Unless you are Catholic, you may not understand the concept of “making a good confession”. It is something within Catholic dogma, and certain aspects of Canon Law, that makes it an obligatory requirement to “make a good confession” before you can be considered eligible to participate in receiving certain Sacraments of the Church. It is said to find its historic roots in scripture when Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and said to them; “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. […] Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” [John 20:21-23 NIV]
Furthermore, Roman Catholic instruction conveys that by not “making a good confession” and then presenting oneself to partake in the Holy Eucharist- another sin is compounded because one approached God with a “heart of deceit and deception”.
Before I converted to Catholicism, I was baptized and raised a Methodist as were most of my friends growing up. Going to Sunday school; we learned of sins, God’s forgiveness and Holy Communion. In church we sang, prayed and knelt. Then Reverend Garrett would give us a cracker and some juice and we wandered home forgiven. During the week we learned of our Catholic friends, who entered a magical box and came out of it with “homework”. I somehow, always felt sorry for them. There seemed to be so much guilt attached. You know what? I still kind of feel sorry for them.
Years later, with conversion to Catholicism and seminary training; I can see the beauty, the mystery and grace of the confession. I can appreciate the reasoning, both practical and theological. I can even extrapolate that confessing to a priest can be a lesson in humility. But when all is said and done, I still cannot help but feel confession is a roadblock to Christ.
I know personally many Catholics, including a handful of family members, who do one of two things. They either stay away from church completely because it has been weeks, months and dare I say, years since their last “good confession” or they go to church, refuse to participate in the Eucharistic mystery and voice how they feel “guilty” about even being in church.
This is the aspect I do not understand and cannot rationalize away. Christ knows all things within our hearts. Christ knows our deepest secrets, our most profound regrets and our shames. Christ knows the weight that this self-guilt burdens upon our heart. Most importantly, Christ knows the sadness of what this has done to our intimate relationship with him. There are those that stay away. Those that feel God may have abandoned them, while in reality it is the church who has failed them.
Christ knows we are broken, because Christ knows us. With all our faults and sins, Christ still reaches out to us from the cross. Arms outstretched, he begs to us in our pain to come to Him.
This is the greatest joy to me of the Old Catholic Church. While we do reverence the Sacrament of Reconciliation, there is no demand or prohibition from participating in the Holy Eucharist. Indeed unlike Roman Catholic churches, we do not deny the blessed Eucharist to anyone. Whether you haven’t made a “good confession” in years, whether you are gay or lesbian, whether you are divorced or strayed from the church. Whether whatever, we celebrate an “open table” and invite everyone to come forward and receive God’s grace through God’s most intimate loving gift.
This is what I passionately believe. No one, regardless of their transgressions, can approach Christ in the Holy Eucharist with deception or deceit in their heart. What is to be accomplished? A “free pass” to forgiveness because they bypassed the confession?
Ultimately, God’s grace is so forgiving- so powerful and overwhelming, that I am confidant anyone who may have such a mindset of duplicity, is in fact being moved by the Holy Spirit to come forward. It is Christ calling to their soul to return to him. How can this then, be a “compounded sin”? To this end, we must remember it is ultimately God who will judge and forgive us. The priest sole true role within the Confession, is to reconcile the sinner to the church.
Moreover, Christ in teaching us His prayer- i.e.: “[…] and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us” [Matthew 6:12 NIV] follows that immediately with the instruction: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” [Matthew 6:14 NIV] We pray daily to God to forgive our sins and should consider ourselves forgiven, as long as we maintain no ill will toward those who may have afflicted us.
“[…] concerning the faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As scripture says, ‘Anyone who believes in Him will never be put to shame. For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile- the same Lord is the Lord of all and He richly blesses those who call upon Him, for, ‘Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” [Romans 10:8-13 NIV]
Our God and His Christ are so loving and so compassionate, that no one is turned away from His salvation if they call upon the name of the Lord for forgiveness and mercy. So I invite everyone to come forward to God’s table. Christ died for us. There is no greater demonstration of love for us, than this act. We should not let a dogmatic rule keep us from the One who longs to embrace us. For truly, God and we ourselves- thirst for this relationship. Let there be no roadblocks or detours, to keep us from our God.
“Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us; that in difficult moments we might not despair no become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is love and mercy itself. Amen.” [Chaplet of Divine Mercy Closing Prayer]
Father Wolf is a retired police officer in New Jersey, the pastor of St. Aelred’s Parish, and an Assisting Priest at Saint Miriam Parish and Friary in the Old Catholic Churches International.