“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 20:22-23
Reconciliation is a Sacrament, meaning that it is an outward sign instituted by Christ in order to give grace. In the case of Reconciliation, the “outward sign” is the confession of sins from the penitent followed by the words of absolution – the statement of God’s forgiveness – from the priest. The forgiveness of sins, of course, does not belong to or come from the priest, but Jesus promises to work through His apostles in this way, as we read in the passage from John above. This same authority was passed down from the apostles, through the imposition of hands, to every priest.
When we come to confession, we are coming to God with our sins, not to the priest. But God establishes this very direct, concrete way of doing so for our own benefit. The practice of confession keeps us accountable, it teaches us humility, and it assures us of God’s forgiveness in a definite way. Of course, God doesn’t need to work in this way, nor is He limited to working through His priests. But God loves us so much that He chooses to work through others – as He has always done – in order to bring His grace into our lives.
We always have to remember that the Sacraments are God coming into contact with us and giving us His grace – through signs and symbols, yes, but really and truly. In Reconciliation, this means that we are approaching God when we come to confess our sins: the God who knows all our sins and desires nothing more than to draw us back to Himself. This should be a great source of confidence, but also a reminder that Reconciliation is not simply a checklist action. It is a conversation with God in which we have to be sincere, and we have to truly be sorry for our sins and will to overcome them. As with any relationship, if we ask forgiveness for something that we don’t actually feel sorry for or plan to change, we are just insulting the other person. And we can’t trick God into thinking we’re sorry for something when we are not.
That doesn’t mean that we need to be convinced that we will be perfect from this Confession onward, or that we don’t think we’ll be attracted by sin afterward. But it does mean that we need to recognize the sins in our lives as sins and actually desire God’s grace to overcome them. We can’t come to Reconciliation with the full intention of continuing in our sins. But when we approach Reconciliation correctly, God will certainly forgive us and give us grace to overcome our sins.
To make a complete confession, it is necessary to list all serious (or mortal) sins, including the number of times each one is committed. If we are going to ask forgiveness, we need to be clear about what it is we’re asking forgiveness for – and committing a serious offense several times a week is very different from having committed it only once, for example. It is also good, although not absolutely necessary, to bring all the venial sins we can remember to confession as well. A good explanation of mortal/venial sin has been compiled by the St. Thomas Aquinas Forum members, and can be viewed here:
Tuesday: 5:45-6:30 pm at Mary Help of Christians
7:45 am-End at St. Joseph
Wednesday: 7:45 am-End at St. Joseph
Thursday: 7:45 am-End at St. Paul
Friday: 11:00-11:45 am at Mary Help of Christians
Saturday: 10:00-11:00 am at Mary Help of Christians
3:45-4:15 pm at Mary Help of Christians
Sunday: 8:30-10:45 am at Mary Help of Christians
10:25-10:45am at St. Paul
10:25-10:45am at St. Peter