Monday, December 15, 2008

Ten Reasons for Confession

With all the parish penance services going on this week, I thought it would be a good time to list my ten reasons to go to confession.
  1. It's God's plan. Christ explicitly gave his apostles authority not only to forgive sins, but to retain them. "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained (John 20:23)." So if this is the way that God set it up, who are we to try something different?
  2. Tradition! We've been doing it this way for how many hundreds of years? Are we really so arrogant as to think that we've got a better way?
  3. Assurance. When you go to confession, you hear the words "I absolve you" coming from the priest, acting in the person of Christ. I know that my sins are forgiven (as long as I haven't intentionally withheld anything).
  4. The New Shoes Effect. Do you remember when you were a kid, and you got a new pair of shoes? Not only did it seem like I could run faster and jump higher, I also wanted to keep those shoes scuff-free for as long as I could. While I wouldn't have thought twice about walking through mud with my old shoes, I wanted to keep the new shoes clean. If you don't like the shoes analogy, you can substitute carpet. After you get the carpet cleaned, you don't let the kids eat or drink in the family room, at least for a while.
  5. It's not too easy. If forgiveness comes too easily, there's no incentive to change the behavior. Confession takes a little effort (but not too much).
  6. It's an antidote for pride. Going to confession takes humility. You usually stand in line to accuse yourself before God. And for those of us who seem to confess the same sins, it takes extra humility to admit that we keep falling into the same traps.
  7. It's an opportunity for Spiritual Direction. You confess your sins and the circumstances and, if the priest isn't in too much of a hurry, he'll take some time to counsel you on how you might avoid those sins in the future.
  8. Penance. As strange as it may sound, being required to do something in atonement for your transgressions makes the whole experience more meaningful. Most penances are really quite minor (e.g., three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys), but sometimes the penance is custom fit to the sins committed.
  9. Sacramental Grace. Confession is a sacrament. A sacrament is a sign instituted by Christ to confer grace. Every sacrament gives us grace, a share in the divine life. Therefore, confession draws us into a closer relationship with God.
  10. Requires an Examination of Conscience. Every time we go to confession, we examine our conscience. We look back at how we've lived our life since our last confession, and we pick out the ways in which we've failed to live according to our calling as followers of Christ. Only by examining how and why we are falling short of the ideal can we hope to get any closer to the ideal.

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