Why should we go to confession? Why do we confess our sins to a priest? Doesn’t God already know? — Appleton
The sacrament of reconciliation contains three elements: confession, penance and reconciliation. Through the priest, who acts in persona Christi (in the person of Christ), we are brought into intimate contact with Jesus where we are liberated from the sins that trouble our hearts and minds. Although hard, we take the step of acknowledging our weaknesses and failings. This is the first step in turning away from sin and turning to God the Father who loves us and desires each one of us to be in intimate communion with him.
So why can’t we just confess our sins privately to God? In answering this question, we look to Jesus Christ. In the Gospel of John (20:21-22), Jesus exhorts the disciples to follow his example and delegates power to the apostles to forgive sins in his name. Jesus cannot be physically present to us, but he is present in his body the church and present in the authority he granted to his priests sacramentally to do as he asked and as he did.
It is important to note that we do not confess our sins directly to the priest, but to God through a priest, appointed as a stand-in for Christ. This is an important distinction.
Penance provides an opportunity to redress failings and to satisfy those sins and patterns of sin that we habitually fall into. The priest provides spiritual encouragement as well as a way for us to redress and satisfy those whom we may have wronged in the form of a penance. Penance may consist of “prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service of neighbor, voluntary self-denial, sacrifices and above all the patient acceptance of the cross we must bear” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1460).
We leave the sacrament with a renewed sense of wholeness and intimacy with God, having experienced a true conversion of hearts. A sense of relief and peace follows.
When this liberation happens through the sacrament of Reconciliation, we are better disposed to proclaim the Gospel with both words and deeds. Don’t be afraid to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation/ It is Jesus who waits for you.
Editor’s note: While the sacrament of reconciliation is more difficult to attend in the pandemic, it is still offered at many parishes.
Stanz is director of parish life and evangelization for the Diocese of Green Bay.