“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, so I also send you.’ After saying this, He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.'” John 20:21-23
Today in RCIA, we talked about confession. As a Protestant, this was one of the doctrines I had a major issue with. How dare a priest think that he had any right to forgive my sins! That is for God alone to decide! But from the verse above it is clear that Christ Himself gave other people the power to do that exact thing. He gave those 12 men the right to forgive and retain the sins of Jesus’ followers.
Many Protestants would argue that He was only talking to the 12 apostles that He walked the land with. But that can’t be the case. I don’t know about you guys, but I have never had my sins forgiven by any of the original 12. If Jesus did not intend for this gift to be passed down generation to generation, then it would seem that the rest of us are out of luck! Or, maybe we can have free reign because the apostles are no longer here to retain our sins. Either way, it seems unlikely that leaving this power to bind and loose sins with only the original 12 is not what Christ had in mind. I think He wanted this gift to be available to His people until He returned. And the Catholic Church has made it so.
Confession makes sense from a logical point of view as well. Confession requires a person to speak their sins out loud, to someone else. Even if it is an embarrassing or grave sin, you have to speak it out loud if you want the grace and forgiving power of confession. The simple act of speaking your sins gives you power over them. You have acknowledged that there is a problem and someone else was there to hear it and forgive you for them.
As a Protestant, I had accountability partners for the purpose of helping me acknowledge a problem and start on my way to fixing it. But if I had a sin that I was not comfortable sharing with them, I didn’t. And I didn’t think I was required to so no harm was really being done, right? Wrong. The sins we struggle with most are often the ones we would prefer not to share with our closest friends, or accountability partners. These are the very sins we should be sharing, but don’t. There’s a discomfort that comes with sharing with accountability partners. They have no ability to forgive sins, so all you are doing essentially is sharing each others’ “dirty laundry.” There’s a fear that they will judge us for our sins or accidentally tell someone else, so we don’t share some things and let them fester inside. We confess them through prayer to God, which is good. We should do that. But until we speak it out loud to someone, it’s easy for our sin to hold it’s grip on us.
The beauty of the sacrament of confession is that the priest cannot share anything we say to him with anyone else. We get to speak our sins out loud and know that they will be forgiven us. We get to hear Christ Himself, through the priest, tell us that our sins are forgiven. We spend time in prayer with God before confession, asking Him to show us the sins we have committed, to help us find our deep seeded problems. We spend time in prayer after praising and thanking Him for forgiving our sins. And one last benefit that most accountability partners cannot offer is proper counseling. Priests have been trained to offer sound advice to their parishioners. They are qualified to help me figure out how to avoid sin that is especially tempting to and difficult for me. Unless your accountability partner is a psychologist or counselor, they likely cannot give you the same benefits. I can’t wait until the first time I go to confession and feel the grace of God penetrate my broken heart and soul, to feel His healing power. I pray that each one of you will experience it eventually.