The Sacrament of Confession

By Engr. Carlos V. Cornejo

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the Sacrament of Confession as, “Those who approach the Sacrament of Penance obtain pardon from God’s mercy for the offense committed against him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by their sins and which by charity, by example, and by prayer labors for their conversion.”  (CCC 1422) Other names for this sacrament are Sacrament of Conversion, Sacrament of Penance, Sacrament of Forgiveness, and Sacrament of Reconciliation.  They all generally mean the same thing forgiveness of our sins committed after baptism.

The basis for the institution of this sacrament is found in the Gospel of St. John and Letter of St. James.  “Receive the Holy Spirit.  For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.”  (John 20:22-23) In this Gospel passage, our Lord Jesus Christ gave the apostles and their successor priests the power to forgive sins in His behalf.  “Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”  (St. James 5:16) And in the letter of St. James, it encourages the first Christians to confess their sins and be healed both of spiritual and bodily ailments.

Christ instituted this Sacrament of Reconciliation because we would still commit sins after baptism due to our wounded human nature caused by Original Sin.  Original Sin is erased and forgiven in us in baptism but the effects remain.  Theologians’ analogy of Original Sin is like being born and raised in a dysfunctional family.  We got adopted into the new family of God after baptism but the ill effects of having been raised by neglectful parents in a dysfunctional family remains.  We will have to eradicate those bad effects gradually so as to become worthy children of God with the help of God Himself, and one way to do that is through regular confession.

The fruits of a worthy reception of this sacrament are: the restoration of sanctifying grace or being in a state of grace (God residing in our soul); forgiveness of sins; remission of the punishment of Hell due to mortal sin, and part of the temporal punishment of Purgatory; reconciliation with the Church (the Body of Christ) whom we have harmed by our sins; the help to avoid sin in the future; and the restoration of the merits of our good works lost through mortal sin.

So as to worthily receive the sacrament we must: examine our conscience; be sorry for our sins; have the firm purpose of not sinning again; confess our sins to the priest; and be willing to perform the penance the priest gives us.  The Gospel gives us a role model for contrition in the moving story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).  When the regretful son realized his wrongdoings (an act of examination of conscience), he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!  He then became sorry for his sins, “I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.”  And he followed it up with a firm purpose not to sin again as well as the willingness to do penance, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.”  He then confessed his sins to his Father while the Father was embracing him upon welcoming him back, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”

Every time we go to confession, God welcomes us back like the Prodigal Son.  But we might ask, “Will not God get tired of us sinning and asking for forgiveness time and time again?”  The answer is no because God is not surprised by our weak nature and expects us to falter many times in our struggle to be like Him.  When St. Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”  (Matthew 18:21-22) If Christ expects us to forgive our neighbor in an unlimited number of times, then God would certainly many times over forgive us as long as we are sorry for our sins even though we can’t assure that we will never sin again.

As a matter of fact, frequent confession is encouraged by the Church even if we confess only venial sins because it accelerates our growth in the spiritual life as the Catechism teaches us, “Indeed the regular Confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit. By receiving more frequently through this sacrament the gift of the Father’s mercy, we are spurred to be merciful as he is merciful.” (CCC 1458) If we take a bath regularly to cleanse our bodies, we should do the same thing to our souls.  And Saints recommend it.  Saints who went to confession regularly either weekly or monthly were St. Pope John Paul II, St. Pope Paul VI, Venerable Pope Pius XII (daily), St. Josemaria Escriva, St. Francis de Sales, St. John Mary Vianney, St. Symeon of Thessalonica, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Bridget, St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta and St. Faustina.


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