Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. —Psalm 51:1-2
My professor of sacramental theology surprised us one day by saying, “Catholics go to confession as much now as they ever did.” Then he paused and said, “They just don’t confess to priests as much as they used to. They confess to friends, spouses, therapists, or twelve-step groups. They confess on radio call-in shows or in television interviews.” Today I would add that people confess on Facebook and Instagram, blog posts, or other social media.
We have a deep human need to unburden ourselves and admit our sins in the hope that we will be heard and received with compassion. This type of sharing with a trusted individual—priest or otherwise—can be cathartic, healthy, and healing. It can also backfire and result in more pain and confusion if the person or people on the receiving end don’t receive our confession with empathy and mercy. The Catholic tradition invites us to confess to a priest whose primary job in the sacrament of reconciliation is to remind us that God stands ever-ready to receive us with mercy and forgiveness, no matter what we have done.
God uses the priest as a channel of God’s forgiveness. (And yes, God can use friends, spouses, or therapists just as freely to remind us we are forgiven.) Pope Francis reminds us that the sacrament of reconciliation doesn’t exist to make us feel guilty about ourselves or our sins but as a doorway to mercy. Let’s walk through that doorway so we can receive God’s healing.
Note: If you have ever experienced a priest respond to your confession by shaming, blaming, or judging, know that he was not reflecting Jesus, who never shamed, blamed, or judged sinners who came to him.
For Action: Make a plan to receive the sacrament of reconciliation before Easter. When is your parish offering it?
To Pray: Forgiving God, help me know your mercy and trust in your forgiveness.