Sin, forgiveness and confession; A complete explanation
SIN AS MORTAL AND VENIAL
Probably one of the most unrealistic positions maintained by some of our separated brethren is that all sins are equal before God. Meaning that a murderer and a 7-year-old who steals pencil in school are visited with the same punishment. This is totally unreasonable, since even man himself naturally has the ability to weigh the quality of human actions. Man’s faculties are in some way a reflection of God’s attributes; therefore we can be called his “image” or “reflection”. The dismissal of this possibility supported by reason/nature to cling to an idea which neither the Scriptures nor Reason supports is absurd.
There are such things as mortal and venial sins. Mortal sins are serious sins which separate man from communion with God and Community. The Church teaches that only one mortal sin is enough to condemn a soul to hell, since it is a total rejection of communion with God. Someone who has committed a moral sin may not receive Holy Communion without Sacramental confession preceded and accompanied by a sincere heartfelt repentance. The Church teaches that true contrition brings God’s forgiveness, which contrition MUST include a clear intention to confess to a priest as soon as possible and also of satisfaction or restitution. Venial sins on the other hand are less grave, yet still bad acts hurting charity but not entirely damaging it. It predisposes the Christian to graver sins by diminishing his love for God, the Church strongly recommends that a Christian confesses his venial sins to a priest, since this will help a lot in healing the soul and avoiding more grave sins as one advances towards holiness. While the Church encourages confession of venial faults, she does not however teach that one may not receive communion because of this, since God-relationship isn’t completely damaged by venial sins, neither is the sin enough to cut one off from community. We are forgiven venial faults when we call upon God from our truly remorseful hearts.
The coming of Christ brought with it great hope, his death, resurrection and sending of the Holy Spirit, is an objective conclusion of his work of redemption. The institution of the Church, the Charismatic gifts of the Apostles ensures the spreading of his word and the ministry of Salvation to all men. The very fact that man could be an Apostle is a gift to his Church, through this gift he continues to work, to shepherd, to teach, to ensure his most prized possession is kept from all blemish.
By the anointing he himself received from the Father, the anointing who is the Holy Spirit himself, he forgave sins; bringing back to life all those who are dead in sin.
He ensures the continued guidance of his Church, and his continued work of redemption through his Apostles, their succession of which reaches every generation, neither diminishing the urgency of the message, nor the Authority of their office. So that at every age, Christ is present in his Church, working through her ministers, and bringing fresh hope of redemption to all men in every age.
If we accept the call of Christ to redemption, admitting our faults, asking for sacramental pardon, and striving afterwards to stay away from sin and turn instead to the pursuit of God’s will, then we shall be forgiven and through his great mercy saved at last. However, if we reject, if we turn back and refuse his mercy, we are left on our own, and at last shall be lost.
AND WHEN WE ARE FORGIVEN
Gratitude for receiving forgiveness or even for the possibility of receiving it requires us to seek to please God, to forgive others, to not offend against his mercy by presumption and despair. If we to fall again into sin; we are to rise quickly and return to Jesus, throwing away all instruments of sin, and embracing again his love and mercy. Sincerity is also a sacrifice we must offer in order to receive forgiveness. What separates a penitent from an unrepentant sinner is humble sincerity. A penitent recognizes both his sin, and God’s holiness and mercy. An unrepentant sinner does not care about his sins, or he confesses without actually being sincere/sorry about it.
CONFESSION: CELEBRATING RECONCILIATION
The Lord, on his first appearance to the Apostles after his resurrection breathed on them and Said “receive the HOLY SPIRIT, if you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained”. (John 20:22-23) And later on:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you, and look I am with you always; yes, to the end of time” (Matthew 28:18-20)
He says “make disciples” “baptise them”, which in other words means “minister salvation unto them”.
These words of Christ point to forgiveness in two sacraments: Baptism in the latter and Confession in the former. The words “if you retain anyone’s sin” mean a discretionary act, a judgrment whether or not to forgive a sin they are made aware of by a penitent. This isn’t the same as Baptizing since there’s not judgment made in it; they simply receive one who wishes to join the fold and baptize them in the name of the Trinity.
WHAT ARE PEOPLE AFRAID OF?
Many people are scared of the idea of man forgiving sins even in the name of Christ and his Church. To them, it means impersonating, or presumptuously claiming divine Authority; an authority way above the grasp of Man. However, basic Christian belief totally goes against such fear. At baptism, one receives Salvation, holistic restoration of Spiritual wellness, of communion with God and community, of forgiveness of actual and original sin.
Without the Authority of Jesus, no one could be baptised; if he didn’t extend this authority to man, we would not be able to receive baptism; the power to forgive comes from the Father through Jesus, and the ability for one to baptise (in the name of Christ) comes from Jesus’ ability to extend this authority to every age. When you say “I baptise you” it means “I redeem you, in the name of Christ” which really does not mean “by my power I redeem you” but more like “by the Lord’s power/command, He saves you through my service”.
