The healing power of confession
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap
These days I had the grace to be continually enriched by the most intriguing content of the book by Cardinal Walter Kasper, Mercy: The essence of the Gospel and the key to Christian life.
In page 166 I read the following pericope: “But no psychologist or counselor can say: ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Go in peace’. This sacrament corresponds today, just as in previous times, to a deep need, and it still has its relevance. It is a work of mercy, both for the individual and for the church community. It could help to overcome aggression and the formation of camps in the church; it could assist in giving Christian humility a new lease on life, establishing more merciful dealings with one another in the church and thereby helping the church to become more merciful”.
This profound paragraph made me realise that confession is, first and foremost, a gift of Jesus to us, his Church. It was Jesus who formed his Church and endowed her with the power to bind and loose. Christ structured his Church with Peter as its visible head by these words: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18). Then Jesus continued to say to Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Jesus empowered the apostles to forgive sins in His name. In his speech at the House of Cornelius Peter says: “Every one who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43). Since he knew that “his hour had come todepart out of this world to the Father” (Acts 13:1) Jesus entrusted to His Church this incredible gift of offering forgiveness tothe coming generations. Immediately after having risen from the dead he commissioned his apostles to forgive sins. “‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’” (John 20:21-23). His breath on the apostles signified his utmost entrustment to his apostles with his mission to restore to their brothers and sisters to supernatural life as well as supernatural health through the sacrament of forgiveness.
As the Cathecism of the Catholic Church rightly explains in numbers 1423-24, confession is the Sacrament of Conversion since it makes sacramentally present Jesus’ call to conversion, the first step in returning to the Father from whom one has strayed by sin. It is also the Sacrament of Penance since it consecrates the Christian sinner’s personal and ecclesial steps of conversion, penance, and satisfaction. It is the Sacrament of Confession since the disclosure of sins to a priest is foundational of this sacrament. It is also a ‘confession’ recognizing and praising the holiness of God and his mercy toward a sinful man. It is the Sacrament of Forgiveness since by the priest’s sacramental absolution God grants the penitent ‘pardon and peace.Finally, it is the Sacrament of Reconciliation because it communicates to the sinner the love of God who reconciles: “Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Confession helps us increase our true self-knowledge, eradicate our bad habits, prevent our spiritual apathy, purify our conscience, strenghten our will and give us the benefit of spiritual direction.
In vue of such a life-giving grace that is imparted on us thanks to this joyous sacrament of God’s healing let us take heed of Pope Francis’ timely and prophetic words:
“Let us put back at the center – and not only in this Jubilee Year! — the Sacrament of Reconciliation, true space of the Spirit in which all, confessors and penitents, can experience the only definitive and faithful love, that of God for each of His children, a love that never disappoints.”
When approached with an open and contrite heart the Sacrament of confession heals absolutely!