25 January 2014


I went to Confession today.  Today is Saturday and for at least the last fifteen years I have gone to Confession almost every Saturday.

When I was a Protestant, I was told that 'auricular Confession' - detailing your sins and expressing your sorrow with another human being listening - was unBiblical, even, perhaps, anti-Biblical.  Does not John tell us "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9)?  To be sure, James tells us "Confess your faults one to another..." (James 5:16), but perhaps that only means I should admit to you that I have wronged you if I have, in fact, done so.

I knew only that Confession 'to a priest' was a requirement of the Catholic faith.  I understood that it is not the priest himself that I am making my confession to; it is Christ.  "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" (Luke 5:21).  I had read quite a lot of Catholic theology before I entered the Church.  I even knew that it was not always necessary to receive the Sacrament to be forgiven.  Perfect contrition - which isn't as terrifyingly difficult as it may sound; it means sorrow for sin because of love of God, rather than simply because of fear of Hell, for example, or sorrow for hurting others - perfect contrition forgives sin.  For the non-Catholic, who does not know of the requirement for the Sacrament at least for serious post-baptismal sin, perfect contrition forgives his sin.

Nonetheless, the norm for dealing with sin is the Sacrament.  I think it has only been gradually, over the years I have been a Catholic, that I have come somewhat to understand the point of Confession as a Sacramental act - and therefore as involving the Church.

We are all in this business of life together.

The universe is a vast echo chamber.  My actions, my thoughts, my failures to act, traverse the spaces between the stars - and they affect every human being; some more directly than others, of course.  Even my 'private' sins - my evil thoughts, my laziness, my unforgiveness - affect everyone with whom I come in contact; and, through them, others, and so on.

This is easy to see simply on a human level.  The state of my heart affects the type of person I am, and that has its effects on others.  But there is a level, invisible to the eye of man, the spiritual level, that is far more important.  None of my sins is private - and as a corollary, none of my good deeds is private, either (which should shed light on the much-misunderstood Catholic practice of indulgences - though that must be for another time).

But the world is one - in Christ.

I don't think we understand this very well, really.  As a Protestant I thought of my relation to Christ and my salvation.  But John 3:16 says that "God so loved the world..."  To be sure that means that He loved John Jensen and Susan Jensen and Tom and Dick and Harry.  And it is also true that the giving of His Son does not mean automatic salvation for everyone.  This also is a mystery, for this one has heard the good news and received it; that one has heard and rejected it; this other one has never heard at all.  The Calvinist knows that it is a mystery: he says that God simply chooses some and leaves others.  This, to my mind, is hardly an explanation, and not, indeed, very helpful.  Nonetheless, it is true that everyone who has ever existed - even those who died before Jesus of Nazareth came into being - is somehow in Christ.

And the Catholic Church is the Body of Christ:

Roman Catholicism[edit]

1 Corinthians, from the Douai Bible, 1749
For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. — 1 Corinthians 12:12-14
The first meaning that Catholics attach to the expression "Body of Christ" is the Catholic Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes with approval, as "summing up the faith of the holy doctors and the good sense of the believer", the reply of Saint Joan of Arc to her judges: "About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they're just one thing, and we shouldn't complicate the matter."[7] In the same passage, it also quotes Saint Augustine: "Let us rejoice then and give thanks that we have become not only Christians, but Christ himself. Do you understand and grasp, brethren, God's grace toward us? Marvel and rejoice: we have become Christ. For if he is the head, we are the members; he and we together are the whole man.... the fullness of Christ then is the head and the members. But what does 'head and members' mean? Christ and the Church." In light of all this, the Catholic Church calls itself the "universal sacrament of salvation" for the whole world, as it dispenses the sacraments, which give the grace of Christ himself to the recipient.
Saint Paul the Apostle spoke of this unity of Christians with Christ, referred to in the New Testament also in images such as that of the vine and the branches,[8] in terms of a single body that has Christ as its head in Romans 12:5,1 Corinthians 12:12-27Ephesians 3:6 and 5:23Colossians 1:18 and 1:24.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "the comparison of the Church with the body casts light on the intimate bond between Christ and his Church. Not only is she gathered around him; she is united in him, in his body. Three aspects of the Church as the Body of Christ are to be more specifically noted: the unity of all her members with each other as a result of their union with Christ; Christ as head of the Body; and the Church as bride of Christ."[9] The Catechism spells out the significance of each of these three aspects.
To distinguish the Body of Christ in this sense from his physical body, the term "Mystical Body of Christ" is often used. This term was used as the first words, and so as the title, of the encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi of Pope Pius XII. In that document, Pope Pius XII clearly states, "the mystical Body of Christ... is the Catholic Church."
Which means my sin is always against Christ - and Confession is, therefore, a Sacrament - the giving to me of grace from Christ - which is nothing else but to say that it is perfecting my union with His Body.

I went into the Confessional with Father Jude that Saturday the 23rd of December with fear and trembling.  I was supposed to confess all serious sins committed since my baptism, in August, 1970.  Yet from discussions it was also clear that I wasn't expected to spend hours with Father.

I spent perhaps ten minutes.  After the Eucharist, Confession is the best thing about being a Catholic.  I always go with reluctance and some dread.  I always leave ... well, I will not attempt to say what it means to me, but it is a sad day when, occasionally, I am unable to go to Confession that week.

That Saturday each of us went to first Confession.  The next morning, Sunday the 24th December, was Christmas Eve.

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