Sunday, 7 September 2014
12th Sunday After Trinity
In today's gospel reading, Jesus tells his apostles "whatever you loose on earth, will be loosed on heaven". The ministry of loosing, of setting free, is an essential part of the Church's life. We all need setting free from things that stop us flourishing as the people God created us to be.
This ministry of setting free happens in all sorts of ways, but in particular when the bishops and priests of the Church, successors to those first apostles, celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation, better known as confession. Today's gospel is one of the scriptural texts on which our use of confession is founded.
Confession is a great gift from God to his people. Here's the basic idea - through our baptism, God wins the victory over sin in our lives and claims us for himself. A lot of the time, however, we fail to live up to this wonderful new beginning. We fail to love God and each other. This doesn't undo our baptism - the effect of that is permanent, but it does put barriers between us and God, and between us and our brothers and sisters in Christ. God loves us, and longs to dismantle those barriers. Confession is the way this happens through the sacramental life of the Church.
God can, of course, forgive us without confession. If we are genuinely sorry, and pray for forgiveness, we are forgiven there and then. But if we're honest, we are often not truly sorry. We often deceive ourselves about the wrong we have done. Confession helps with this. The process of taking a look at ourselves, deciding what to confess, going to confession, and hearing the words of absolution (forgiveness) from the priest, assuring us that God has forgiven us, is incredibly helpful. Over and above that helpfulness, God's grace is given to us through this sacrament, drawing us back to him.
A good rule is to go to confession when we are aware that we've done something seriously wrong, and two or three times a year in addition to that - perhaps before major festivals like Christmas and Easter. You can go to confession by contacting a priest (it doesn't need to be a priest from our parishes). Priests are used to hearing confessions from people who are not used to it, and will guide you through the process if you are making your first confession, or if you've forgotten what to do! Things said in confession are absolutely confidential under all circumstances.