Tuesday, November 17, 2009

B&W, W&O Chapter 11: The Mystery of Confession & Forgiveness

Confession is about forgiveness. I know, I know, sort of duh. But that's what the whole point is. Forgiveness and (re)admittance into the Kingdom of Heaven.

We start out by saying that forgiveness is sort of antithetical to this world. We're taught from the beginning that nothing is free. If someone is offering you something, 'no strings attached', there're *hidden* strings, and we better be even *more* suspicious.

But that's what forgiveness is. Totally free, we just have to ask for it. And, even more, it's not just the 'slate being wiped clean', but the guilt is removed as well. "In confession, the forgiveness we receive is nothing less than an act of love. If not only wipes out the badness of what is forgiven, but also (to use the expression in the form of the Lord's Prayer we use in the Church) forgives what is 'owed'." The Mystery of Forgiveness allows the individual to start over with a clean slate - it allows us to get rid of all the trash in our minds, the thoughts and feelings that drag us down.

Confession requires a 'safe space' - a place that the person feels secure in terms of secrecy and confidentiality. A lot of what is confessed are things that shame the penitent. By definition, they are things that are hard to talk about, and they're certainly not things that we want everybody and their brother to know about. The penitent also needs to have confidence in the priest who leads them toward the Mystery of Confession. They must feel absolutely certain that what they say will be confidential, and that he will not react in a shocked or abrupt manner. The priest is not there to *judge* the penitent, but rather to be a witness. God is the judge, and God desires the repentance, the inner transformation, of the one who has gone astray. Everything revealed must be met by the priest with empathy and his presence. What I mean is that his job is to listen. To be utterly present in the moment, and *listen* to what the person is saying. Not think five moves ahead to what he's going to advise them. Not wonder what his wife is making for supper, or wondering when he'd bruised his shin. He must be *present in the moment*, which is something everyone needs to strive for, remember?

"Except in very exceptional circumstances, which will be described to you should they ever occur, the priest is not allowed to act on any of the information you tell him in confession. If there is some reason he wants to talk about something you mentioned in confession at a later date, he is supposed to ask your permission first, and if you say 'no', that is the end of the matter.

"There is an old story I have heard in different forms in different languages. A priest is tested by God when someone goes to confession and says that he has had copies made of the keys to a particular house. Later the priest discovers that it is, in fact, his own house that is being described. The end of the story varies, but it is basically aimed at demonstrating that a good priest would not then go home and have his locks changed. He behaves as if the communication during confession never existed."

Again, the priest does not stand in judgment, that's God's 'job'. He is there as a witness. It is important to remember that in confession, there are two sinners standing there - the penitent and the priest. The importance of the Mystery of Confession lies, ultimately, in the difference that it makes to the life of the penitent. "The Mystery of Confession starts with estrangement and alienation from God, and ends with the path toward theosis."

In regards to the content of Confession: spontaneous thoughts are not sins. Nor are spontaneous feelings, and temptations are not sins. *Acting* on our feelings may be a sin - *acting* on a thought may be a sin, depending on the feeling or thought. Giving in to a temptation may be a sin. One must have intent for their action for it to be a sin. Something that you do unconsciously, without thought or intent, is not a sin. You aren't there to talk about other people, and what wrongs they may or may not have committed. You are there to speak of your shortfalls and sins. No one else.

The purpose of confession is to tell God (through the priest), of the sins we have committed. Not because He doesn't already know, better even than ourselves, but because we don't want to, but we need to. People always want others to think that they're nearly perfect, creating this outer version of themselves. On the other hand, we also tend to think less of ourselves than we really are. Our inner view of our self doesn't match the truth, or our projection of ourselves to others. Confession helps to remind us that we're not perfect, but also to lift us up, to prove to ourselves that we're not as bad as we think of ourselves.

Lastly, sin and responsibility. We've already mentioned that a sin is not a random thought or feeling, but what we do with them. Briefly thinking of stealing a thing doesn't become a sin until you act on that thought. In the same vein, we are only responsible for ourselves. We cannot pin our happiness or goodness on someone else.


  1. "...or wondering when he'd bruised his shin."

    LOL...the places your mind goes! :-) Yes, this is a great description of truly listening!

    "Confession helps to remind us that we're not perfect, but also to lift us up, to prove to ourselves that we're not as bad as we think of ourselves."

    Hmmmm, maybe in some cases, but I think most of us think ourselves way better than we truly are. Not always, but I don't see too many who seem repentant for the wrongs they do...starting with me. :-/ But maybe those who go to confession fall into the category you describe. :)

    Your first paragraphs about forgiveness reminded me of this wonderful passage from Colossians 2:

    13When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

    Great post!

  2. Heh. It's something that distracts me occasionally. :)

    Hmm...here's what the author actually says. It's a bit long, but he explains it better:

    'The human personality is a complex mechanism. It does not come naturally to us to talk badly about ourselves or to show ourselves in a bad light. On the contrary, in most situations we prefer to show ourselves in a good light - perhaps even better than we are in real life. We might exaggerate, or at least stress certain parts of our stories, in order to make ourselves look good. Our ego-strength generally lies in our ability to convince people that we are more or less perfect, if not that we are the most significant person on the planet. To do otherwise looks dangerous and unwholesome, and yet that is precisely what we are called to do in this Mystery.

    'However, there is another process going on at the same time. Even while we are building up a beautiful picture of ourselves and our achievements on the outside, there is often a dialogue continuing on the inside that is dragging us down as far, if not further, than our outer conversation is building us up. In reality, we often do not like ourselves nearly as much as other people like us. We often cannot see the good qualities other people can see in us, and we insist on believing that we are, in many repsects, hopeless.'

  3. Oh, thanks for expanding on that. So very interesting!

    Yeah, I ponder the bruised shins sometimes as well. I just found it so Amberish funny to read in your post about confession. :-D

  4. :)

    I'm always wondering where I got this or that bruise. I bruise easily because of the thyroid, but I have a really high pain tolerance, so I don't notice when I hit things.


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