“I don’t need to confess my sins to a man, I confess directly to God!” How often have we heard that from our Protestant friends and, even from some Catholics. Why have Catholic lost their love and understanding for this great gift from Our Lord? As a kid, I remember my parents standing in long lines on a Saturday to go to Confession. Much has changed in those years. In your average parish, the priest is lucky to have a couple of visitors during one hour on a Saturday afternoon.
Forgiveness is the central message of our Lord’s ministry. Throughout the Gospels, we have examples of Jesus forgiving sins. Jesus healed the paralytic, and forgave his sins. (Mk 2:5) He forgave the sinful woman at Simon’s home. (Lk 7:48) Because the people doubted Jesus’ authority to forgive sins, He healed the paralytic as a sign to demonstrate His power. (Lk 5:24)
The Church’s authority to forgive sins is not it’s own, it is that power received by Christ with a commission to us it. Jesus did not call the Apostles to do their own work or to exorcise their own authority. The Apostles were called to continue the carry on the mission of Jesus Christ. Part of the Lord’s mission is to sanctify. Each one of us is called to personal sanctification. We strive for holiness, yet we are hindered by our sinfulness.
The work of sanctification is to free those in bondage. Sin is bondage and Jesus came to set the captive free. There is no greater freedom in life, than knowing you are forgiven. So, being a major part of His ministry, Our Lord wanted this work to continue through His ministers. Our Lord breathed the Holy Spirit upon the the Apostles and gave them power. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn 20:23)
The Holy Spirit speaking through St. James tells us: “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.” (James 5:16) Who would be foolish enough to confess their sins to a man who doesn’t have the authority to forgive the? There are those who will not tell their sins to a priest, yet they will bear their souls to a counselor or a friend who can do nothing but encourage them. Who in their right mind would tell their deepest secrets to someone, unless that someone could heal them! Jesus invested the Apostles and their successors (bishops) and their collaborators (priests) with His divine power to forgive sins in His name.
How can anyone say that they don’t believe in confessing to a priest, when Sacred Scripture directly tells us that is what we need to do! It is never easy to confess our sins to a priest, but saying your sorry never is!