More than Confessing
The sacraments are God’s invitation to build a loving relationship with Him through our own relationships with others and ourselves.
We are created in God’s image, an image of goodness. Therefore, by our very nature, we are good. It is when we, by our own choice, fail to participate in this goodness that we sin. Reconciliation is an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of sin as the personal way each one of us chooses to deal with evil. When we sin, we break relationships in a number of ways: with God, with neighbor, with nature, and with self.
Reconciliation is more than confessing, making a clean breast of faults. It is renewing these relationships. In light of this understanding, the sacrament is seen as a means of atonement, to be “at-one” in these relationships again. The sacrament is a situation in which the penitent and priest can celebrate the loving forgiveness of a God who is merciful, no matter how gravely wrong we are or how many times we do the same things over and over again. As our understanding of the Sacrament of Reconciliation has grown and developed, so, too, have the roles of confessor and penitent. The confessor is not merely seen as a judge of another’s offenses. He is the facilitator of prayer, counselor of the Gospel and proclaimer of forgiveness. Likewise, the penitents are no longer seen as merely offenders of God’s goodness. They also are seen as proclaimers of God’s forgiveness by recognizing their sinfulness, asking for God’s pardon and celebrating His mercy. Penitents need not prepare a long list of sins and the frequency of times committed, but there should be an effort, in examination of conscience, to review the faults that have been frequent, disturbing, and perhaps even destructive to one’s life.
At some time during the confession of faults, there should be an honest statement that the individual intends to try to rise above these weaknesses. That’s something to celebrate: not only that our God is so loving that He accepts our contrition, but that we are so genuine as to want to really overcome our shortcomings.
The Rite of Reconciliation is, therefore, primarily the manifestation of the Father’s all-encompassing love. For the child it is important to interpret the commandment “Love the Lord your God” to mean “God wants you to start growing now in your own love of Him” or “God wants you to love Him a little more all the time.” (Psychology of Childhood Confessions, Baers). For the adult, it is important to develop harmoniously as a person – emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually – in order to love God with one’s whole heart, whole soul, and whole mind, and neighbor as one’s self. For indeed, it is through a lifetime of growth not only in knowledge and faith, but also in desire and love that we approach this goal.