Why Go to Confession? (Part 2)
Pastoral Letter of Archbishop Bruno Forte
CHIETI, Italy, FEB. 21, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is the second part of a pastoral letter written by Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, a member of the International Theological Commission, on the theme "Reconciliation and the Beauty of God."
The first part of the letter appeared Saturday. The third part will appear Wednesday.
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3. Confess to a priest?
You then ask: Why must one confess one's sins to a priest and not do so directly to God? Of course, one always addresses God when confessing one's sins. However, that it is also necessary to do so to a priest is something that God himself makes us understand: In sending his Son with our flesh, he shows he wants to encounter us through a direct contact that passes through the signs and language of our human condition.
Just as He came out of Himself for love of us and has come to "touch us" with his flesh, we are also called to come out of ourselves for love of Him and to go with humility and faith to him who can give us pardon in his name with word and gesture. Only the absolution of sins that the priest gives in the sacrament can communicate the interior certainty of having been truly forgiven and received by the Father who is in Heaven, because Christ has entrusted to the ministry of the Church the power to bind and to loose, to exclude and admit in the Covenant community (cf. Matthew 18:17).
He it is who, risen from death, said to the Apostles: "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (John 20:22-23). Therefore, to go to Confession to a priest is very different from doing so in the secret of one's heart, exposed to so many uncertainties and ambiguities that fill life and history.
You will never know absolutely if what has touched you is the grace of God or your emotion, if you have forgiven yourself or if He has forgiven you in the way He chose. Absolved by the one the Lord has chosen and sent as minister of forgiveness, you will be able to experience the freedom that only God gives and understand why going to Confession is a source of peace.
4. A God close to our weakness
Confession therefore is the encounter with divine forgiveness, which is offered to us in Jesus and transmitted to us through the ministry of the Church. In this effective sign of grace, meeting with endless mercy, we are offered the face of a God who knows like no one our human condition and comes close to it with very tender love.
Innumerable episodes in the life of Jesus demonstrate this to us, from the meeting with the Samaritan woman to the healing of the paralytic, from the forgiveness of the adulteress to the tears in the face of the death of his friend Lazarus. ... We have immense need of this tender and compassionate closeness of God, as a simple glance at our existence also shows: Each one of us lives with his own weakness, goes through sickness, draws near to death, is aware of the challenge of the questions that all this poses to the heart.
No matter how much we wish to do good, the frailty that characterizes us all, exposes us continually to the risk of falling into temptation. The Apostle Paul described this experience with precision: "I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do" (Romans 7:24).
It is the interior conflict from which is born the invocation: "Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24). To it responds in a special way the sacrament of forgiveness, which comes to rescue us always again in our condition of sin, reaching us with the healing power of divine grace and transforming our heart and our behavior.
Because of this, the Church does not tire of proposing the grace of this sacrament to us during the whole journey of our lives: Through it Jesus, true heavenly physician, takes charge of our sins and accompanies us, continuing his work of healing and salvation. As happens in every love story, also the Covenant with the Lord must be tirelessly renewed: Faithfulness is the ever-new desire of the heart that gives itself and receives the love offered it, until the day that God will be all in all.
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