Tuesday, March 27, 2012

No Names, No Shame, No Penance Required

The "hurdle" of confession is not so much something to be gotten over like an obstacle, but more of a challenge to take a leap of faith. My first confession is scheduled for tomorrow. At first I was nervous, but now I'm strangely looking forward to it. I think it has something to do with the meeting I had with my RCIA director today. I'm not going "just to get it over with", but to acknowledge to God that I really want to receive His love & forgiveness.

My protestant friends might bristle at that statement & counter with "You don't need to go to confession for that!" In my former Protestant tradition, confession isn't a big deal. One walking around with an enormous burden only has to leave it "at the foot of the cross". Your sin is just between you & God. You never need to expose the shame of your sin to someone else. Why? Because Jesus loves you & you were already forgiven at Calvary! Once you confess it to God & repent, its done. End of story. No penance required. Jesus said "It is finished", so it is right?

In Catholicism, the traditional understanding is one must go to confession (prior to receiving the Eucharist) to be forgiven of any mortal sins. Neglecting a thorough examination & partaking of the elements with mortal sin "on your soul" is eating & drinking judgement upon yourself. Through the sacrament of Reconciliation (confession), you still bring your burdens to the foot of the cross, but the priest is there with you. He is, in effect, a witness to your interaction with God. He is there as an intercessor- not as a mediator between opposing parties. The priest has the authority to hear your confession & proclaim absolution in Jesus' name because Jesus gave him that authority. Acting in that authority, the priest acts as both a witness & a tangible Christ. Think of a government official. He's just an agent, but he carries the authority of the government with him. He IS the government, with the full authority OF the government to whomever he meets, even though technically, he's still just an agent. Confessing one's sins then, is really exposing one's own darkness to Jesus (our Mediator) in the presence of a witness. And doesn't scripture say something about when two or more are gathered in Jesus' name, there He is in their midst?

So why the need for penance? Didn't Jesus take the punishment for our sin? He took the ultimate punishment which is death, but the temporal punishment- that is, the immediate consequence of sin- remains. Doesn't scripture say the Lord disciplines those He loves? If there is no need for penance, why is this verse even in the Bible? We don't get disciplined unless we do wrong... And that discipline is there to correct & train us in the way we should go. Discipline, or penance, is God reaching out to us in love because He wants us to learn from our mistakes & grow closer to Him. At least this is how it seems to me...

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