My favorite parable has got to be the one of the Prodigal Son. You know the story. Boy gets his inheritance, boy squanders it, boy repents and goes back to father, father welcomes him back.
This story also happens to be the closest metaphor to what happens in Confession.
We offend God, but God welcomes us back — if we repent and sincerely return to him. But like the father in the parable, he doesn’t force us to come home; he waits at the door. Today he’s right there on the other door of the confessional (if your church has those traditional confession boxes, anyway).
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The sad thing, though, is that many times we get stuck halfway through the process. We stop at the squandering-and-becoming-sad part. Or, at best, at the repentance part. No actual return to the Father whatsoever.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
[Confession] is called the sacrament of forgiveness, since by the priest’s sacramental absolution God grants the penitent ‘pardon and peace.’ (1424)
In order for our mortal or grave sins to be forgiven, we need the priest’s absolution. It’s that moment when he says “I absolve you of your sins,” or words to that effect.
And you know what? Nothing beats hearing the person we offended tell us that he has forgiven us! The priest, as minister of Christ, acts in the name and the person of Christ, whom we offended when we sinned. So it’s really Christ, God, who forgives us in Confession.
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Confession is also helpful for us, poor sinners, who have to accuse ourselves of sins, so that we can become truly humble. This private humiliation — a secret between you, the priest (who will most likely forget immediately the sins you just told him), and God — can lead us to greater trust in God’s mercy and help afterwards.
Besides, as Pope Francis said, in Confession we also get reconciled with the Church, because we also hurt the Church — the People of God — whenever we sin. And it is in Confession where we can have those wounds healed through the representative of the Church, the priest.
Actually, even at a non-spiritual way of looking at Confession, the Sacrament spares us from sure insanity in difficult times. Things that weight heavily in our soul have to be unburdened somewhere, to someone. And who else is more worthy of being our confidant than Jesus Christ himself?
So every time you hear the word “Confession”, think about the repentant son who came home — to be lavished by his father with kisses, a tight embrace, and everything sonship entails.