In the Catholic Church there are seven sacraments. The Catechism defines a sacrament as: “An efficacious sign of grace, instituted by Christ, and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us through the work of the holy spirit.” The seven sacraments are: Baptism, Confirmation, The Eucharist, Confession (or reconciliation or penance), Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Marriage (or Matrimony). Of all these sacraments confession is maybe the one that is most misunderstood.
I think that a stereotypical view of confession is that someone goes into a confession booth or room. They kneel there trembling because they think that the priest is going to give them a very hard time and make them feel like the worst person in the world after they confess all the sins they have committed since their last confession. It’s looked at as a form or punishment and embarrassment. I have been going to confession regularly for years and it has been one of the greatest gifts from the Catholic Church.
Confession is not a time where anyone should feel embarrassed or ashamed. Confession is a form of mercy that helps us grow closer to God. We can of course tell God that we are sorry for our sins on our own. That is a good thing. However, without confessing our sins there is no way to really know that we are forgiven even if we feel in our minds that we are forgiven by God. Confession is the only way to really know that our sins are forgiven and that we are put right with God again. It is comforting and gives people peace to hear the words from a priest: “I absolve you of your sins.”
Another benefit about confession is that we gain more grace from this sacrament. This will start to reduce our tendencies to commit sins, especially sins that we struggle with. Sin is an act of pride while confession is an act of humility. By confessing our sins, we are breaking down our pride and detaching ourselves from sin. I think that going regularly has also helped me to become more of a forgiving person, especially when it comes to minor quirks and faults of other people. The grace from the sacrament is one reason why I frequent this sacrament; even if I haven’t done anything most people would consider “really bad.” Think about if somebody wrongs you or if you have a child that disobeys you. Part of what they have to do to make up for that is admit that what they did was wrong, apologize for it, and tell you they won’t do it again. That way you know that they have learned their lesson. It is the same with God. By confessing our sins, we acknowledge that what we have done has hurt him. For this reason, Catholics that have committed mortal sins and not gone to confession for a long time cannot receive holy communion.
If you don’t do go enough, it can seem odd to have to confess your sins to a priest. However there is a biblical basis for this sacrament to be carried out in this way. In John 20: 22-33 makes this clear. “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.'” From this we know that Jesus gave the apostles the authority to forgive sins. It only makes sense that they would be able to forgive people’s sins if they knew what those sins are; hence confession of sins.
If you are Catholic and have not been to confession in a long time, I strongly encourage you to make regular use of this great gift. It will help heal you while making you a better more forgiving person.