Confession ... Good for the Soul
by Rachele Smith
If you’ve ever hurt a loved one or caused a friendship to fail, then you know the emotions that can surface when you ask for forgiveness.
Feelings like pain, sorrow and even the inner conflict between humility and pride are all too common. But the act of forgiveness can wash away those feelings, and when expressed with a contrite heart, it can ultimately help a relationship become whole again. Forgiveness also works the same way in a relationship with God.
As humans, we are imperfect, and when failings occur and our actions, or sometimes, our inability to act, pulls us away from God, asking for forgiveness can make the relationship whole again.
“We never lose our relationship with God. That’s important to understand. But what reconciliation (confession) does is bring you back to that peace (with God),” said Father Charlie Landry, pastor of St. Gabriel Catholic Church in St. Gabriel.
In the Catholic Church, confession or asking for forgiveness is one of the church’s seven sacraments, or outward signs of the faith. It involves privately admitting one’s sins to a priest and then receiving absolution (forgiveness) for those sins.
For non-Catholics, however, the Sacrament of Reconciliation can be confusing. Traditionally, it was received in a confessional or behind a screen, but today, Catholics have the option to meet face-to-face with a priest.
Father Landry explained that while confession involves a personal examination of self, the priest’s presence is important because it reflects the ecclesiastical community of the church. “As Christians and as Catholic Christians, the sense of what Jesus left us is that we are a community,” he said, pointing to the Apostle Paul, who said in 1 Corinthians that even though we are different parts, we represent one body of Christ.
And as one body, when one member of the community offends or hurts another, the entire community is affected, Father Landry said. “It’s like a sore on your arm. You know the sore is there, but your whole body feels the pain and is affected by it,” he said, adding that through reconciliation, everyone, or all parts of the body of Christ, can come back to peace and wholeness in the church.
Confessing to a priest also allows spiritual directing and can help bring understanding to what is causing a sin, said Father Landry.
“Have you ever tried to dig up a dandelion? If you don’t get the root, it will come back again and again. But to get that root, you have to dig deep. That’s where spiritual directing can help, so you can find out the cause (of certain behaviors) and how you can make a change,” he said.
Spiritual directing can also guide those penitents who struggle to forgive themselves.
But what if a person isn’t really sorry for hurting someone else? Is a contrite heart needed for confession and ultimately forgiveness? Father Landry said it is necessary, especially in any loving relationship. With true contrition, the bond strengthens, and even though humans may worry about being hurt again, with God’s forgiveness, there is no worry.
“I kind of look at confession as God cleaning the slate,” he said, adding that our free will may at times take us out of our relationship with God, but God is always waiting for us to reconcile. “The beauty of reconciliation is when you sin, you know you can come back and receive the grace of reconciliation and continue living the salvation of Jesus.”