A Reflection on Confession
“Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 18:18
I often tell my husband how envious I am of our children because they are graced with permission daily for the chance to start over – having a meltdown in the middle of the grocery store? Forgiven the moment they calm down after putting some food in their stomach. Said an unkind word to one of their siblings? A quick apology and they’re back to playing like it never happened. It’ll happen again; it always does, but that’s a topic for another day. I often don’t allow myself the same grace I extend to my little ones in flipping a switch and starting over. But the assurance of a new year with no mistakes in it yet makes for a promising scapegoat.
But as Catholics, we are given that grace at every Catholic church.
The Lord said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” John 20: 21-23
I’ve gone to countless different confessors at many different parishes over the years, sometimes leaving feeling lighter than air as I walked to the pew to say my penance, other times feeling slightly more stagnant. But one day, while in town visiting my parents, I went back to my childhood confessor. I was happy to find out he was in town hearing confessions that day, but for the most part, whenever I had gone to him as a child, my confessions had been more or less standard practice. Go in, list my sins, and get out as quickly as possible to not hold up the line.
This time though, I listed my sins. And then Father did what I’d never had a priest do before. He listed them back to me. Not in an accusatory or judgmental way, but in the way that a good father would, and with each one, he asked me why. Taking the time to make me feel heard and see even through a screen made me feel that I had the permission to flip a switch and start over. I cried, not a little; I more or less wept.
And at that moment, I thought to myself, this is why we come to confession. On that day, I wasn’t one of many, taking up space in a long line in a priest’s busy day, I was a daughter of Christ, who Jesus would have suffered His passion and death for just to have forgiven those sins that I had casually walked into that church that day to confess.
When I was very young, I heard a story about St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. According to the story, her spiritual adviser and confessor wanted proof that Jesus was, in fact, appearing to her and requested that the next time Jesus appeared to her, she asks what his last sin was that he had asked forgiveness for in confession.
The next time Jesus appeared, Margaret Mary asked, and Jesus replied, “I have forgotten.”