only on very rare occasions availed myself of it at all. Until one noon last November, I hadn’t been in many, many years.

I never thought it out quite so logically as I’m going to present it here, but most of the reasons for not doing so that I now write were in my thoughts. My reasoning went something like this:

“Confession” as we think of it now is a comparatively new innovation. For the first several centuries, the Church taught that there was “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins” and that was it. Constantine converted to Christianity, but delayed his baptism until he was on his deathbed—a common practice at the time—because he knew as Emperor he would have to sin.

Having moved baptism to shortly after birth (again, my thinking went), the Church had to find a way to allow for forgiveness of the sins we all inevitably commit. Thus came Confession. For a long time, this meant a public recitation of one’s sins and failings, and a public penance. Sometime in the early middle ages, apparently, Irish Monks instituted a screen between the sinner and Confessor, and the sanctity of the confessional was born.

One can choose to see the hand of man or the Hand of the Spirit in this evolution and still come to the conclusion that God had lots of forgiving to do of people who were truly repentant but had no mechanism for repenting prior to the institution of Confession. And it is not a far leap from there to the idea that the state of repentance is much more important than the act of confessing. From there it is a couple of baby steps only to the idea that Confession is not essential to forgiveness.

AND (my reasoning continued) the Church itself teaches this too. If you are about to die, and know you are about to, you can rattle off an Act of Contrition, and, if you are really sorry, expect forgiveness on the other side. If the train is heading for the avalanche, Father Benevolent in the front row can turn around and give mass absolution to everyone on board, whether they asked for it or not.

Finally, I can’t actually say as I have heard a homily about attending confession since perhaps my First Penance. If the priest can’t be bothered to encourage me to go, how important can it actually be? Surely, if it’s as important as all that, a priest might occasionally mention it, right?

In other words, Christ’s mercy is such that confession and forgiveness are not so intimately bound up that you can’t have the latter without the former. So why go?

(Whatever you do, please don’t stop reading the Kairos blog at this point. Come back later today or over the weekend, or early next week for the answer. It’s important.)


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