The healing ritual of confession
By Father Ed Dougherty, M.M.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a divinely instituted encounter with the mercy of God that we should avail ourselves of on a regular basis. In John 20:20-23, an account of Christ’s appearance to the apostles after the resurrection reads: “Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 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 them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’”
By partaking in the Sacrament that Christ instituted, we gain the certainty of knowing we are forgiven so that we can move forward with our lives. We have discussed our sins with a priest of the Church, demonstrating humility and opening ourselves up for counsel and guidance in reconciling ourselves to God through prayer and acts of penance.
A few years ago, Northwest Catholic, the official news site for the Archdiocese of Seattle, Washington, published an article written by Kevin Birnbaum entitled “The Power of Confession.” Birnbaum recounted the story of Christopher Barajas, who had been raised by Catholic parents but strayed in his teenage years and began, as he said, “down the path into darkness.” Birnbaum writes of Barajas: “He was drinking, smoking marijuana, sneaking out late and skipping enough classes that he ended up not graduating high school on schedule. But when he saw his younger brother starting down the same path, he realized he had to change.”
Barajas found his way back to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and credits it with giving him the freedom to choose the right path. He says, “There’s that choice I have, to choose God or to continue on the path I was on before, where if I didn’t have that sacrament, I know that I wouldn’t have that choice. I still would be chained down to those vices.”
What a powerful reminder of the important reasons we have for making regular confessions. Like Barajas, many of us can think of loved ones for whom we want to set a good example. Confession helps us to remain pure of heart so that we can be there for those who need us most. Many of us also have had the experience of feeling like a weight has been lifted from our shoulders after we’ve made a good confession. This is that sense of freedom that Barajas is talking about. Christ instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation to awaken us to the mercy of God, and when we take the steps to make a good confession, we internalize that mercy within our souls.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation contains within itself all the elements we need to put our faults behind us and live a life of hope. We get a chance to tell our stories and talk through the issues that are burdening us. We receive counsel in regard to the spiritual dimensions of our actions. And we encounter the forgiveness of God made possible by Christ’s redemptive sacrifice. What an ingenious combination of healing elements rolled into this ritual of the Catholic faith.
So avail yourself of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the mercy of God will overflow within your soul; and you will remain a beacon of light to your loved ones, who look to you for inspiration as they search for the right path in their own lives.
Father Ed Dougherty is a member of the board of directors for The Christophers.
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