As a child growing up, my parents took my four siblings and I to Confession periodically—usually during Advent and Lent. Looking back, I see this as a positive thing. At the time however, I dreaded it! In fact, I remember one time getting physically ill (I literally threw up) at the thought of having to go to Confession.
Why would anyone want to go tell someone—and someone, furthermore, who they perhaps don’t know well at all—the deepest and darkest things about themselves? Going to Confession is something very vulnerable, and can be quite intimidating. Still, there are so many blessings that come from this Sacrament that could not be received any other way.
There are various names for this Sacrament besides “Confession.” It’s also called the Sacrament of Penance, of Reconciliation, of Forgiveness, and even the Sacrament of Conversion. Although it’s not an official name I think of it as the “Sacrament of Mercy.” It’s in this Sacrament that we experience the mercy of God in an extremely personal, profound way. In this article, I’d like to focus on just two of the many blessings we can receive from God through it: His forgiveness and His healing.
Receiving God’s Forgiveness
How beautiful it is, if we choose to humble ourselves and approach Jesus in Confession. We can then hear, through the instrumentality of a priest, Jesus’ tender words of forgiveness: “I absolve you of your sins . . .” To be clear: God alone can forgive sins; the priest cannot. Jesus borrows the humanity and the voice of the priest, when He speaks these words of absolution. Our Lord does this for our sake, so that we can physically hear Him offering us His forgiveness.
“Dear friends, celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation means being enfolded in a warm embrace: it is the embrace of the Father’s infinite mercy.” —Pope Francis, February 19, 2014
This is the very forgiveness that Jesus asked the Father to grant to us as He hung upon the Cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He was not only speaking about those who were there at Calvary and had a part in His crucifixion back then. He was also pleading to the Father on behalf of all of us. For, the truth is, you and I also crucified Jesus by our sins.
This also means that His mercy flows forth for us. How are the graces that He obtained for us applied to our souls? It is primarily through the Sacraments. (Even though, being God, He can do whatever He wants, and He is not bound only to use the Sacraments.) As Catholics, we have assurance of the Lord’s forgiveness. What a wonderful freedom this is! It is an amazingly freeing experience to have Jesus lift the “dead weight” of our sins from our souls.
Letting the Lord Heal Us
I remember being struck when I learned that the Church considers Confession to be a Sacrament of Healing. I knew that there was the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick—but the Catechism of the Catholic Church includes Confession as a Sacrament of Healing as well (see paragraphs #1420-1421). Jesus wants to heal people in our day and age, just as He wanted to do 2000 years ago. So, through Confession (as well as the Anointing of the Sick) Jesus continues His healing ministry.
As Jesus forgave and healed the paralytic who was lowered down through the roof (Mark 2:1-12), He continues to forgive and to heal us today. The story of the paralytic gives us a powerful image of what sin does: it paralyzes us . . . and we cannot heal ourselves. Thankfully, Jesus is willing to forgive and heal our souls, and He does this through the instrumentality of others. Just as the paralytic needed the help of others to be placed in Jesus’ presence, so we need the help of Jesus’ ministers (His priests) to be able to receive His healing love, so generously offered to us in Confession.
When we go to Confession we can think of it like going to a Doctor—we need to clearly say what’s wrong and where it hurts. Otherwise, the doctor will not know what remedy to prescribe. Similarly, when we go to Confession we need to clearly tell Jesus, the Divine Physician, what’s wrong and where we are spiritually wounded. As embarrassing as it might be to us, we need to tell Jesus, through the priest—openly and honestly, and as clearly as we can—the ways we’ve sinned. Jesus, of course, knows all that we’ve done. But because He respects our free will, Jesus doesn’t force His healing upon us. He won’t heal those wounds in us that we refuse to expose to Him. If we are willing, though, to trust Him enough to vulnerably make known the ways we’ve wounded ourselves and others through sin, the healing balm of His mercy can be applied to our souls.
It can often happen that a person confesses the same sins again and again. This can also be seen in the light of healing. If we have a physical wound that is deep, it does not heal all at once. It may be that we need to continue to take off the bandage which was covering the wound, cleanse it, apply healing ointment on it, and once again place a bandage on it. This process of uncovering and caring for the wound may have to happen over and over again. What would it be like, though, if we didn’t care for the wound? It could easily get infected and become much worse than if we’d used the means to take care of the wound. In a similar way, we may have to bring a particularly deep wound to Jesus in Confession again and again. This is part of the ongoing process of our spiritual healing. We can at times feel discouraged, since we’re confessing the same sins every time we go to Confession. But we can then think that our sins could be much worse, our soul could become seriously infected, if we neglected to confess these same sins.
The Lord knows that it’s often a long and weary road that we walk in this world. He does not leave us on our own, though. He draws near to us—especially through the Sacraments—so as to help us on our journey to Heaven. We do not go out of the Confessional the same as when we went in. We are changed and transformed! We have the freedom of knowing our sins are forgiven. We receive the Lord’s healing in the specific areas we need it. Yes, the Lord gives new graces and blessings each time we go to Confession. These graces help specifically with the sins and failings we have confessed. The Lord continues to lift up the lowly. And as we humble ourselves by being willing to go Confession, the Lord exalts us—He raises us up to holiness which we could not have attained on our own.
Truly, all the Sacraments could be called “deceptively simple.” Confession looks merely like two people talking. However, with eyes of faith we see our Jesus of Love and Mercy is ministering to our souls: forgiving us, healing us, and strengthening us. The graces He won for us on Calvary are being applied to our souls. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy, pray for us, that during this Jubilee Year of Mercy we may come to know our Lord’s merciful love as never before through the Sacrament of Confession . . . that wonderful Sacrament of Mercy.
—By Fr. Francis of the Redeemer