“Bless me Father for I have. . . . ” Perhaps one of the hardest things we do is admit to our own wrongdoing. It’s hard to say that we have sinned—and be willing to turn our life around to avoid that sin in the future. But we know that it is spiritually and psychologically healthy to do so. So where’s the hang up?
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is one of healing. The life we received at Baptism, strengthened in Confirmation, and nourish in the Eucharist is sometimes lost or severely threatened by our sinfulness and needs healing. And Jesus, in his great mercy, has given us a sacrament whereby we are restored both to our loving God and to the Church. And as a result of receiving this gift, we are restored to our baptismal state of innocence. We are truly forgiven and recreated. But even with this understanding and assurance, going to confession is hard.
We are masters at making excuses. “What will Father think of me if I confess what I did?” Or, “Why can’t I just tell God I’m sorry? Why do I have to go to a priest?” “Why confess, I’m just going to sin again anyway?” “It’s no big deal.” “What’s wrong with that?” The list goes on and on.
And then there is a faulty concept of sin—or perhaps our lack of a concept of sin. For many years, sin was couched in terms of a violation of the law, rather than a rupturing of a relationship. Thus, sin became de-personalized and a thing that I did, rather than an offense against a person. I violated God’s law instead of, I offended my loving God. The real consequence of sin is a broken relationship. The fact that it is a violation of a law is not its core significance.
And then there is our culture’s denial of the reality of sin. I’ve often joked that the only thing we accept as sinful is chocolate which, we say, is “sinfully delicious.” Many other sinful realities we rationalize and consider to be “only human”—“After all, everybody does it.”
The Prodigal Son
The list could go on. But somewhere along the line, we need to recapture a sense of sin and own up to it. Then, we will know peace. I picture Jesus as a loving parent who watches a child make all the wrong decisions and patiently waits for him or her to see the light. He’s patiently waiting for us to realize that we need him to restore us to spiritual health.
What comes to mind as I reflect on this sacrament, is the story of the prodigal son in the Gospel of Luke. The father lets his immature son have his share of the inheritance and go off on his own, but waits every day for his return. The son does OK for a while, but eventually the money runs out and he is reduced to dire straits.
Finally, Luke tells us, “coming to his senses . . .” (15, 17) the son decided to go home and face the consequences of his actions. He even rehearses how he will handle himself—all to no avail, as we know. For as he approaches home, his father runs to him and embraces him for he never stopped loving him. He doesn’t even give the boy a chance to give his rehearsed spiel. He just welcomes him home—and throws a party.
That, we are told by our Church and by our Scriptures, is how our heavenly Father responds to our sinfulness. He patiently waits for us to come to our senses and return home. No questions asked, no recriminations, nothing negative; just a joyful welcome home.
Focus on Forgiveness
We just completed a Year of Mercy at the request of our Holy Father, Pope Francis. One of the messages of that year was the vision of the prodigal son—or, should we say, the prodigal father. And Pope Francis asked the world to incorporate that vision into their personal lives. For what he taught and challenged us to accept was not a denial of sin, but a view of God as someone we wander away from when we sin. The emphasis is on God, not on our sinfulness.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is not about our sins; it’s about God’s forgiveness. If a sacrament is an effective sign which does what it says that it does, then the acknowledgement of sin (our confession) and the words of absolution truly bring about the forgiveness of our sins and a return to baptismal innocence.
While confession may be hard—and it probably always will be—the consoling words of absolution make it all worthwhile. “I absolve you [set you free from all guilt and blame] from you sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”