Wednesday, April 12, 2006

CE on "Reasons for Confession"

Brother James Brent, O.P. offers them here.

The heart of the matter:
Jesus said “I am the vine, you are the branches” (Jn 15:5). Jesus fashioned all the sacraments so that by them we might receive a share in His life — like a branch living off of a vine. In baptism, we receive the life of Christ for the first time. This life of Christ is a life in the Spirit, a life of intimacy with the Trinity, and a life of sharing in the Church. Jesus knew, however, that through sin people would damage or even forfeit the life they had received in baptism. The main point of the Sacrament of Confession is to receive the divine mercy. Divine mercy strengthens the life of Christ damaged by (venial) sin and gives back the life lost by (mortal) sin.

The Chosen Instrument

To see the wisdom of Jesus in establishing the sacrament, it helps to think of Jesus like a doctor. Just as doctors use instruments to perform their healing work, so too Jesus uses instruments to perform His healing work. Just as doctors choose to use some kinds of instruments and avoid others, so too it helps to think of Jesus as wanting to use one kind of instrument in particular for the work of applying divine mercy to us. He wants to use a sacrament as His instrument.

By a sacrament I mean a sign that signifies what it causes and causes what it signifies. For example, the words “I love you” signify love — that is their meaning. But they also cause in the listening person the love that they signify. The listener receives the love signified by receiving the sign that signifies the love. Jesus intended to make the reception of divine mercy the same way.

In the Sacrament of Penance, the priest represents or signifies Jesus. The words “I absolve you” signify the word of mercy that Jesus utters. When the priest says “I absolve you,” the priest’s action of saying those words is a sign signifying Jesus speaking His word of mercy at that moment. Like the action of saying “I love you,” the priest’s action both signifies Jesus’ own forgiving and also causes what it signifies. The priest’s action causes Jesus’ own forgiveness and Jesus’ own soul-healing in the recipient. In this way, Jesus uses the priest and his words as an instrument by which to breathe upon us the Holy Spirit, to strengthen His life within us if it was weakened, and to revive His life in us if it was lost. Thinking of it this way, it is easy to see the main reason why Jesus chose to use a sacrament as His instrument of mercy.

The main reason is that a sacrament of mercy provides a concrete and physical way for us to meet Jesus Himself — as friend to friend and as patient to physician. If we think of the Sacrament of Penance without the faith of the Church (as Protestants do), then we do not think of the sacrament as Jesus coming to touch us with His instrument of mercy. We instead think of ourselves merely as our going to a man — the priest. But if a doctor touches us with a stethoscope, truly it is the doctor who touches us and not merely the stethoscope. Likewise, if we remember from our Catholic faith that Jesus uses the priests and their words as His instruments of mercy, we realize that in the sacrament it is Jesus who touches us with His soul-healing love. It is Jesus who floods us with His spirit and life. Unless we think in terms of the Church’s faith that the sacrament is Christ’s instrument, we do not realize that in this wonderful sacrament we have a concrete and physical way of turning to Jesus Himself, being touched by Jesus Himself, and hence encountering Jesus for ourselves.
Who is this Jesus? Who is this person, this individual of incredible exceptionality? Whose is this incarnation of the Mystery? Who is he, and how do I respond to him? These are the questions that haunt us. We undertake the scandalous journey of believing that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of the Living God. We place our trust and our hope in the man who is the Mystery. We become one with him through our communion with his disciples. We unite with him through our life in his Church.

The sacrament of Reconciliation is the movement of his mercy in this life. Here, we experience his healing presence in the chosen instrument of his hand, his annointed priest. Christ loves us and forgives us through the human person of the priest, who receives Christ's own power and authority to forgive sins. We encounter our Savior in the face of a fellow believer. We receive his grace, which allows us to let go of the scars that our devotion to Nothing has left behind. Christ heals us through the sacrament he's given us, and through the priest he's called to celebrate that sacrament with us.

We have nothing to fear. Our God wants us healed and whole. Let's give him the opportunity to make us so. Confession awaits. Why do we?