When someone asks me, “Why should I go to a priest to confess my sins?” I respond by asking, “Why be baptized?” “Why should you receive any of the sacraments?”
We need to experience God’s presence to us in our humanity. We need to experience his tender and loving forgiveness. When we hurt someone, we don’t feel at peace unless and until we ask forgiveness from the one we have offended. We need to experience God’s forgiveness in our own human and personal way when we receive his sacrament of forgiveness.
All of the sacraments are personal encounters with God the Son – Jesus Christ – who reaches us and touches us in and through our flesh and blood. It’s not a matter of what God can do; it’s a matter of our human need to feel the saving love of God in Jesus Christ.
Jesus empowered his apostles to be the conduits of his loving forgiveness. On Easter Sunday, Jesus went to his apostles who were locked up in the Upper Room, and spoke these words 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." (John 20:22-23) These were Jesus’ first words uttered just after his resurrection from the dead, which tells us of the importance and urgency in his mind of giving this gift to us. The next episode was when Thomas put his finger in Christ’s wounds and his hand into Christ’s side, again a needed human encounter with the risen and glorified humanity of Christ.
When we receive the sacrament of penance – the sacrament of forgiveness – we make real, we realize, something we ourselves need. It’s worthwhile noting that in Alcoholics Anonymous’ Twelve Steps to Recovery, numbers four and five require: “Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves” and “Admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” People in recovery programs have come to realize that self-help does not work. Verbalizing our sins and confessing to others does work. It is effective.
So, while God can forgive us apart from the sacrament of forgiveness, he gives us the gift of this sacrament not for his sake, but for ours. When it comes to overcoming our repeated and addictive sins, confessing to those ordained and empowered to be conduits of Jesus’ love can and does work.
There is nothing like the peace and happiness that comes to you when you have confessed your sins to an agent ordained by God to be a conduit of his infinite love and mercy.
May God’s peace be with you.