Confession and the early Christians (or, Dudes who went to Confession before Pope Francis made it cool)

The saddest thing about ignorance is that it often leads to hate.

That’s why it irks me big time when people say that Confession was “invented” in the Middle Ages, so that people would share their dirty little secrets and “useful” information to their equally corrupt clergy.

I've always admired the early Christians. Close enough to Jesus's time and far enough to see the billion-strong membership that is fruit of their faithfulness to God. And they're the original Catholic hipsters. :P Photo by Roger Jolly on Flickr under CC BY 2.0

I’ve always admired the early Christians. They were close enough to Jesus’ time yet far enough from seeing the billion-strong membership that is the fruit of their faithfulness to God. And they’re the original Catholic hipsters. 😛 Photo by Live Action Hero on Flickr under CC BY 2.0

Truth is, Confession has been here — at least in its rudiments — since biblical times! And even before Jesus instituted it formally, St John the Baptist already heard people’s confessions before he baptized them in the Jordan River. (Of course, his version of confession rite was merely symbolic of the people’s repentance, with no effects equal to those of the Sacrament which Jesus would institute years later.)

Immediately after Jesus ascended to heaven, the first Christians were already encouraging each other to go to Confession. They looked at the Sacrament as necessary for salvation. Their faith was sincere and simple, as can be gleaned in these quotes from some early Christians:

“If the serpent, the devil, bites someone secretly, he infects that person with the venom of sin. And if the one who has been bitten keeps silence and does not do penance, and does not want to confess his wound . . . then his brother and his master, who have the word [of absolution] that will cure him, cannot very well assist him.
– St Jerome, Commentary on Ecclesiastes 10:11 [AD 388]

It is necessary to confess our sins to those to whom the dispensation of God’s mysteries is entrusted. Those doing penance of old are found to have done it before the saints. It is written in the Gospel that they confessed their sins to John the Baptist [Matt. 3:6], but in Acts [19:18] they confessed to the apostles.”
– St Basil the Great, Rules Briefly Treated 288 [AD 374]

Of how much greater faith and salutary fear are they who . . . confess their sins to the priests of God in a straightforward manner and in sorrow, making an open declaration of conscience. . . . I beseech you, brethren, let everyone who has sinned confess his sin while he is still in this world, while his confession is still admissible, while the satisfaction and remission made through the priests are still pleasing before the Lord.”
– St Cyprian of Carthage, The Lapsed 28 [AD 251]

“[A final method of forgiveness], albeit hard and laborious [is] the remission of sins through penance, when the sinner… does not shrink from declaring his sin to a priest of the Lord and from seeking medicine, after the manner of him who say, ‘I said, “To the Lord I will accuse myself of my iniquity.”
– Origen, Homilies on Leviticus 2:4 [AD 248]

“[Regarding confession, some] flee from this work as being an exposure of themselves, or they put it off from day to day. I presume they are more mindful of modesty than of salvation, like those who contract a disease in the more shameful parts of the body and shun making themselves known to the physicians; and thus they perish along with their own bashfulness.”
– Tertullian, Repentance 10:1 [AD 203]

Confess your sins in church, and do not go up to your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life. . . . On the Lord’s Day gather together, break bread, and give thanks, after confessing your transgressions so that your sacrifice may be pure.”
– The Didache 4:14, 14:1 [A.D. 70]

These quotes were culled from Catholic.com

St John Mary Vianney and Confession

I read a little more about St John Mary Vianney recently. And among the words that appeared to my mind was: mad.

The guy was was madly in love with God.

Now venerated as the Patron Saint of Priests, he is quoted in the Catechism to summarize what the priesthood is: “the love of the Heart of Jesus.” He’s so identified with the Eternal High Priest, Jesus Christ, that on the 150th anniversary of his departure to Heaven, then Pope Benedict XVI declared the year 2009 as the “Year for Priests.”

Whoaaa. The incorrupt body of the Cure of Ars. Photo by Herwig Reidlinger on Wikimedia under CC license

Whoaaa. The incorrupt body of the Cure of Ars. Photo by Herwig Reidlinger on Wikimedia under CC license

Among his most outstanding traits is his commitment to hear Confessions. He clearly saw the Sacrament crucial to fulfill mission, the salvation of souls. The CurĂ© of Ars (as he is also known — the Parish Priest of Ars, a farming town in eastern France) would spend 13-17 hours in the confessional! (And here I am, I can’t even stand sitting in the office for an hour!)

It is also said that St John Mary Vianney sometimes wept while hearing Confession. When asked by the penitent why he was crying, the saint replied: “My friend, I weep because you do not weep.” He was totally convinced of the malice of sin, which cost all the blood of Christ on the Cross.

