This sacrament is the perfect preparation for the Lord's coming. The Church gives us tonight's readings to say it's a great Advent preparation for Christmas. We focus on St. John the Baptist's preaching on the forgiveness of sins. We hear about being "found without spot or blemish before him" from St. Peter in the second reading. Even Mass itself is like a mini Advent: we begin by confessing "to Almighty God....that I have greatly sinned". We ask the Lord to remove our spots or blemishes before He comes to us in the Eucharist. This forgives venial sins...again, spots or blemishes. But, for big blotches - mortal sins - we need to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession).
We Catholics see the need for priests in other sacraments. We call a priest for Baptism or Anointing of the Sick. We come to Mass with a priest for the Eucharist, recognizing we don't have the power to do it on our own. Why do we think we don't need a priest for Confession?
Catholics approach this sacrament differently than the others because we focus on what we do, and not what God does. If it was just all about what we do - being embarrassed time and again by admitting our darkest secrets and failures - then I can understand why so few go to Confession...what, 10% of Catholics? But, it's more about what God does...more about what we receive.
This has been the shift in approaching the sacrament by GW Catholics. You have received a good experience of peace, love, kindness, and mercy. You have received good advice from the priest - and not just me because many priests have heard your confessions - that really helped. In general, you received the deep experience of being forgiven by God, and the immense freedom and peace it brings. A few minutes of embarrassment and humility is worth receiving all that!
People who go to Confession hear that they are forgiven. This is a huge, healing aspect of the Sacrament. When we hear from someone else that we are forgiven, then that sin is done. It's over. We let those sins go. I know people who say they go to God directly for their sins, but still talk about sins from many years ago. This is one of the reasons Jesus gave us the sacrament. In John 20:20, Jesus gave the first priests the power to forgive sins. When we go to the priest for confession, we are going to Jesus. It is really Jesus who absolves of our sins. It is really him who forgives us. We hear “I absolve you of your sins”, just like we here at Mass, “this is my body”. It is Jesus who celebrates the sacraments through his priests.
The Lord has given us the Sacrament of Confession mainly to forgive our mortal sins. If we die in mortal sin, we go to hell. The Lord has given us the Sacrament, then, to keep us out of hell! A mortal sin is a grave offense done with full knowledge and full consent. This means it is seriously wrong, we know it is seriously wrong, and we freely choose to do it. For example, skipping Sunday Mass is a mortal sin. It is a grave offense against the third commandment. We know that we need to go to Mass every Sunday. And, if we freely choose to skip Mass, then we commit a mortal sin.
The priest to whom you go to Confession is a sinner too. He goes to Confession himself. (He doesn't go to confession to himself… "bless me, me, for I have sinned… I have absolve me of my sins". Yeah, that doesn't work!). I go to another priest for Confession once a month because I am a great sinner, and I need God's mercy regularly. I would recommend going to confession once a month even if there's no mortal sin. Confession keeps us clean and in a state of grace, helps us to live the virtues, and more easily forgive others when they sin against us.
All of these points about Confession are what you, GW Catholics, have come to realize and understand... and, now you live. You get it that the Sacrament is real and it's awesome. You seek it out. I'm guessing that a few thousand confessions have been heard here the past five years. That is so awesome! As your spiritual father, I am so proud of you for this and so many other things. I love what you have done, and more importantly, who you are. I have such great love and respect for you. You are salt of the earth and light of the world. These are my words to you tonight, but also the words of Jesus Christ to you tonight and the rest of your lives.