Confession (Maybe a Socratic Dialogue)

Recently I worked on a letter with a friend and for the letter I wrote my first feeble attempt a Socratic Dialogue (a hypothetical conversation) about the Catholic understanding of Confession.  It can be found below.

Why do I have to confess my sins to a Priest?  Can’t God just forgive me?

Yes, of course God can do that, but is that the way that Jesus and the Apostles have asked us to do it?  God doesn’t ordain the easiest option, but the best option and in His wisdom has ordained confession to a representative of the Body of Christ, aka an ordained member of the Clergy.

That might sound nice, but it isn’t Biblical.  Where does that come from?  

The New Testament.  Let’s look at a few passages.  Open to 2 Corinthians 5:18-20.
See how Paul sees himself as an ambassador of Christ, continuing His ministry of reconciliation?  Does he have Biblical ground for that?  The answer would be yes!

Paul’s ministry of reconciliation is not the same thing.

We’ll see if the Bible implies otherwise.  Turn to John 20:21-23.
Do you see what is happening here?  Jesus is sending the Apostles as He was sent.  For what purpose was Jesus sent?

To impress fisherman with his feat of walking on water (get it ‘feet’).  Well that, and to save us.

Yes!  To save us by reconciling us with the Father and bringing us back into the family.  What takes us from the family?

Presumably you are referring to sin.

Correcto Moondo.  Thus he tells them that if they forgive someone’s sins they are forgiven and if they retain them, they are retained.  Now, I don’t know how Jesus expected them to make that call between forgiveness and retention if He didn’t anticipate that they would hear those sins confessed.  But something else happens here that is important.  He breathes on the Apostles.  This should remind us of when God breathed into the nostrils of Adam.  Jesus is changing something about the Apostles, he is imparting something of Himself to them, and He tells us what that is.  He is imparting the authority to forgive sin.

Yeah, but Paul’s not there.  How can you connect this to Paul?

Well, Jesus Himself chose Paul (Acts 9:3-6).  Then He led Paul to his Baptism and selected him for ministry (Acts 13:1-3).  Note however, that prior to Paul being sent out he receives the laying on of hands.  This seems to be a sign of ordination.  Paul himself seeks consultation with Cephas (Rock – aka Peter) after his time of conversion (Galatians 1:11-18).  So Paul obviously sees himself as sharing in the Apostleship of the others, both because of Jesus’ appointment of Him and their confirmation of his call.

Weren’t we talking about Confession.  Why confession to a priest?

Well, we’ve established that Jesus told the Apostles they could forgive sins and that would kind of imply that they would be hearing those sins too.  Beyond that we find this in at least two other New Testament books, 1 John and James.  1 John 5:16 says, ‘If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life.’  While this doesn’t say anything about confessing it does say that the prayers of one person can help someone else’s relationship with God (not to mention it shows there is a distinction between deadly and not deadly sin).  And then James 5:16 says, ‘Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.’

Wait, no. That says confess your sins to one another! There is nothing about priests in there.

Hold on. Does it say to confess your sins to someone other than God?  Have we established that principle that God desires us to verbally confess our sins to someone else?

I guess.

Ok, now what about the ‘therefore’ in James 5:16?  When you see ‘Therefore’ you are obligated to ask ‘Therefore what?’

…Why’d you stop?  Oh, really… ‘Therefore what?’

Funny you should ask!
Here is what James wrote right before saying ‘Therefore’, “Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven” (James 5:14-15).  Therefore, since the Presbyter has been given the grace to forgive sin through the prayer of faith, confess your sins to one another.

But my Bible says elder.

Which comes from Presbyter, but so does Priest.

But you don’t confess your sins to one another, you sit in a closet and confess them to one man.

The practice of private confession is only about 1000 years old. In the Early church you confessed in the Liturgy (and we still make a general confession in the liturgy) which was presided over by a Bishop or Presbyter (Priest).

But I don’t need a priest.  Jesus brought about the priesthood of all believers, and the Apostles ministry died with them.  Their job was to record Jesus’ teaching in Scripture and that has been done.

Ok, ok.  There is a lot you threw at me there.  First, if the Apostles’ job was to write scripture, why do we only have 5 of the original 12 represented as the authors of Scripture?  Did they miss the memo?
Second, there is no Biblical grounding for the cessation of the Apostle’s ministry.  Acts 1:15-26 seems to imply that the Apostles’ understood that their ministry should continue.  We’ve already mentioned Acts 13:1-3.  Beyond that, Ordination seems to be an important topic of conversation in 1 & 2 Timothy. See 1 Timothy 5:17-25, which is all about presbyters, particularly verse 22, “Do not lay hands too readily on anyone.”  Why would Paul warn Timothy about this?  Because the laying on of hands by Timothy ‘effects’ something, it does something.  Why?  Because it is how he gives what he has received from Paul, “I remind you to stir into flame the gift (the grace) of God that you have through the imposition of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:6).  Grace given through the imposition of hands sounds like a Sacrament to me.
Finally, the idea that a communal priesthood is incompatible with a ministerial priesthood is forgetful that Israel was a “Nation of priests” (Exodus 19:6) possessing a ministerial priesthood.
When taken as a whole, it seems to me that Jesus left us men who could hear our sins and, by virtue of Jesus’ own sharing of the Spirit, convey to us the certainty that our sins are forgiven, and continue to be forgiven, as we gain access to Christ’s Paschal mystery.

