Confessing sins to priests is an important part of being Catholic. Despite its importance, it remains a much underappreciated and often unused resource in our spiritual lives. There are several reasons for this. One is that non-Catholic Christians often make fun of the practice, accusing it of being unbiblical. Another reason, however, is that Catholics don’t see how it helps them in their spiritual lives. I’d like to invite you to think about this short post and make use of this practice soon.
Many non-Catholics object to the practice of confessing sins to priests because they believe it to be unbiblical. They believe that it is God’s plan that we confess our sins directly to God through private prayer alone. This is understandable, but holding this position actually ignores several important verses from the Bible.
Consider this account from John’s Gospel, which occurs after Jesus rose from the dead:
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. (Jesus) 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:
The question should be obvious. If Jesus intended for us to confess our sins directly to him, then why would he have given this power to his disciples? This only makes sense if Jesus meant for them to forgive sins in his name.
This perspective is further enhanced by the Apostle James who wrote one of the books of the Bible. James says, “Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed.” Again, if it was not God’s intention for us to confess our sins to another person, why would the Bible tell us to? But it is also worth pointing out that James does not merely speak of forgiveness here. He mentions healing occurs when we confess our sins. When we confess our sins we receive healing from the damage our sins have done to us.*
Now admittedly these verses alone leave some room for interpretation. Some could easily read these texts and presume that they apply to every Christian, rather than just priests. This is why it is helpful for us to look at how the early Christians interpreted the verses. When reading accounts from the early Christians, it is obvious that confession was not always done privately with a priest or bishop, but it was always done in the presence of a priest or bishop who had the authority to offer forgiveness in Jesus’ name. You can read some eye opening quotes from the early Christians here: http://www.catholic.com/tracts/confession
As Catholics, we have a firm biblical basis to confess our sins to priests. The testimony of the early Christians shows that we are in communion with them. It is Christians who insist on confessing their sins to God privately who are the ones who have gone astray from the faith given to us through the Bible.
Despite this, many Catholics do not take advantage of the practice of confession and a big reason is that they don’t see the value in it. But the practice is valuable and it can be of great help to us as we live the Christian life and try to eliminate the sin in our lives. One reason it is valuable I mentioned above. Confessing our sins heals us.
Whether you know it or not, your sins harm you and your ability to love God, your family, and your friends. Confessing your sins and receiving God’s mercy through confession is a very important step towards healing the damage you have done to yourself and to your relationships. This is an important spiritual yet mysterious aspect of confession.
Not all of the benefits of confession are as mysterious as the benefit of healing. Some are actually quite practical. One practical reason it is beneficial is because priests can offer you advice to help strengthen your relationships and overcome sin. One reason for this is that priests are sinners too, and we have learned a lot through our own experience. Another reason is that a lot of sins we hear about in the confessional are pretty common and we have reflected on them and even researched how these sins affect us and how we can overcome them.
There are other benefits as well, but they can be pointed out at a different time. The purpose of this short post is to give you a reason to return to the sacrament. I love celebrating this sacrament as a priest because I like telling people that they are loved even though they have sinned. I have also personally benefitted from receiving the sacrament as a penitent, and want others to have the same helpful experiences that I have had.
We offer confession at St. Rose regularly every Saturday at 3:30pm, and every Wednesday at 5pm. You can also make an appointment for confession by calling the parish office at 360-425-4660. There are also opportunities for confession during Advent and Lent. To keep up to date, read our parish bulletin which is given out by the doors of the Church after Mass, find us on facebook, or download our parish app ( Simply search for “My Parish App” in the App store and enter our zip code after you download it).
*These are just a couple of verses that support the practice and prove quite clearly that God intended for us to confess our sins to other people. For a lengthier account and some more scriptures, read this article from Catholic Answers.