Wednesday, February 24, 2010


"The Light is on for You" - Confessions on Wednesdays during Lent, 8-9:30 pm, Newman Center, top floor.

A GW student approached me last semester about starting a discussion group in a residence hall with his Catholic friends. We've met four times now; I've posted my notes here from the discussions of the past three weeks (basically the same talks we've had at the Newman Center on Tuesday nights). We started out with about four students who hadn't been faithful to Mass but are now making a comeback, thanks be to God.

Last night, eight students came out for a discussion on Confession. It was one of those great, great discussions! One of the students went to Confession after the talk and another one is coming today. God is soooooo good!! Overall, the students seem very happy with the group. The one who started the group texted me last night, "this is turning out to be awesome".

Here are my notes from the talk:


Where did Confession come from? What is the basis for it?
-John 20:20- Jesus gives the power to forgive sins to the Apostles
- they passed it down to the next priests who passed it down...2000 years of Apostolic succession where priests like me in 2010 have Christ's power to forgive sins

Brief history of Confession
- in the early Church, publicly known sins (apostasy, e.g.) were confessed publicly in Church; privately known sins were confessed privately
- penance was done before absolution
- the form changed in the Middle Ages (?) to how we have it now

Is Confession necessary to get to Heaven?

Yes, if we’ve committed a mortal sin which breaks us off from God
No, if we haven’t committed a mortal sin and are always in a state of grace.

Yes, in order to live fully in Christ on Earth.

Is Confession only about sin?

No, it’s primarily about God’s infinite mercy.

-“God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but so that through him the world might be saved” – Jn 3:17

- the woman caught in adultery: “has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you. Go away, and from this moment sin no more” - Jn 8: 11

- the parable of the prodigal son

'I thought only God forgives sins. How can the priest forgive sins?'

Jesus has the power to forgive sins
- “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” – Mt 28:18
- “your sins are forgiven” – Lk 7:48 (the woman who was a sinner) + Mt 9:2 (the paralytic), e.g.

Again, Jesus gives the power of forgiving sins to the Apostles (the first priests)
As the Father sent me, so I am sending you’. After saying this, he breathed on them and said: ‘receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained”. – Jn 20:21-23

God reconciled us to himself through Christ and he gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (1 Cor 5: 18)

Why do I need to confess my sins to a priest? Why can’t I just confess to God privately?

- we can be forgiven of venial sins outside of Confession
- the Penitential Rite at Mass, Eucharist, sincere Act of Contrition, e.g.

- but, forgiveness of mortal sins is reserved for Confession

- what was the first mortal sin ever committed? Original Sin (Adam and Eve)
- after they sinned, the gates of Heaven closed; no one could go to Heaven because their mortal sins couldn't be forgiven. Christ had to come to Earth to bring the forgiveness of sins, mainly through Confession

- mortal sins kill our relationship with God and take us out of the state of His grace (which we need to be in order to get to Heaven)
- mortem = death
- “there is sin that leads to death” (1 Jn 5:16)
- Jesus’ list of serious sins from Mt 15

- if we are in state of mortal sin at the hour of our death, we will go to
Hell (Catechism, # 1861)

- “You have heard how it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say this to you, if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery in his heart. If your right eye should be your downfall, tear it out and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of yourself than to have your whole body thrown into hell” -- Mt 5:28
- example of how serious sin can cause eternal damnation

- Jesus speaks of Hell and eternal punishment over 100 times in the Gospels (theme, but not focus of his mission)

-we need Christ in order to be forgiven

- Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross = so that our “sins might be forgiven”
- our sins are taken to the cross of Christ and forgiven in Confession in a way that we can’t do on our own (confessing privately takes Christ out of the equation?)

- in Confession, we receive Christ’s sanctifying grace
- can’t get on our own (ala Baptism, Anointing of the Sick )
- if mortal sins kill our soul, the grace of Confession brings it back to life
- participation in the Paschal Mystery

What is a mortal sin?
1) Grave matter* – it’s wrong
2) Full knowledge – I know it’s wrong
3) Full consent – I freely choose to do it

* examples of grave matter: skipping Sunday Mass, getting drunk, offenses against chastity (fornication, pornography, masturbation, etc.), contraception, lying, cheating on exams, etc.

"I’m afraid to go to Confession"
- been many years
- forgot how
- priest will judge me
- priest will tell others my sins
- I will forget some sins
- I wouldn’t know where to start with my sins

Keep in mind:
- it is Christ in the Confessional; in persona Christi (the priest acts in the person of Christ when celebrating the's really Jesus absolving sins, saying the Mass, baptizing babies, etc.)
- “whoever hears you, hears me” (Lk10:16)

- we hear and know we are forgiven: “I absolve you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”

- Christ’s grace in Confession heals us and gives us the strength to overcome future sins (Mother Teresa, John Paul II)
- +the priest can give us advice on how to avoid the sins in the future

- confessing on the lips = shows true contrition; as when I sin against a friend, need to go face to face

"How do I make a good Confession?"
- examination of conscience
- contrition
- confession
- do your penance

"How often should I go?"
- at least once a year (required)
- whenever in mortal sin or think you may be (before receiving Holy Communion)
- once a month (MT, JP II)
- grow in grace and holiness; frequent Confession helps us to ‘forgive those who trespass against us’ so that we will be forgiven
- see our sins as they are (gossip, e.g.) and see ourselves as we are: “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner”

How to go to Confession / Examination of Conscience

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