From fear to absolution: the power of freedom in the Sacrament of Reconciliation
Natalia Bodnik LOGOS EDITOR
Photo: Natalia Bodnik / THE MIKE
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been seven years since my last confession. “That’s not long at all,” says the priest, in an affirming voice. I kneel in the confessional at St. Peter’s Church believing that somehow the Holy Spirit prompted me to go to confession, even though I was as far from God as I possibly could be. I recite seven years of mortal transgressions with anxiety and tears. But as I go through each transgression, a part of the crippling anxiety dissipates. What is happening right now? “This is a good confession,” affirms the priest. I exit the confessional feeling liberated and light, but most importantly, absolved.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation in the Catholic faith is the one sacrament we can frequent as much as possible to heal our souls from transgressions, whether mortal or venial. Healing through confession plays an integral role in strengthening our faith — it shapes our awareness of how to avoid sin, brings us closer in unity with Christ, and shows us that forgiveness is possible. Although confession demonstrates God’s merciful love for us, countless people still fear confession. Several people believe that their confessor or the priest will judge the severity of their sins and somehow reveal those sins.
Priests are sworn to absolute secrecy through the Seal of Confession. The Catechism of the Catholic Church echoes these rules: “It is a crime for a confessor in any way to betray a penitent by word or in any other manner or for any reason” (No. 2490). Priests hear multiple confessions each day; they hear just about every sin that exists. Hence, a penitent should not worry. Confession enables penitents to establish a sacred trust with their priest, and through this trust, the penitents lean on the priest for guidance and absolution. Jesus Himself works through each priest to heal people’s souls and fill those souls with His presence. Leaving confession and completing penance reinforces the state of grace one is in after receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To help develop virtue in oneself and a relationship with Christ, individuals can attend mass, receive the Eucharist, attend Adoration, read scripture, do good works, and pray as much as possible. The goal of the Catholic faith is to bring all souls to heaven while having those souls live in sainthood here on Earth.
Fear of confession is a tactic the enemy uses against people to prevent them from receiving the Lord’s mercy. As the “devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour” (Peter 5:8), he does whatever possible to prevent you from going into a confessional and purifying your soul. The devil implements discouragement, deception, and distraction to tempt us into sin. Once we fall into sin, our souls become tainted. All of those moments of awareness you have about needing to go to confession are prompted by the Holy Spirit’s habitation within you. God loves everyone so much, and He uses the Holy Spirit to allow us to think about our salvation. So what do we do? We choose repentance.
Pope Francis clearly states, “When someone is in line for confession, he feels all these things — even shame — but then, when he finishes confessing, he leaves [feeling] free, great, beautiful, forgiven, clean, [and] happy.” The feelings of embarrassment, shame, anxiety, and nervousness are all indicators of sorrowful thinking before going into a confession. Afterward, unwanted feelings dissipate and transform into love, fulfillment, happiness, and closeness to the Lord. No sin is too grave to confess, and no amount of time away from the sacrament is considered too long. Any time the Spirit prompts us to reconcile with God, we must take this prompting as God’s love for us, showing us this immeasurable love through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
As I left my confession with the priest at St. Peter’s Church, accompanied by a close friend, God’s love for me manifested in the greatest way — healing from the past. I felt burdens I carried lift away immediately after confession. God truly embraced me in a way I would have never expected. “After you finished confessing, the room smelled like roses,” muttered my friend. To this day, I feel like that lovely smell follows me around after every confession. Sometimes, I get a light tap on my shoulder and I turn to see that no one is behind me. I like to think that God subtly tells me that He’s happy in our restored relationship, and we begin right where we left off.