The 7 Deadly Sins & the 7 Last words of Christ

An Examination of Conscience


This examination started as a personal exercise that a friend asked me to put to writing. 

Thank you to Sarah Cerrone for putting that challenge to me and thank you to Will Marsh, Fr. Steve dos Santos, Dan Hutson, Austin & Makayla Citrigno their help editing it.  Thank you also to Bishop Robert Barron for inspiring me to begin examining my walk by looking for the 7 Deadly Sins.

Please pray this. 

Ask the Holy Spirit to take you down roads I missed and to allow you to be honest with yourself. 

I pray daily for anyone using this examination, please pray for me.


Anger

  • Does my anger persist long after an offense? Have I lashed out at others while angry?
  • Do I dwell upon the harm I wish to cause another? Do I have grudges? Do I fuel them in myself or others?
  • Have I allowed anger to damage, even break, my relationships, especially with family?
  • Do I blame others for my anger? Have I apologized for it? Have I refused another forgiveness because of my anger?
  • Do I pray for and bless my enemies?

“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

The first words of Christ after being lifted up upon the cross are words of forgiveness.  The sinless one is being unjustly killed and yet he does not hurl insults and curses.  Instead, Christ is raised above the people gathered there and showers them with the mercy of the Lord.


Envy

  • Am I pained by the success of others? Do I take pleasure at other’s failures?
  • Do I find myself envious of the gifts and talents of another, instead of praising the Lord for them?
  • Am I envious of others’ possessions or relationships?
  • Am I drawn to gossip, slander, or libel (written slander)? Do I encourage those sins in others?

“Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

As Christ hangs upon the cross he does not take comfort in the suffering of the criminals next to him, rather he has pity on them.  He does not cling enviously to who he is – Life, Love, Light, and Truth – but in his generous mercy lavishes these upon all of us, even the repentant criminal at his side.


Lust

  • Do I view other humans as a means to satisfy my sexual desires?
  • Do I demonize my sexuality? Do I view sexuality as a gift to be cared for or a curse to be dealt with?
  • Have I committed adultery with my body, my mind, or my emotions?
  • Have I violated another sexually – committed sexual abuse or harassment?
  • Have I released my sexual desires through pornography, erotic reading, self-stimulation, or sexual activity outside of marriage? Within marriage, is our intimacy a renewal of our freely given marriage vows?  Are we open to God’s participation in our marriage (e.g. do we pray about our budget, do we use contraceptives, is our home our castle or a place of welcome)?

“Woman, behold your son … Behold your mother.”

When Christ entrusts Mary and John to each other he raises the dignity of motherhood.  However, it’s not just what Jesus said, but how he said it.  In using the word “Behold” he calls Mary and John to see each other as they truly are – as God sees them.  Lust, however, violates how I see another and how I see myself.  This is why it is commonly associated with the eyes.  Not because it is a sin of looking, but because it is a perversion of seeing.  It is to see another and believe we can take what is theirs and will never belong to us.


Pride

  • Am I the center of my own little world? Have I sidelined God and others?  Do I have idols?
  • Do I make time for a daily prayer life? Do I make Sunday Mass a priority?
  • Do I act as if God owes me or believe I can manipulate God? Do I help the Lord’s name and reputation be respected?
  • Do I set myself apart, particularly above others? Do I judge others’ hearts, something only God can do?
  • God is truth and life, do I insult Him by lying or degrading others’ human dignity?
  • Do I flaunt a false humility?

“My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus teaches us that true humility is honest.  It is honest about how little I know of God’s plan and that God is God and I am not.  Thank God for that!  I am not trustworthy like the Lord is.  Thus, true humility is allowed to feel confused in the face of hardship and suffering.  When we are humble we might cry out for guidance like Christ on the cross, but we never forget that we can trust the Lord in our weakness, just as Christ’s words are the opening lines of Psalm 22 – a psalm of victory.


Gluttony

  • Do I overindulge in food or drink? Am I wasteful with that same food or drink?
  • Do I disregard my physical health? On the flipside, am I vain about my physical health?
  • Are my acts of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving used to help the poor and disadvantaged?
  • Do I use illegal drugs, drink underage, or put myself and others at risk through my drinking?
  • Do I spurn hospitality because what is offered does not suit my tastes?

“I Thirst.”

With these simple words, Christ stands in solidarity with all of those around the world who need food and clean water.  Christ needed.  The second person of the Trinity subjected himself to the needs of human life.  This legitimizes our need for food and drink, but a legitimate need is very different from an abused practice.  Our thirsty Lord was not satisfied by a choice wine that costs more than what some families pay to put food on the table.  Rather, he was satisfied by spoiled wine.


