Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bless Me Father, For I Have Sinned....

Even if you know nothing about the way Catholics practice reconciliation you have surely heard the title phrase in movies and TV. I didn't use to be a fan of the Sacrament of Confession, but that has changed lately. There is something to be said for the squeaky clean feeling of one's soul after receiving the grace of the sacrament.

Protestants think Catholics are almost sacrilegious in how we make our confession, but in truth the whole process is soundly rooted in the Bible. Perhaps the best one stop shopping answer as to why Catholics go to confession is found in John 20:19-23. Jesus appears to the apostles after the Resurrection and sends them forth as the Father has sent Himself. We know from Matt. 9:6 and Mark 2:5 that the Son of Man was given the power to forgive others their sins, ergo it follows that Jesus is giving the apostles that same power.

And how will they know whose sins to forgive if those sins aren't told to them? Many times in the Gospels as Jesus works his healing he starts by forgiving people's sins, often that in itself is the necessary cure for the person freeing them from their malady.

Jesus gave that same power to his apostles. In addition to commissioning them to preach the Gospel (Matt. 10:5-10), govern the church (Matt. 16:16-20, Luke 22:29-30) and make it holy through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist (John 6:54, 1st Cor. 11:24-29).

Let's take a look at some Old Testament passages that seem to contradict Catholic teaching and see how they in fact compliment it nicely. In Isaiah 43:25, we see that it is God that forgives sins, as an aside Catholics don't deny that God is the efficient cause of forgiveness we just see that he is merely working through his priests to do so. Evidence of God using a priest in the cause of forgiveness can be seen in another Old Testament passage Leviticus 19:20-22 shows a penitent sinner seeking forgiveness by the priest sanctifying his offering.

Jesus is the High Priest of the New Covenant (Heb. 7:22-27) you say. The one mediator between God and man (1st Tim. 2:5). Indeed He is those things. But are we not all called to mediate in Him to one another. When we share the Gospel are we not mediating in the one true Mediator. Now 1st Peter 2:5,9 demonstrates that we are all by virtue of our baptisms called to be "A Royal Priesthood," but that doesn't remove the ability that Jesus gave to his priests, the apostles, that they in turn handed down to others perform the sacraments.

But what about James 5:16, it merely says to confess your sins to one another, why do we need to go through a priest? First off to take just that one verse removes the context of that which came before it. Let's look at James 5:14-16 as a whole.

St. James implores his readers if they are sick to call on the elders of the church to receive laying on of hands and prayers (Extreme Unction or the Anointing of the Sick). Now he says if he has committed sins they will be forgiven. He starts verse 16 with the word therefore, linguistically tying it back to the verses preceding it and thus making the idea of confessing your sins to one another mean that you should confess them to the elders (presbyters, from which we get the word priest).

Perhaps the most interesting point regarding the sacrament of reconciliation come from St. Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians. in 2 Cor. 2:10 we see him say "What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake, in the presence of Christ."

A packed statement to be sure. It gets even more packed when you unpack it and look to the Greek. The Greek word used for presence is prosopon, the Latin word persona comes from it. Interestingly the KJV Bible usually translates the passage as "In the person of Christ," or in Latin In Persona Christi. That is important insofar as that is how a Catholic describes the work of a priest. They act in the Person of Christ.

Now if you are Catholic you have a few days before Easter to examine your conscience and follow the Church's guidelines by confessing your sins during the Lenten season. Do it. It will make you feel better. If you need an examination of conscience to get started check this one out.

If you aren't Catholic I hope this post has helped you to see the very Biblical basis for the sacrament.

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