So, I went to the doctor recently since I wasn’t feeling at all well after dragging a cold around for a few weeks. As usually happens, it had locked my chest up tight and I wasn’t getting any better. The friendly receptionist checked me in quickly and, after taking my vitals, directed me to the examination room.
Soon enough the doctor entered the room and asked “What seems to be the problem?” I really wanted to tell him about my cold and chest congestion and how miserable I felt but was embarrassed and afraid that he might think poorly of me for not washing my hands frequently, not eating properly, and not exercising, so I mumbled; “Nothing.”
There I sat with relief from my suffering at hand but I couldn’t bring myself to admit the reality of my illness. So I left the office no better, with no prescription in hand, and no reason to hope I would improve anytime soon!
Rather silly, huh? We can easily understand how vitally important it is for us to level with our family doctor about our physical ailments but we struggle with applying the same logic to our spiritually lives. Simply substitute the word “priest” for “doctor” and “sins” for “a cold” in the anecdote above and you get the point.
In precisely the same way that we wouldn’t anticipate being judged for being ill (after all, even doctors get sick, right?) we should not anticipate being judged when we go to confession in our parish (after all, even priests sin, right?) As with the physician, so with the priest; confession is not about judgment, it is about divine healing!
Like a cold virus, sin attacks the host. St. Paul wrote the believers in Rome (6:23) “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” God is not offended or diminished in any way by my sins. It is I myself who am harmed by the sins I commit. Sin pays a “wage” and that wage is death.
But since Jesus Christ is the “Great Physician,” He desires to make us well, to bind up our broken parts, to cleanse our wounds, to nurture us back to good health, and to set us on the path to recovery. And the means He has ordained for this healing ministry is the Holy Mystery of Confession.
Some people today make the claim that confession is unnecessary but St. James disagrees when he writes (James 5:16) “Confess your faults one to another that you may be healed.” And for centuries Christians did precisely that; confessed their sins publicly in the Church before receiving Holy Communion. But as our Church communities grew, it became necessary for confession to take place privately between the penitent and the priest.
God is merciful and He desires our salvation as St. John famously wrote (1 John 1:9) “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And much hinges on that little word “if.” In order to confess our sins we must first admit that we have them. And everyone sins!
But beyond merely wiping the slate clean of our sins through confession, these regular check-ups with our spiritual physicians establishes a regimen of spiritual wellness. We receive wisdom from the Holy Spirit, light for our path, and the strength to keep walking. The weight of our sins is removed as we reconcile with God as He pulls us into His embrace to say “I love you, my child! Don’t give up! I walk beside you!”
We may have many who judge us in this life but God isn’t one of them! Jesus Himself says; (John 3:17) “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but so that the world might be saved through Him.” And as I kneel in front of my spiritual father when I confess I know that I am not receiving judgment but divine healing!
For the sake of our souls, we must run to Holy Confession frequently to be refreshed and made well and to be reminded of Christ’s love for us “who Himself bore our sins” (1 Peter 2:24) as we lay our sins, doubts, and worries at His feet!
About the Author
This is a guest post from Fr. Apostolos Hill at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix, AZ. Fr. Apostolos has been active in OCF in a variety of areas; hosting regional retreats, leading OCF Real Break trips to Greece, Guatemala, and Skid Row, and in the College Conference West.