Sloth

  • Am I wasteful with the gift of time? Am I inconsiderate of others’ time?
  • Do I lack motivation in the areas of life that matter – faith, family, well-being of others?
  • Do I lack the capacity to say “no,” thus allowing busyness to prevent me from committing to anything?
  • Am I lazy or apathetic? Do I lack diligence?  Do I procrastinate?
  • Do I put-off loving those around me because I presume I’ll have plenty of time for it later?
  • Am I sloppy and hasty in an effort to just be done with a task?

“It is finished.”

This world will come to an end.  Our earthly lives will come to a close.  Even the God-Man declared “It is finished,” as he neared death.  Christ, convicts us to act deliberately and diligently.  He doesn’t establish efficiency as a virtue, but he makes it clear that we have work to do and we best get to it.  The harvest is ready, but the laborers are few.


Greed

  • Do I place my worth and value in possessions? Do I thirst for power and authority?
  • Do I compromise my morality in order to possess and experience? (ex. piracy, lying)
  • Do I use resources excessively? Am I aware of the wider impact of my consumption?
  • Do I invest my time and talent into my church and community or do I only seek to receive?
  • Do I explore the most moral ways to spend my money or do I always seek the lowest price?
  • Do I give to charity and the Church? Do I take on the cost of hospitality?

“Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit.”

It is so tempting to grasp and grab at everything.  We live in a consumer culture that says “you are what you have” and “if you get it, hang onto it.”  God, on the other hand, is the divine gift-giver.  His divine life is gift.  Naked, destitute, abandoned, and nailed to the cross Christ made a gift of all he had left – his life.  Can we live lives of giving and receiving instead of taking and selling?


Lord, having recalled my sins and reflected the last sayings of your Son, whom I desire to imitate, please convert my heart and give me the grace to prevail against these sins in the future.
Let this meditation on both my need for forgiveness and the source of that mercy bear fruit in my life.  Stir in my heart a desire to hear your words of mercy again in Reconciliation.
I love you.
In Jesus’ name,
Amen.

Healthy Honesty = Humility

This is the end of today’s first reading from Romans 14:7-12 and I want to focus on the emboldened line:

For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written:
As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bend before me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.
So then each of us shall give an account of himself to God.

This one line is a call to a healthy honesty that will lead to humility.

Healthy Honesty

This is healthy honesty for a few reasons.

One, I will deliver an honest account of myself, not because of coercion, but because how are you going to lie to God?  You can’t!  My honesty will be freely chosen, because I will have a clear recognition of who God is, and seeing things as they really are is the best definition of sanity I’ve ever heard.

Two, it is healthy because I will not be condemning or acquitting anyone else, but instead giving an account of myself.  It is too easy to lie to myself and make someone else my scapegoat.  But, the sick person doesn’t get any healthier for diagnosing his neighbor.  I know this sounds stupid, but emotionally and spiritually I do this ALL THE TIME!

Three, I’ll give an account of myself.  This is neither exclusively positive nor exclusively negative, simply honest.  So what does that mean?  It means I’ll be honest about the good and honest about the bad.  That is healthy!  I’m gifted at retaining knowledge, but a chronic procrastinator… that’s the honest truth.  It would be false humility to say I don’t know anything and prideful to say I’m so gifted at working without deadlines.  Those lies destroy humility, because to be humble is to see yourself as you really are, strengths and flaws.

Humility

So if honesty, before God, with and about self leads to humility, how can this line about giving an account when we die apply to the present and our pursuit of humility today?

  1. Whether in public or secret, recall this line as you choose between right and wrong / the Gospel of the Lord or the draw of the World, because you will relive this moment.  Not only will you relive, you will be the very one retelling it.  How humbling!
  2. Do not be ashamed of your gifts, nor despairing of your shortcomings.  One day you will stand before God telling him about the great stuff and the terrible stuff, why wait until then to recognize them?
  3. Frequent confession.  Why wait until you are dead to start to give that honest account of your sins?  Start now by standing before the mercy seat of God, the throne of grace.
  4. In your prayer do not forget praise so you remember who this God you can’t lie to is; do not forget thanksgiving so that you can begin to be honest with yourself that your gifts come from the Lord; and do not forget to pray for yourself because as you become more aware of your weakness you’ll see how much help you really need.!

A Hard Pill to Swallow

Christ has many difficult teachings.  He tells us that adultery can be committed in the heart (Mt. 5:28), that we need to eat his flesh and drink his blood (Jn. 6:53), and that whoever is not with him is against him (Mt. 12:30).  He calls us to pick up our crosses and follow him (Mk. 8:34) and to pray for and bless those who persecute us (Mt. 5:44).  A teaching from today’s gospel can keep company with these other challenging commands.  Jesus tells his disciples to listen to the Pharisees.

Continue reading “A Hard Pill to Swallow”