Fr. Chike Osamor
During this sacred season of Lent, the calls and invitation to contrition, repentance and conversion is increased and God awaits us at his tribunal of mercy – the confessional – where He forgives and absolves us of our sins through the agency of the ordained minister [priest and bishop]. This Sacrament is one that is often challenged by non-Catholics and some Catholics themselves who do not still find it reasonable to go confess their sins to a fellow sinner. Why can I not confess directly to God against whom they have sinned? What right or authority does the priest have to forgive my sins? Is he God? Is he perfect or without sin? What are the scriptural bases for this practice?
Penance [cf. CCC 1485-1498]
Sometimes called “Confession,” “Reconciliation,” other times called “Penance.” The interesting thing is that this sacrament is a combination of all these names by which it is called. It is the rite/ ritual [Sacrament] wherein Christ forgives our sins through the absolution of the Priest. It entails “Confessing,” “doing Penance,” and by it, we are “Reconciled” and readmitted to the family table where God nourishes and strengthens us with His body and blood. St Paul tells us that God achieved the reconciliation of the world to Himself in the person and work of His Son [cf. 2 Cor 5:19]. In effect, it means that in coming back to the Father, Jesus stands as the “door” or “gate” to the sheepfold and anyone who enters through him will be safe and find good pasture [John 10:9- 10]. He reminds us that He is the “way” and no one comes to the Father except through Him [John 14:6]. Jesus is our principal healer and the sole admitter to the Father’s table fellowship. But … He knew also that His ministry as forgiver and reconciler would have to continue even after his death, resurrection, and ascension. He wouldn’t leave that office vacant or redundant. Hence he co-opts His apostles – “as the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” [cf. John 20:21]. He empowers them with heavenly authority to administer God’s balm of mercy, to readmit penitents by absolving their sins – “if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” [cf. John 20:23]; “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” [Matt 16:19]. The same God, who is compassionate, gracious, lavishly merciful and relentless in pardoning [cf. Ezek 18:23, 33:11, Joel 2:13, Ps 103:8]; who consistently invites us to return to him in penitence , has through his Son, instituted a sacrament, designed a tribunal of mercy, and placed the priest as the mediating judge from whose human hands and lips, divine healing is effected (cf. Luke 17:14, 2Cor 5:18) and our acquittal is assured . By this sacrament, we are forgiven of our sins, including those we did not [sincerely] remember to confess; we are reconciled to God and the Church and are readmitted to the altar of the Eucharist. We derive peace and strength to journey on on the path of righteousness.
James 5:16 – confess your sins to “one another.”
Many non-Catholics make the huge mistake of assuming that scripture gives us the license to confess our sins to any random co-believer – James 5:16 – confess your sins to “one another.” James is not saying “anyone” can hear your confession and forgive your sins. He was explaining to the people the duties and privileged powers of the elders [Greek – Presbyterous/ πρεσβύτερος (priests] in the community of believers. They may be weak humans like everyone else, but they are assigned a mission for the spiritual benefit of everyone else – to offer sacrifices, shepherd/pastor God’s flock, healing them when they are spiritually sick and calling forth God’s graces upon them. James makes reference to the efficacy of Elijah’s prayers to remind the people that Jesus had given his apostles similar powers to speak with heavenly authority to shut or open, to loose or bind, to forgive or retain.
Catholic penitents approach their priests to confess their sins, not because he is the God against whom they have sinned, or that the priest himself is without sin. Rather they do so because they fully recognize that the one true Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (cf John 1:29,36), incorporated his apostles into the office and mission of administering and dispensing God’s mercy and pardon. He gave them the authority, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to forgive or retain sins (John 20:22-23). St Paul, in 2 Cor 5:18, wants all Christians to note that “it is all God’s work, He reconciled us to Himself through Christ and He gave us the ministry of reconciliation. At the confessional, it is, in actual fact, God who functions and grants absolution, through the agency of the ordained minister. The confessional is a tribunal of mercy, of repentance, of healing and reconciliation, where divine providence has placed him as the mediating judge.
• Fr. Chike Osamor is a Priest of the Catholic Doicese of Isselu-Uku.