Being a 2nd grade Catechist, I absolutely love teaching the kids about God’s forgiveness and mercy. As a bonus, I am able to catechize to the parents who may not have gone to reconciliation in awhile. No one likes to admit when they are wrong, but the parents often are a bit lazy on this subject. People are full of pride and saying “I’m sorry”, to them, feels like admitting that “I’m weak”. It is true, yet we have a merciful God who despite our sinfulness, gave us his only Son to save us from our sin. Here are some common objections to going to reconciliation and why they are not valid arguments.
1. A priest is “just a man”
Yes, a priest is a man, but they are given the power to forgive by the command of Jesus. God gave Jesus the power to forgive and after his death, he gave the power of forgiveness to the Apostles (John 20:23). They in turn, gave it to other priests who, for 2000 years, have continued to hand down power Jesus handed down from the Father. When we talk to a priest, we are actually speaking with Jesus through that priest; the priest is just the vessel Jesus uses to forgive us through. Just as it is the same Jesus in the Eucharist when priest blesses the hosts through the words of Consecration when using the words that Jesus gave us at the Last Supper, it is the same Jesus through the priest who offers forgiveness for those who seek him.
2. I can just talk directly to God in prayer
Yes, you can talk directly to God in prayer, always. But confessing our sins to a priest is a requirement of forgiveness. Jesus is the Second Person in the Trinity and he was able to discern the faith and sins of the people around him, and could forgive without “seeing their faith” (Mark 2). The priest, a man, does not know our sins as Jesus could and must actually hear them. The priest also has to discern if that person is truly sorry for those sins and give them absolution or if they should retain those sins and give the person the time and mercy to be sincere in their confession and change their life.
3. My sins are private
No, they are not. Sin always harms another, even if the sin is against our own body. Just think about someone who drinks too much. They are not only harming their own body, but can also be abusive or neglectful, which harms relationships and children. Because our sins do not only effect us, but also effects others and our relationship with God, we must go to a priest to ask for forgiveness from God, just as we need to go to a friend to repair a broken friendship. Rest assured, the priest has the “seal of the confessional” in which he has to keep our sins private, therefore we know that a priest will never tell another our sins.
4. I’m a good person who goes to Church every week
Awesome! And guess what? During the Penitential Rite all of our venial sins are forgiven so that we are sinless to receive Christ in the Eucharist. BUT if we are guilty of a mortal sin, we are required to go to reconciliation before receive the Eucharist. A priest or EMHC isn’t going to know if we have a mortal sin, and they will still present the Blessed Sacrament to us. Therefore, we must take responsibility to go to reconciliation when we know we have a mortal sin, so that we do not add to the sin by also taking the Eucharist. It is recommended that we go to Confession often, and we may be encouraged to go before Easter since that is the celebration of Christ’s victory over sin. We are only obligated to confess any mortal (grave) sins at least once a year (CIC 989), although it is recommended that we also go and confess our venial sins (CIC 988).
5. God knows what’s in my heart
Yes, he does. BUT if we don’t actively seek forgiveness for the things we’ve done wrong, then we may not realize where we may be sinning. When we review the Examination of Conscience, we can see times that we may have broken covenant with God that may not be as obvious to us as breaking one of the Ten Commandments. For example, we haven’t killed anyone (at least I hope not!), but there may be times when we have hurt someone through our words or actions and killed their spirit. God does know your heart, but he also requires you to know and correct the state of your soul.
6. My sins are too big to be forgiven
There is no sin which God cannot forgive when we come to him with a contrite heart and seek forgiveness. God loves us and does not want us to live in sin, which is why he offered his Son as an unblemished sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. The Israelites offered up sacrifices for their sinfulness, but they lived by the convent of the law and could never live a life up to the standards of the Commandments. We now live in a time of grace when we can, through the Blood of Christ, be washed clean from our sinful lives. There is NO sin that God cannot forgive when we go to him through Jesus Christ.
7. Even if God forgives me, I cannot forgive myself
This is actually a mortal sin! There is only one sin in the Bible that Jesus states is unforgivable, and that is blasphemy against the Spirit. This sin is so serious that it is listed in three of the Gospels (Matthew 12:31-32, Mark 3:28-29, and Luke 12:10). The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Among the penitent’s acts, contrition occupies first place. Contrition is sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again” (CCC 1451). If we are unwilling to repent and accept the forgiveness that God has offered to us through reconciliation, then we are turning our backs on God and telling Him that our sin is bigger than Him. One of the sins where someone may feel like God cannot forgive them is abortion. God is even bigger than that sin, and if someone needs help finding forgiveness, please go and talk with a priest about it. They will not condemn, but will help to find forgiveness.