So, it would be good to ask the prayers of St John Mary Vianney when we are about to go to Confession — so that we would do our best to be simple, emptying ourselves of sins, so that Christ can fill us with himself.

At last — a free app about Confession!

Some days back, I was exploring the App Store aimlessly when I stumbled upon the most awesome Confession-related app I’ve ever seen: ConfessionGuide.

ConfessionGuide for your iPad and iPhone! Image from St Josemaria Institute website

ConfessionGuide for your iPad and iPhone! Image from St Josemaria Institute website

It’s free(!!!), it’s compact, and it has all the steps to making a good Confession, from examination of conscience to ways on dealing with post-Confession euphoria. Okay, I made up that last part. It actually has a short note on what to do right after Confession, namely, giving thanks to God, etc. Aaand it also has a built-in reminder for your next Confession. You just set it up according to your taste: weekly, monthly, whatever.

The app was developed by St Josemaria Institute of Opus Dei. All the better. A fan of St Josemaria Escriva myself, I’ve always looked up to Opus Dei as a solid and loyal guide when it comes to pursuing saintly awesomeness.

Download the app now!

(Sorry, Android friends, the app doesn’t seem to be on Google Play yet. But I’m contacting the developers about the need to release your version.)

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Confession

I’ve always considered myself part of Generation BXVI — those of us who discovered the beauty of the Faith during the pontificate and through the teachings of the now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Wait -- what? Pope Benedict XVI reads his resignation notice during a consistory on February 11, 2013. Photo from dailymail.co.uk

Wait — what? Pope Benedict XVI reads his resignation notice during a consistory on February 11, 2013. Photo from dailymail.co.uk

(Bee-Ex-Vee-Ai! Sounds so snazzy!)

That’s why I really couldn’t help tearing up a bit as he left the Vatican last year.

He is an amazingly humble man — and a hipster pope in many ways, starting with his choice of footwear (red) and including, of course, the rare way he ended his pontificate (with a resignation notice written in Latin!). And all that, certainly, being a manifestation of his humility.

But all those wonderful qualities aside, it’s his diamond-like brilliance — clear and incisive — coupled with an evident piety, which impresses me the most. He can discuss the same stuff with his fellow theologians and then with children with such oomph and depth that it hits you softly the first time, then as seconds pass by you feel the impact more and more, and then you feel certain that you can think and pray about what he said for the next few days. His words — very much like Jesus’ — are inebriating! (In a good way.)

This brilliance and piety he displayed, for example, when he talked about Confession precisely in separate get-togethers with theologians and children during his papacy.

To the children, who had just received their First Communion, he explained why regular Confession is good, even if we end up confessing the same sins.

It is true: Our sins are always the same, but we clean our homes, our rooms, at least once a week, even if the dirt is always the same; in order to live in cleanliness, in order to start again. Otherwise, the dirt might not be seen but it builds up.

Something similar can be said about the soul, for me myself: If I never go to confession, my soul is neglected and in the end I am always pleased with myself and no longer understand that I must always work hard to improve, that I must make progress. And this cleansing of the soul which Jesus gives us in the sacrament of confession helps us to make our consciences more alert, more open, and hence, it also helps us to mature spiritually and as human persons.

Confession being like regular house cleaning! How vivid and simple can you get to explain frequent Confession?

Then Pope Benedict XVI exits a temporary confessional where he administered the Sacrament to four pilgrims of the World Youth Day in Madrid. Photo from CNS / L'Osservatore Romano

Ho-hum. Pope Benedict XVI exits from a temporary confessional where he administered the Sacrament to four pilgrims of the World Youth Day in Madrid. Photo from CNS / L’Osservatore Romano

And then to priests and bishops, he remarked that Confession is something wherein it is not only the penitent who receives some benefit, but the priest as well. He said, “The celebration of the sacrament of Penance has a pedagogical value for the priest, as regards his faith, as well as the truth and poverty of his person, and nourishes within him an awareness of the sacramental identity.”

His other words from that meeting with confessors:

The faithful and generous availability of priests to hear confessions — after the example of the great saints of the past from St John Mary Vianney to St John Bosco, from St Josemaría Escrivá to St Pius of Pietrelcina, from St Joseph Cafasso to St Leopold Mandić — shows all of us that the confessional may be a real “place” of sanctification.

[…]

Basically, hearing confession means witnessing as many professiones fidei as there are penitents, and contemplating the merciful God’s action in history, feeling tangibly the saving effects of the Cross and of the Resurrection of Christ, in every epoch and for every person.

[…]

Then, how much the priest can learn from exemplary penitents: through their spiritual life, the seriousness with which they carry out their examination of conscience, the transparency with which they admit their sins and their docility to the Church’s teaching and to the confessor’s instructions.

I’m sure he has more profound stuff about the Sacrament of Confession, but obviously I have not yet read his library of theological books — all written by himself!