Monday, April 30, 2007

One thing I love about Confession...

...is that it's one place I never have to be pretend to be holy or righteous.

Sometimes, especially when you feel that ickiness of sin all over your soul, you almost feel like you're lying to yourself and everyone around you by actually going to church or saying grace. It's so refreshing to have a sacred place where we can be washed clean once again, knowing with full confidence that although, like the Prodigal Son, we have sinned against Heaven and against you, Christ created a place where Heaven and earth meet -- a sacrament -- to continually reconcile His children to one another and Himself.

To use a little Evangelical language, what a wonderful and awesome gift it is to have Jesus as a personal accountability partner! Of course, the sacrament of Reconciliation is so much more effective than the Protestant practice of accountability partners. When you are accountable to just another sinner, it's easy to bend the truth, tell a little white lie, or a big lie. Of course, you can lie to Jesus too, but you can't fool Him and you know it.

And even more, you get to hear Jesus personally say to you (through the priest) those redeeming words, "I forgive you of all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Having confessed your sins with a contrite heart, you can walk away knowing with full confidence that your soul is free of the stain of sin -- if it only lasts for a short time, it's a good feeling regardless.

I never got that feeling from any other accountability partner :)

4 comments:

vandorsten said...

Big Daddy J - what is up? i remember you from ol' Springdale...

I have some questions from your post. (As a preface to my questions, please know this is not argumentative. I simply want to understand your perspective. I am not catholic, so i don't quite get this view... but am interested in in what you are saying/meaning on this topic.)

Of course, the sacrament of Reconciliation is so much more effective than the Protestant practice of accountability partners. When you are accountable to just another sinner, it's easy to bend the truth, tell a little white lie, or a big lie... And even more, you get to hear Jesus personally say to you (through the priest) those redeeming words...

Help me understand why the priest is not also "just another sinner." What stops one from bending the truth or lying in the confessionary? If I (not a priest or a catholic, but certainly a Christ-follower, and filled with/lead by His Spirit) were to tell you that Jesus has forgiven your sins, does it mean less or is it less true than coming from a priest? Also, is this different than Christ saying this personally to you though Scripture?

Again, please don't percieve this as antagonistic (most dialogues of these issues seem to head that way). I am genuinely curious and interested in your perspective.

Jason said...

Took a while, but these are great questions that gave me a lot of think about, so I wanted to provide good answers for you.

Help me understand why the priest is not also "just another sinner."

The priest is indeed just another sinner. The difference is that in the act of providing a sacrament, the priest is acting "in persona Christe" or in the person of Christ. This means that every sacrament from Baptism to Last Rites (which is Anointing of the Sick for those near death) is a personal encounter with Jesus.

In 1 Cor 1:13, Paul reminds the Corinthians that identity is in Christ because nobody else was crucified for our sins nor has anyone been baptized in another name. We are baptized in Christ, so regardless of who happened to perform the physical act of baptizing us, the spiritual work of Baptism was done by Jesus. Likewise, it is Jesus who is working spiritually through a priest in Confession. Regardless of the specific priest to whom I confess, I'm always speaking face-to-face with Jesus.

What stops one from bending the truth or lying in the confessionary?

This is a good point, and the only thing stopping someone is their conscience. However, the stakes are higher when confessing our sins sacramentally because sacraments are oaths sworn to God (the Greek "sacramentum" means "oath"). While all lying is sinful, in Confession I'm swearing an oath to God that my confession is honest and sorrowful. Where one could rather easily rationalize lying to their accountability partner (which happens frequently from what I've heard), you absolutely cannot rationalize lying to Jesus.

It's similar to a witness swearing on the Bible in a court of law. Some people still commit perjury, but the appeal to a higher power (even if they don't believe the Bible is God's Word) makes lying under oath a far greater offense than it would be if not under oath.

If I (not a priest or a catholic, but certainly a Christ-follower, and filled with/lead by His Spirit) were to tell you that Jesus has forgiven your sins, does it mean less or is it less true than coming from a priest?

To be sure, "the wind blows where it chooses." Since God created the sacraments, he isn't restricted by them. They were made for our benefit, but God can forgive sins in countless other ways outside of the sacrament of Confession.

What you gain from the sacrament is the assurance that Jesus personally forgave your sins. We believe the Holy Spirit flowed from Jesus when he breathed on the disciples (in John 20:22-23) and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained," and from them the Spirit flowed through the physical "laying on of hands" or ordination (another sacrament) to their successors (Steven the Martyr being the first, replacing Judas) through to every bishop, priest, and deacon in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

This succession from the apostles is a spiritual family tree that fulfills the genealogical succession of Levite priests and Davidic rulers: Jesus is the fulfillment of both priest and ruler. Because of apostolic succession we have the assurance of knowing that when a priest says, "I forgive you of all your sins in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit," it is Jesus saying those words in the person of that priest. Hence, priests become visible instruments of God's mercy, or "the sound" of the unseen Holy Spirit.

The other half of swearing a sacrament/oath is that we know God is faithful to uphold his end of the bargain and provide in a specific moment the forgiveness that is promised. It's an invaluable gift to be relieved of all our specific, actual sins during our sojourn in this world, truly a burden made light. I can't tell you how much I look forward to it, often even more so than receiving Communion.

Also, is this different than Christ saying this personally to you though Scripture?

The message of forgiveness is naturally all throughout Scripture, but again, that face-to-face encounter with Christ provides something more that I believe we need as humans. We are made for community and long for physical encounters with each other and our Creator.

One last thing to add about sacraments like Confession and Ordination: I see in them God answering that eternal human question from John 6:30: "What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?"

Coincidentally, Jesus answered by describing himself as the "true bread from heaven," which all Christians receive spiritually in Christ and through Scripture, but Catholics and Orthodox also receive Christ physically in Holy Communion. This is another fulfillment of the Law by which the Jews ate the flesh of their sacrificial lamb at Passover; we now eat the flesh of Christ, the one, eternal, spotless sacrificial Lamb.

Anyway, the point being, Baptism, Communion, Confession, and the other sacraments provide that sign we long for so that we may see it, believe, and know that God performed a great work in us.


Sorry for the length, but this stuff is just so cool and I get excited. :) I appreciate the honest dialogue because, like you said, dialogues like this usually head into antagonism and that's always frustrating.

Thanks, and good to hear from an old Springdaler!

Jason said...

and from them the Spirit flowed through the physical "laying on of hands" or ordination (another sacrament) to their successors (Steven the Martyr being the first, replacing Judas)

Correction: Matthias was the successor chosen to replace Judas.

Tiber Jumper said...

great post, jason, I too have found the sacrament of reconciliation life changing after 30 years of "Im sorry Jesus and then going backj and doing it again." There is much power and grace in this sacrament.