Forgiveness is at the heart of the teaching and ministry of Our Divine Saviour, yet, as the song goes, ‘sorry seems to be the hardest word.’
Why is it that many people have such great difficulty going to confession when the TV and radio chat shows endlessly indulge audiences with the often less-than-edifying lives of their rich and famous guests? ‘Celebrity gossip’ they call it. It is as if there is a built-in human need to tell our story, warts and all. This is why confession is sometimes understood as a natural sacrament. Even the non-believer knows that for any relationship to last, it is necessary to be able to say, ‘I am sorry.’
And yet, how quick we are to excuse ourselves! ‘At least I’m not that bad,’ we might say. Perhaps you have heard the story about the penitent who said to the priest, “‘Sure, I have no sins,” to which the priest wryly responded, “Well, in that case, do you know what you’ll do? Go out into the Church and take the statue of Our Lady down from the pedestal and let you stand up there instead, and we’ll all light candles in front of you!” This is a true story, by all accounts.
‘But, I don’t like going to confession!’ Ah, now that’s a bit better! At least it is a more honest approach to the question. Confession is humiliating. Well, if that is so, then, perhaps, as Blessed Mother Teresa says, ‘humiliation is a path to humility.’ And maybe herein lies the answer. Pride blocks me from grace and mercy. Pride fools me into thinking I have no sins. Pride, that original sin, that darkens my intellect and weakens my will, prevents me from coming into the light of God’s grace. Is this not what Hell is all about – refusing to come out of my own selfish world – remaining in the dark? How miserable is that?
This explains why the only sin that cannot be forgiven is the one that is not confessed. This is ‘the sin against the Holy Spirit’ – the denial of mercy. There is no such thing as a sin that cannot be forgiven, but God will not bestow his unfathomable love and mercy upon us unless we ask for it. Love can’t be forced upon someone who does not want to receive it. God’s grace is always there – all we have to do is ask.
Perhaps this also clarifies why Jesus instituted confession by way of a personal encounter with Him through the priest, because in this way, it demands authentic humility. And, not only is it extremely therapeutic to ‘tell’ and thus unburden myself of my sins to another person, it allows me to face up to them honestly, to begin to account for myself, to obtain good counsel and seek to make amends. So, like the doctor, I am not there as a priest to embarrass or make penitents feel guilty – our merciful God has already built that into our nature to prompt us to confess. All I want to do is heal in the name of Jesus. But how can I heal you, in his name, if you won’t come, or you don’t show me all your wounds?
Did you ever notice the interior effect of a good confession? Just as a ray of morning sunlight in the window catches the plethora of dust and motes in the air, so too, a ray of God’s grace enlightens the soul to see so many areas in need of attention. We begin to see things differently when we are open to the light of God’s grace. Seeing others in that same light, it becomes easier to excuse and even forgive where previously we had so easily found fault. The words of Jesus take on a new meaning for the enlightened soul: ‘the measure in which you forgive is the measure in which you will be forgiven.’
So too, with the other fruits of frequent confession – healing, peace, strength and growth.
Deliverance from evil brings physical and spiritual relief. Letting go of some hurt or some addiction brings real bodily relief. How much lighter we also feel in spirit when we have honestly shown our wounds to the divine physician in this grace-filled sacrament!
Jesus is the author and source of peace. At the Last Supper, he told his disciples, ‘my peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give.’ The world longs for peace. In hearing those words of absolution, ‘I absolve you…’ the heart of Jesus reaches out to your heart. Going in peace, we praise afresh the Divine Mercy, ‘Jesus, I trust in you.’
Is there any sincere Catholic who is not battle-weary against the world, the flesh and the devil? This fighting of the good fight is impossible without supernatural help. Regular confession gives us real strength and stamina to continue ‘running the race to the finish.’ When our wills are more closely attuned to the Divine Will, there is an assurance there. The truth sets us free. Others will begin to notice the difference it is making in us. They will want a share in this joy that living the Gospel offers.
And, like any beautiful garden, that demands constant weeding and cultivation, so too the life of the soul demands regular attention. Fortnightly or monthly confession turns over that soil. The beautiful flowers of virtue, which take time and patience to cultivate, will bloom by God’s healing grace in the soul of those who are faithful to this sacrament. Who does not like to stop and admire a beautiful garden? Such are the lives of the Saints, who, by regular weeding and fertilising, were enabled to bear such great fruit and become part of the Lord’s rich harvest.
Put it off no longer. This is the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Now is the time to allow the Lord to lavish his gifts of grace upon you. Drink from the fountain – bathe in its waters – come and be healed!
As one of my own little efforts for the Year of Mercy I would like to offer you a free CD talk – a Radio Maria programme I did last year on ‘the Healing Power of Confession’. If you would like a copy, just text “Confession CD” with your name and address and I’ll gladly send it on to you. (085) 85 85 308.
By Fr. Eamonn McCarthy, C.C. Macroom