Monday, November 10, 2008

The Joy of Confession

God forgives sin, not priests.

Catholics come at sin from a different perspective than Protestants. Catholics see everything through the eyes of the church being the bride and body of Christ. You are a part of that body if you have been baptized. It is not primarily a legal relationship (as Luther described) as if we are on trial and Christ is our lawyer, Catholics teach we enter a Covenant relationship and God becomes our father. Christ, His "only begotten Son" then becomes, as the firstborn Son, the Redeemer--the blood avenger of the family.

As a part of the covenant community of faith, Catholics believe there is not such thing as private sin. Our sin affects the body. So, as Christ said, if you sin against another--put your sacrifice down at the altar, run and repair your relationship with your brother and only then come back and ask forgiveness from Him. (Especially a very public sin such as adultery, murder, theft--you must be reconciled to the body and also because of the public scar you put on the reputation of the church to non-believers.) The early Christians had public confession, but since the 7th century, the church has accepted private confession to the priest.

By the way, Catholics believe you can confess and encourage you to immediately go to God and confess a sin that you committed. But if the sin is grave enough or public or habitual, you are encouraged to bring it to the church for help.

John 20: 19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Catholics believe that Jesus was setting up a perpetual system that would give the leaders of His church the authority to forgive in His name (II Cor. 5:18). Christ knew the nature of man. We need to confess our sins. It is extremely humbling to hear yourself say aloud your sins and brings yourself to a crisis of understanding the depth of your sins.

The priest, as the chief local shepherd of the body, is the person you would go to as the symbol of the community to ask forgiveness. The Catholics also believe that the priests were given this same gift of speaking His words of forgiveness just as the early Apostles in the above text. So when you confess to the priest your sin against the body can be forgiven, simultaneously with asking God himself for forgiveness.

Actually, we don't ask the priest to forgive us, when we go into confession, we ask the priest (as God’s servant) to BLESS us--not forgive us, and then we tell Christ our confession.

The first time I went to confession, I resented that the Lord wanted me to drag up all my dirty little secrets for a man to listen to. It seemed creepy. Didn't God already forgive these sins? Hadn't they already reached the bottom of the deepest sea and didn't He promise to "remember them no more?"

But, I went.... and It wasn't easy. In fact, I didn't really even feel sorry for the things I repented of. I was just too nervous and embarrassed and giggled foolishly. But over time I have learned a lot about confessing.

When you go in, you are not supposed to excuse the sin. That is the hardest part for me. I have an extreme need to cover the sin myself, let the Lord know why I did such a terrible thing so He won't think it is so bad--and I am so bad! To hear yourself actually SAY ALOUD your sin is a phenomenal thing. There is some psychological circle that makes it so REAL when your ears hear your lips actually saying the "thing" --ripping the sin from your heart and laying it out so exposed to ridicule, so exposed to judgment of others. It takes all my self-control NOT to scream out, "It really isn't that bad... if you had only known.... It was the lesser of two evils..... I HAD to do it.... If you only knew my life...."

But there the sin lies, out of the darkness into the light and it makes you panic with shame. Somehow I never feel sorry enough. I tend to feel shame that someone now knows what I did, but not really as sorry as I should be, now that the whole thing is so..... so.... out there. Now the sin is actually hurting me back.

The full measure of sin doesn't always hit you right there, but almost always it does shake you up a bit to see sin so clinically. It reminds you that you are a sinner.

Then you hear the voice of God, through His anointed priest say, "Your sins are forgiven." And he tells you to go and sin no more. Then he gives you some spiritual exercises, like prayer, that will help you to overcome the temptation the next time. You see, God wants to put as much distance between sin and us as possible. Our first impulse is to snatch the sin back and hide it in our pocket--get it out of sight. It is extremely difficult to leave it there and know God is getting rid of it permanantly.

For some sins, you leave feeling very vulnerable now that its gone. Often we kind of depend upon sin, we think it gives us power or relieves pain. But now it is gone and you begin to feel lighter. Soon you don't want to ever think about it again--because the more distance you get from the sin, the worse it looks.

I think the reason so many people pay psychologists the big bucks is because we really internally WANT someone to tell us that our little pet sins are "okay' and "needed." We want an official approval because, after all.... our spouses are so rotten, we had a bad childhood, we are so weak. But the truth that we hear and experience in confession-- what we really don't want to know.... is that we and the sins we cherish can survive apart!

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