Sacrifice of a Loving God
The homily today describes how we are forgiven not by what we do, but by what God does. Going Behind the Word describes why the Sacrament of Confession is in fact how it is that we experience forgiveness by what God does and not what we do.
Going Behind the Word
Why do I have to Go to Confession? Can’t God forgive my sins?
Let’s answer the second question first. Can’t God forgive my sins? Of course. God is always the one who chooses to forgive sins. Going to confession does not change the fact that God is the agent of forgiveness. And yet, God shares this authority with his Church through the priest. “Only God forgives sins. Since he is the Son of God, Jesus says of himself, “The Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” and exercises this divine power: “Your sins are forgiven.” Further, by virtue of his divine authority he gives this power to men to exercise in his name.”
But why does the Catholic Church insist on the celebration of Confession, with the telling of sins to a priest as a way to obtain this forgiveness from God? The Catechism of the Catholic Church helps us to see that every time we sin, it is not only our relationship with God that is broken. It is also the relationship with the Church that is broken too. “Those who approach the sacrament of Penance obtain pardon from God’s mercy for the offense committed against him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by their sins and which by charity, by example, and by prayer labors for their conversion.” (Lumen Gentium, 11, #2)
Sin is not only between God and me
It can be easy to reduce sin as a brokenness only between God and me. But sin creates a brokenness not only between God, but also with the Church, and the other members of the Body of Christ. Sin breaks relationships. And while the forgiveness of God heals our brokenness with him, it is not the only remedy for brokenness.
And Jesus knew this, of course. He knew that the human failure that is sin also was a failure of human relationship too. When Peter denied knowing Jesus, the healing Jesus offered was not simply to Peter alone. Jesus forgave Peter. His sins were forgiven.
But when Jesus three times asks Peter if he loves him, he does so in the presence of the other apostles. This is because the forgiveness of Peter also needed to be seen as a healing of the brokenness Peter’s denial caused in the other apostles.
Forgiveness of Sin Means Restoring Relationships
Sometimes it is easy to see that the forgiveness of sins means restoring relationships. If I have an argument with someone and say things I regret, then I need to apologize to the person I offend. While it is good and right to ask God to forgive my sins, I too need to seek the forgiveness of the person I offend when I am aware of it.
There are other times when I am not aware of the ways my actions harm others, even if I know I have sinned. But God does. By celebrating the sacrament of Confession, God is able to help me to heal the broken relationships I may not even realize I have broken.
Confession is a Call to Conversion
When I participate in the sacrament of confession, I am also reminded of the call to conversion that is for the entire body of Christ. The Catholic Church understands the call to conversion as “an uninterrupted task for the whole Church.” Being a Christian involves both a personal relationship with Jesus, and our communal relationship with Jesus.
The gospel begins with the call for all of us to change. “Repent!” we are told. But this is not just an external change. Much more importantly it is an internal change of our hearts. Again, the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart).”
Why do I have to go to confession?
And so the answer to this question is because this is the way that God set up attaining the forgiveness given to us when Jesus died on the Cross for our sins. The remedy for brokenness is that God both forgives our sins and provides healing of the brokenness that our sin causes in the other relationships we have in the Church.
“Sin is before all else an offense against God, a rupture of communion with him. At the same time it damages communion with the Church. For this reason conversion entails both God’s forgiveness and reconciliation with the Church, which are expressed and accomplished liturgically by the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1440)
But it also matters because the priest, acting in the person of Christ, can help us to see more clearly those ways in which we have sinned. Sometimes the priest can help us to see that our sinfulness may be more serious than we realize. At other times, the priest can help us to put our sinfulness in a more proper perspective that helps us to see that our sins can indeed be forgiven.