Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. –James 5:16
It happened again today. I watched three more church members crossing the street and walking into the Catholic church down the way. That was 8 people now, over the past few days. What was going on?
I decided to find out. I pulled on a hat and trench coat so as not to be easily recognizable. I walked the short distance to the Catholic church and stepped inside. It was a nice enough building. I’d never been inside before.
Just then I caught a glimpse of my church members darting into the sanctuary, so I followed them. I slouched down into a pew in the back, and watched them sitting over to the side. Then, one at a time, they stepped into the small door on the side.
It was the confessional! My people were sneaking into the Catholic church to take confession!
Confession was developed long ago, in the early years of Christianity, as a way of responding to James 5:16, above. A regular, private, personal confession of sins, heard by a Priest.
When the reformation came, Protestants objected to confession, saying “Who says Priests are qualified to forgive sins?” And some of the penance they prescribed included indulgences — basically a “pay you or your relative’s way out of salvation” scam. So Protestants did away with the practice, replacing it with…not much.
Today? According to an article in the Boston Globe, less than 2% of Catholics go to confession regularly. And 3/4 don’t go at all. Confession has become, for many Catholics, and unwelcome sacrament.
But what about us Protestants? After 1,000+ years of very little opportunity for confessing sins, aside from the occasional corporate prayer, the idea of having someone to hand our heavy loads to doesn’t sound half bad.
Based on the actions of my (fictitious) parishioners, I propose a trade. If Priests are willing to listen to our confessions, we’ll do something nice for the Catholics. Give up red meat on Friday during Lent, maybe? Treat our communion elements a little more carefully? Something like that. What do you think?
After my parishioners left the sanctuary, I made my way up front and climbed into that little box. Finally I said, “It’s been…uh…at least 47 years since my last confession.” Then I just kind of laid it all out there. The little things that had been bugging me. The big weights I was tired of carrying. It felt really good.
But afterwards, I realized that I really could just ask Jesus for forgiveness directly. Or talk things over with a friend. Why hadn’t I made this a priority? I’ll admit I did feel a lot better, but not because of that confessional. I felt free because I’d made space in my busy life to accept Christ’s freedom.
Let this be a reminder to us (Protestants and Catholics alike) that confession IS good for the soul. Whether it involves talking to a priest or minister, or sharing with a good friend, or praying with a congregation, or holding nothing back from Christ, guilt is something too many of us carry around.
Put forth the effort and let it go.
Throw it away like a Hail Mary.
(I’m supposed to say 7 of those)
Have a great week,