8. I don’t know the format
So what? Don’t let a format prevent you from going to Reconciliation. If you let the priest know it’s been awhile since you’ve been to confession, they will help guide you along the way. Basically, the steps are:
Confession: Say “hello”, tell the priest how long its been since your last confession, and say, “I am in need of God’s forgiveness when…” and state your sins. You don’t even need to tell the priest every sin you’ve done in your life since your last confession, but just the most serious (mortal sins) and most frequent (those bad habits that cause you to sin the most).
Contrition: Say the Prayer of Sorrow.
Penance: Listen to the words of advice the priest gives you and pay attention to the penance you need to do in order to repair the damage caused by the sin.
Absolution: Pray along with the priest as he lays his hand over your head and prays the words of absolution. This is the prayer that frees us of our sin and allows us to go out of the confessional white as snow. We should thank the priest and complete our penance as soon as possible.
What a blessing to be free of all that sin and darkness, so that we can now live in total communion with God!
9. I don’t know the Prayer of Sorrow (Act of Contrition)
Again, so what? Learn it or ask the priest for a copy of the prayer. Or, ask the priest to let you say your own heartfelt act of contrition. The most important part of the prayer is that we honestly mean the words we are saying.
10. Penance is difficult
NO, it’s so easy. Some priests will give prayers to say, or something to do to make up for a sin that was committed, but penance is the easiest part of reconciliation. Just make sure that we understand what the penance is, and complete it quickly.
11. I’ve already told the person I’ve hurt “I’m sorry.”
That is wonderful, but we still need to repair the relationship between us and God. A sin is not just a broken relationship between us and another, but it also hurts our relationship with God. God gave us rules to live by, and when we disobey those rules (or Commandments), we lose the gift of sanctifying grace (which is the gift of God sharing his life with us). We must repair that relationship by also asking God for forgiveness. Finally, we also have to recognize that Jesus didn’t give the power of forgiveness to any man (or person), but his own Apostles, who gave that power to priests. Therefore, in order to receive forgiveness from God, we must go to a priest to receive absolution, and not just the person we hurt.
12. I’ll just receive the Anointing of the Sick before I die
We are forgiven of all our sins during the anointing. It is an awesome opportunity for those who are going into surgery, who are ill or seriously injured and may be close to death to receive the sacraments of Penance, Liturgy of the Word, Eucharist, laying of hands and Holy Oils. Unfortunately, we do not know when our deaths may occur, and if they happen suddenly or before a priest is able to reach us, then we may not be able to receive the sacrament in time. Do not put off tomorrow what we should do today! If you have a mortal sin, run to a confessional and receive forgiveness so if tomorrow doesn’t come, it’s not too late.
13. God doesn’t care about my sins
God rejoices when a sinner repents!
Jesus tells us in Luke 15, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
God wants us ALL to be with him in Heaven, and the righteous (saints) are already with Him. This celebration is for the person who turns away from their sin. Just as the father in the prodigal son slaughtered the calf and had a party for his lost son, God will rejoice when we come to back to him.
BONUS: “I’ll just commit these sins again”
Don’t be discouraged. You must take your avoidance of sin seriously, but you must also realize that there are two ways we can approach confession: with imperfect contrition and with perfect contrition. Perfect contrition is the sorrow we have that is elicited from the love of God, desiring reconciliation and a will to truly amend ones life. With imperfect contrition, you might desire forgiveness from a lesser passion, like fear of eternal punishment, without first truly wanting to abstain from sin to please God. Though you might feel like you’ll sin again, you must realize that that has no effect on the reality of the sacrament of reconciliation. Try you very best to achieve a perfectly contrite heart before confession, to abstain from every sin and every cause of sin, and to amend your life.
This is why I rejoice when I see my second graders along with their parents receive reconciliation. Their sins are small, but to see their shining faces come out of the confessional, free from their sin, they are all saints. There is nothing more freeing that giving the burden of sin that we’ve been carrying around with us to God and allowing him to remove that weight. Check your parish website for reconciliation times, call a priest and make an appointment or if you do not want to go to a priest that may know you, find another parish. Remember to go to confession regularly and bring a friend.