Why do I have to go to confession?

By Fr. Alvan Amadi | For The Compass | February 26, 2020

Confession: A Lenten series

Editor’s note: During Lent, many of us choose to go to confession (the sacrament of reconciliation). But, it may have been a while since your last visit. It may seem a bit daunting. And there are questions: “Why do I have to go, doesn’t God already know?” “How can I confess that face to face? The priest knows me.” Even people who receive the sacrament regularly have questions. With that in mind, The Compass asked some local priests and others involved in pastoral ministry to give tips about going to confession. We will feature a different writer each week during Lent. See if they answer your questions.

Going to sacramental confession can be a daunting experience, both for someone who goes often and for the person who goes seldom. For many, the difficulty is that they no longer remember “how.” It has been so long that they have forgotten, for example, the Act of Contrition. “How do I even begin,” some ask. Others struggle with the “why.” “Why do I have to go? Doesn’t God already know I am sorry?”

Regarding the first challenge of how to go to confession, most priests are always ready and willing to patiently guide a penitent through the process and prayerfully accompany them as they confess their sins and receive God’s mercy. Besides, many confessionals have pamphlets explaining the “how-to.” There are also prayer cards with the Act of Contrition that are easily found in many confessionals.

The more difficult challenge is the “why.” Sacramental confession is a privileged encounter with God’s healing grace and mercy. The priest’s role is to facilitate this transformative encounter between the penitent and God. One confesses to God through the priest. Hence one does not just confess to the priest.

In going to confession, however, I do not reveal to God something God did not know about me before I walked into the confessional. God sees me completely and knows me through and through. This is demonstrated in the heartfelt prayer of Psalm 139:2-4: “Lord you have probed me and you know me. You know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar. You sift through my travels and my rest; with all my ways you are familiar. Even before a word is on my tongue, LORD, you know it all.”

St. Augustine touchingly describes God as more intimate to me than I am to myself.

Therefore, since God knows me completely, knows my sins totally and knows that I am truly sorry for them, why do I have to confess? I go to confession because it is the privileged avenue of grace given by Christ for the forgiveness of sins committed after baptism. Put simply, this is Christ’s will as St. John writes so movingly in his Gospel.

After the resurrection, Christ gave the Holy Spirit to the apostles and entrusted them with the ministry of forgiving or retaining sins. “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 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’” (Jn 20:21-23).

For the apostles to carry out this ministry of forgiving or retaining sins, they have to know what they are. The implication is that people confess their sins to them. Priests are the descendants of these first followers and friends of Jesus. Just as Christ uses the ministry of priests to give us his Body and Blood at Mass, Christ also uses the ministry of priests to give us his pardon and peace in sacramental confession. This is Christ’s manifest will and as an act of obedience to Christ, even though he already knows my sins and how sorry I am for them, I go to confession.

Fr. Amadi serves as administrator of St. Mary Parish in Algoma.



Confession series articles:

A priest’s perspective on going to confession

Why do I have to go to confession?

Confession: Three ways to enter fully into sacrament

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