Someone recently asked me why do we have to confess to a priest. I’ve given lots of talks on the beauty of Confession, because it means so much to me and it changed my life. I received so much love in Confession that I wanted to give my whole life to God. Here is a summary of reasons I’ve found persuasive, in note form:
1) To avoid self-deception: we never see ourselves as we really are. Sometimes we don’t see how much we’re loved by God and sometimes we don’t see how much we’re not living in accord with His love. It’s too easy to deceive ourselves and rationalize bad behaviours or avoid them. Confession counters these temptations. ‘Accountability’ is a big word these days, and there’s no accountability in confessing to God directly.
2) Spiritual advice/coaching: while many people think they can become saints on their own, it’s simply impossible. Experience teaches us that we all need teachers and wise counsel. No one performs at a high level at anything without a teacher or coach. We can’t do it alone.
3) Growing in sensitivity to sin: monthly confession helps us see that what we thought were little sins actually hurt God, others and us a lot.
4) The saints: all of them went to Confession. If it worked for them, it’ll work for us.
5) Experiencing God’s love: actually hearing the words, “I absolve you from your sins… Your sins are forgiven, go in peace” is life-changing. We’re so afraid that the priest might condemn us after hearing our sins and bad choices that when we encounter a priest forgiving us in God’s name, we tangibly feel and truly experience God’s love. It’s precisely when we’re vulnerable that our hearts are open to receiving mercy. If we reflect deeply, we realize that we need to feel God’s forgiveness. Every single way we express love for each other is through tangible signs, so God uses these signs.
6) God uses the sacraments: just as we can’t baptize ourselves to forgive our sins, so we don’t absolve our mortal sins by ourselves. God uses the sacrament of baptism (through another person) to give us spiritual life, and uses the sacrament of reconciliation (again through another person) to resurrect our spiritual life when we’re spiritually dead. It’s God Himself who gives us the graces and it is He who acts in this sacrament.
For all these reasons, time and again, people tell us that their lives were changed after Confession. That’s why we always feel so good after Confession.
Considering all that we’re given in Confession, can anyone think of a good reason to avoid it? No one ever sits down once a month and lists their sins to God out loud, and then get advice from God, and then give themselves a penance. No Catholic has ever said, “Ever since I stopped going to Confession, I loved Jesus more, started reading the Bible more; I became more patient and kind, loved the Eucharist more, and started fasting and doing more sacrifices for God!” On the contrary, when Catholics fall away from Confession, they tend to fall away from God, stop praying at Sunday Mass, lose sensitivity to sin, make excuses, and don’t face themselves.