Baptism remains, objectively speaking, a greater miracle than the Sacrament of Confession, at baptism one is set free from all the faults of his entire life, from original sin, and all the punishments due to his personal sins are entirely wiped off. He becomes as clean as an Angel, a Spiritual Wonder. This miracle is wrought by Christ through the ministry of men. Why then must we be scared of the idea of confession when it is the same Christ who said to the same Apostles “if you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained”, (John 20:22-23) and by virtue of Apostolic Succession has blessed his Church with this same Authority in our day (just as he has blessed us with the Baptismal Power today). Confession does less than Baptism (This is only for the purpose of analogy); confession forgives the guilt of sins committed, but removes only a part of their temporal punishment (which is the effect of sins; the disorder caused by sins committed; that undue attachment to created things over God. Which attachments are treated here or in purgatory)
Christ, in sending the Holy Spirit, has given man the power to act in his name, to perform divine actions: to heal the sick, raise the dead and proclaim the Kingdom of God on earth. These were characteristic of Jesus’ ministry. The idea behind the institution of a Church is to CONTINUE THIS MINISTRY, THE SAME MINISTRY OF JESUS, UNTIL HE COMES AGAIN, to proclaim his divinity, his saving help to all men; by actually reflecting this divinity in the work of sanctification performed by the Church. It means extending a hand of his support, a caress of his love, a kiss of his peace, a rebuke when we linger in sin and the words of his forgiveness when we sincerely come to him. It means working as MEMBERS OF HIS BODY, being his hands, his eyes, his feet, his heart beating in the world; it means being filled with the same anointing with which the Father anointed him, and pouring fourth on the earth the overflow of his divine love. It means being his hands that labours, his feet that races to help others, his heart that beats for all men, and his mouth that speaks words of hope, love and forgiveness.
When the Lord revealed the coming of a Messiah, the people of Israel accepted this offer and lived joyfully in hope, without actually knowing how he had chosen to come; without understanding the density of the incarnation. Upon his coming to the world, he was unrecognised by many, simply because men are scared to accept the divine generosity of God to collaborate with man. Men are always dazzled by the illuminating proposals of God to them; of collaboration and covenantal unity. Christ had a lot of work to do, of convincing the people he actually is the Saviour; he is not just a prophet but the Only-Begotten Son of God; He is himself God.
Today we are grateful that God has come to dwell with us, and we can call him “Emmanuel” however we remain scared of pondering the real implication of this; we are happy about his gifts, but too scared to consider the implication of even his commands to us; his summons to work with him. To collaborate with us, God took our nature and became like us, to collaborate with him, God lifts us to become divine; through the Holy Spirit acting in the Laying on of the Apostles’ (Bishops’) hands, raising in Holy Orders those upon whose shoulders are laid heavier burdens and greater privilege to work in the name of Christ; to forgive sins, to bring hope and to minister salvation to all men.
WHAT CONFESSION IS NOT
Some protestants have argued that both the concept of confession and purgatory arise from a negative attitude towards sin; they say that Catholics invented these in order to pacify their disturbed consciences, promising themselves absolution from sin whenever they want it, and should they die in it, another opportunity of expiation in purgatory. They say that our attitude is summed up thus “Sin as you like, go to confession when you wish and be bathed, only to be clean enough for another sin”. The only correct thing about this perception is the fact that our attitude towards sin affects our perception of forgiveness and purgatory; however the attitude towards sin which they perceive does not belong to the Catholic Church.
Far from belittling the meaning of sin, the Church’s teachings about confession and especially of purgatory actually shows the seriousness of sin even more than any other Christian denomination. An understanding which is stemmed in Scripture, confirmed by Apostolic Authority, and appeals to reason.
Confession is NOT a place where anyone goes to receive forgiveness for any sin, any time they choose to, with the intention of returning back to their sins afterwards. In fact the Church teaches that abuse of sacrament is a sacrilege, one of which is lying to a priest, insincere repentance; having the intention of sinning again while confessing; having a wilful attachment to sin; refusing to let go of sin even while confessing. We believe that God does not forgive those who are insincere before Him, only those who meet these conditions are actually forgiven:
- Recognition of the evil of one’s sin
- Sincerely confessing them to the priest without wilfully withholding any detail.
- Being truly sorry, which precludes, the clear intention to be better, to discard all instruments of sin one possesses, and to restore what one has damaged or unjustly taken.
- To do penance and to struggle against such sins afterwards.
Those who kneel before God’s throne of mercy only to tell him lies, to “trick” forgiveness out of him only worsen their conditions, since, far from freeing them from sin, their bonds are actually made worse.