|The Confession by Giuseppe Molteni 1838|
"It's not the priest who forgives your sins," I offered, as some co-workers listened in, "It's God using the priest."
"I know. I know. I confess. But, I confess directly to God, not a priest," he shot back.
At that point I kind of floundered and, like a civil servant employee who doesn't want to deal with the unruly customer any longer and says "next!" to the following guy in line, I moved on to the task at hand; our meeting.
Although, the man was raised Catholic, he was obviously touting the Protestant party line against Confession. And, to me, it sounded all too familiar.
I remember a time in my life when I probably felt the same. Not the scoundrel part, mind you, but the confessing to God part of his argument.
In fact, in a 25 year period, from the time I started high school until I was about 41, I went to Confession a grand total of one time. I remember because it was on my wedding day!
I was one of those people who was, for some reason, a lot like the man I was talking to, angry at the Church, angry at the Pope and the clergy, maybe even angry at God. Why? As I look back, it was probably for putting all these rules and restrictions on my life. Rules and restrictions that I wanted no part of; not so much for prohibiting murder, lying or stealing but for trying to interfere with my sex life! But, as they say, if God is not the lord of every aspect of your life, He's not the lord of any.
In essence, I think the man I was talking to was doing what I did for so many years; finding justification for my behavior so I could continue to do it. Many people do that. We make excuses about the way we live to the point, where we start believing our own arguments, even when it contradicts what we know deep down inside. It's human nature.
For me, that's one of the strongest arguments for the need to confess our sins to a priest. Jesus understood that, left to our own devices, we could and would justify just about anything we did.
"It's not that bad," we tell ourselves. "Other people are doing much worse." Which may be why, after the Resurrection, Christ gave the Apostles the power to forgive and retain sins. Of course, the only way they could do that was for people to confess their sins to them! It's a practice that goes back that far.
Why would Jesus choose flawed and sinful men to forgive and retain sins? Only He knows but the Apostles passed on that power to the first bishops and priests and the Church has been passing it down from generation to generation ever since.
Moreover, confessing to a priest requires humility, which is the opposite of pride; the granddaddy and common denominator of all sin. To tell another person my darkest secrets is not easy. I don't think it was meant to be. But, in doing so, I see myself for who I am; a flawed and broken man. In the process, I realize my dependence on God to heal and reconcile me to Himself.
And, I'll be honest, when the priest says the words of absolution, "God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; and through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen," it feels as if the weight of the world is lifted from my shoulders.
Unlike the man at work who confesses directly to God and hears nothing but silence, through the instrumentality of the priesthood, I experience the love and mercy of God. I know, through his words, that my sins are forgiven. It's amazing!
The entire conversation started with another co-worker talking about her son, who is getting ready for his first Confession, in preparation for his First Holy Communion.
"They're making it like a Sacrament," she complained.
"It is a Sacrament," I interjected.
"But why are they making him go to Confession a year before his First Communion?" she asked.
"When I did my First Communion, I did my Confession that same day," another colleague stated.
I said, "Maybe, they want the kids to get used to going to Confession on a regular basis."
"Is that so that they go before they get married and for other Sacraments?" the second colleague asked.
"Actually, I try to go every three weeks," I answered.
"Are you serious?" the first co-worker, who started the conversation, asked.
"Yes," I answered,"And, working in this place, I should be going every week!"
In any case, while I was left speechless in my meeting room conversation with the man I first mentioned, if I had not been in such a hurry to move on, I would have said what I told to another man with a similar argument once (albeit in a more conducive environment); regardless of what he may think of the "scoundrel priests," you don't let the sins of men keep you from the graces that God intended for you...