Resuming my series about the sacraments, it's time to look at reconciliation, also known as confession, and sacrament of forgiveness and conversion. This is tied in to the Church teaching about Holy Orders, which I will get to in a later post, but I bring it up now because that seems to be one of many misunderstandings on this sacrament that need to be addressed now before we continue.
Misunderstanding #1: Jesus sacrificed Himself for me so I don't need to confess my sins.
While the first part is true, the second ignores too many verses to be true. If His sacrifice is all that's needed, then James must have been mistaken while under divine inspiration when he commanded people to "confess your sins to one another." (James 5:16) This notion fails to understand both baptism and reconciliation in that while the first blots out the penalty for Original Sin, that doesn't change the fact people still sin. While some sins are more serious than others (more on this later), God is offended by all sin and since He wants us to live with Him in eternity, He would logically provide us the means to reach Him. God doesn't want us to do something that He doesn't give us the means to do.
Misunderstanding #2: "I can confess my sins to God directly."
While true on the surface, this misses several points. God does have the power to forgive sins as does Jesus since Jesus is God so it does make sense at first to confess them to God. That I won't argue. However, since God the Father gave the power to forgive sins to Jesus the Son, ie God becoming man, it would follow this God in the form of man would give this amazing ability to regular man and indeed we see this is the case:
He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent me, I also send you. When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained. (John 20: 21-23)
If God meant for you to go directly to God, why would Jesus bother to give this power to mere man?
Misunderstanding #3: "While Jesus did give this power to the Apostles, the power went away once the last Apostle died."
Thank goodness we don't hear this argument very often but it's worth looking at all the same. In order to argue this, it would have to be shown, at least from the Protestant perspective, that a verse exists to prove this point. Since there are no verses that show this, then from the Sola Scriptura perspective (ignoring for a moment what a heretical teaching it is anyway) the notion of Jesus giving man this power then taking it away from them makes no sense.
Misunderstanding #4: "This whole reconciliation idea sounds like a "get out of jail free" card."
Far from it. In fact, it has NEVER been taught that confession leaves the door open for people to do whatever they wanted. No Christian branch, be it founded by Christ or the other pseudo-types, that teach about confession has ever said it leaves you free to do whatever you want and not to worry about the consequences. This misunderstanding leaves out the key parts of the sacrament, which in the words of St John are:
"Contrition in the heart, confession in his mouth, a perfect humility in his works."
In other words, saying you're going to change your life and doing it are two separate things.
Misunderstanding #5: "Since the priest is a sinner too, as "all have fallen short of God's glory", why should I confess my sins to a sinner?"
Even on the surface, the errors of this statement should be obvious. It's no different than saying "Since doctors need medical treatment too, why should I take medical advise from them or let them perform surgery on me?" Even if it did follow, that would then mean there would be no point to confession since we're going to fall short in the end anyway. Such a nihilistic view has no place in a true Christian.
Now, earlier I talked about the difference between sins, and yes, not all sins are created equal.
He that knoweth his brother to sin a sin which is not to death, let him ask, and life shall be given to him, who sinneth not to death. There is a sin unto death: for that I say not that any man ask. All iniquity is sin. And there is a sin unto death. (1 John 5:16-17)
It is from this verse the notion of venial and mortal sins comes from. What's the difference between the two?
Think of it like the degrees of severity you find in common law; some crimes are considered more serious than others. In the Church, these are the traits that make up mortal sin:
- Its subject must be a grave (or serious) matter.
- It must be committed with full knowledge, both of the sin and of the gravity of the offense (no one is considered ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are inborn as part of human knowledge, but these principles can be misunderstood in a particular context).
- It must be committed with deliberate and
completeconsent, enough for it to have been a personal decision to commit the sin.
What counts as a grave matter? In a nutshell, anything that violates any of the 10 Commandments, as well as whether you followed the commandments of the Church or anything that came from the seven deadly sins. Contrary to what some think, deadly sins and moral sins are not the same; deadly sins are where mortal sins come from. St Ignatius of Loyola, in conjunction with the Holy Church says this about mortal sin in his Spiritual Excercises:
There are two ways of sinning mortally:
First Way. The first is, when one gives consent to the bad thought, to act afterwards as he has consented, or to put it in act if he could.
Second Way. The second way of sinning mortally is when that sin is put in act.
This is a greater sin for three reasons: first, because of the greater time; second, because of the greater intensity; third, because of the greater harm to the two persons.
So now that we know what we need to confess, how do we perform reconciliation?
1. Enter the church and review your sins.
Again, look at the Commandments of God and the Church. There's a good chance the devil will make you forget about your sins, but I found writing down the key mortal sins helpful.
2. Enter the confessional.
3. When the priest is ready, it will go in this order:
You: Bless me, Father for I have sinned.
(Priest will then say a prayer for full confession)
You: Since my last confession which was (insert length of time here) ago, when I received absolution and performed my penance, I accuse myself of these sins: (Insert sins here). For these and all my other sins, which I cannot at present remember, I am heartily sorry, and purpose amendment for the future, and humbly ask pardon from God, and penance and absolution from you, my earthly Father.
4. Priest will then give you absolution and advise on how to avoid the sin in the future.
5. Say the Act of Contrition.
There are many versions of this but I use this one the most:
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended You and I detest all my sins, because I fear the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because they offend You, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to confess my sins, to do penance and to amend my life. amen.
6. Thank the priest and leave to perform your penance.
As you can see, there is much humility in this. Atheists think it's a bunch of shame and guilt but then again atheists are idiots.