“WHY SHOULD I CONFESS MY SINS TO A PRIEST WHO IS ALSO A MORTAL MAN LIKE ME? WHAT IS THE SCRIPTURAL BASIS FOR THIS?”

“WHY
SHOULD I CONFESS MY SINS TO A PRIEST WHO IS ALSO A MORTAL MAN LIKE ME? WHAT IS
THE SCRIPTURAL BASIS FOR THIS?”
Dear
friends in Christ, this is how to respond to anyone who challenges your faith
saying: “Why should I confess my sins to a priest who is also a mortal man like
me; where is it in the Bible?
RESPONSE:
It
is apparent that many unbelievers, protestants and even some lukewarm Catholics
who profess the CREED (…I Believe in the forgiveness of sins…) believe that
the sacrament of confession is a waste of time and that they cannot confess all
their sins to a priest who is a “mortal” man like them; That it is better to
confess directly to God.  A priest by the virtue of his ordination is
being transformed inwardly and configured to Christ, being able to carry out
the priestly functions of Christ; this we see in the life and activities of the
Apostles (cf. the book of Acts). Well, nobody is preventing anyone to confess
directly to God, but our sins are also against our brothers and sisters, and
against the church. This is why it is necessary to ask forgiveness from our
brothers and sisters and from the church in the person of the priest. Besides, the right thing ought to be done in the right manner.
Having
said this, the pertinent question should be: What is Confession?

Confession is one of the least understood of the Sacraments of the Church. In
reconciling us to God, it is a great source of grace, thus, we are encouraged
to take advantage of it often. We believe that all the Sacraments were
instituted by Jesus Christ. As regards Confession, Christ instituted this
sacrament when he first appeared to the apostles after his Resurrection.
Breathing on them, he said: “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained” (John
20:22-23). Does this make any meaning to us? Let us journey through the
scriptures and we would discover that this sacrament has a strong root and
meaning with Judaism and with the early Christians.
SCRIPTURAL
FOUNDATION OF CONFESSION:
1.
Old Testament:
According
to Leviticus 19: 20-22, a man who committed adultery had to bring a guilt
offering for himself to the door of the Tent of Meeting (the holy place where
the Ark of the Covenant, which contained God’s true presence was kept). But
then it adds “And the priest shall make atonement for him …before the Lord for
his sin…and the sin which he has committed shall be forgiven.” (see also
Leviticus 5: 5-6). The priest could not make atonement if he were not aware of
the man’s sin. He is acting as a mediator for the repentant sinner.

Having said this, an objection may arise, and it is: “Well that is the Old
Testament, but now we have Jesus, who suffered for our sins”. What does the New
Testament have to say?
2.
New Testament:
Matthew
3: 16 (and Mk 1: 5): “. . . they were baptized by him (John the Baptist) in the
river Jordan, confessing their sins.” Thus, he who prepared the way for Christ
listened to confessions of sin. We learn in Luke’s account of John the Baptist
how he freely confessed that he was not the Christ (Luke 3: 16-17). He
doubtless heard countless confessions of sin, but he knew where forgiveness of
sin came from. This we see at the moment he approached Jesus; he declared,
“Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (John
1: 29). 

Jesus then sent his disciples to baptize throughout Judea (John 3: 22) and they
too, doubtless heard the confessions of many sinners as they travelled from
village to village. So Jesus used his disciples and John the precursor to hear
confessions of sins, however, this is not the sacrament of confession. 
Let’s
see if the New Testament shows men receiving the authority to forgive sins in
God’s Name. According to Matthew 9: 6-8: Jesus tells us that he was given
authority on earth to forgive sins (a power reserved to God) and proves it with
miraculous healing. The Scripture also notes this same authority was given to
“men”. Is this merely a figure of speech? No, John’s Gospel makes it clear
Jesus intended to confer this authority to men (cf. John 20: 21-23: In his very
first resurrection appearance, our Lord gave this awesome power to his Apostles
with the words: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any,
they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” How could
they forgive sins if the sins were not confessed? They could not. This
authority comes through the gift of the Holy Spirit which precedes it. Does
this remind of us what He told Peter (Mt. 16: 19) and then the other apostles
(Mt. 18:18)? “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever
you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth
shall be loosed in heaven.” This includes sins. Jesus allows us to receive
spiritual consolation and counsel in this beautiful Sacrament of the Church. We
see this awesome power in other sacraments as well; an example of this is the Sacrament
of “Anointing of the Sick”.
Again,
let us consider James 5: 14-17: “Is any among you sick? Let him call
for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with
oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man,
and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be
forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another …” Notice that the command
does not say confess your sins straight to God. In the context of this verse, a
person is told to “summon the presbyters (elders) of the church”
(James 5:14). Presbyter is the Greek word for priest.
Having
said this, does it mean that the priest forgives sins? Who forgives sins?
WHO
FORGIVES SINS?

Only God has the authority to
forgive sins. Yet, this authority is mediated through others. The Jews
questioned why Christ was forgiving sins, because they did not realize He was
God. We must not forget that Jesus is also a man. The Church makes us to
realize that the Priest forgives sins by the POWER OF GOD when he pronounces
the words of absolution: “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the
FATHER and of the SON and of the HOLY SPIRIT.” Christ passed on this authority
to forgive sins to his apostles and they in turn “laid hands” on
other good men (this is the sacrament of Holy Orders). For this reason, ordained
men are used by God to give assurance of forgiveness of sins (absolution) to
one who is sincerely repentant and has a firm purpose of amendment. Laying of
hands as described earlier is an act of ordaining men of goodwill to continue
God’s service. This is known as Apostolic Succession. The
role of apostolic succession in preserving true doctrine as received by Christ is
clearly illustrated in the Bible. To make sure that the teachings and mandate
Christ granted to them would be passed down after the deaths of the apostles,
Paul said to Timothy, “What you have heard from me before many witnesses
entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim.
2:2). Look at 1Timothy 1:6 and 4:14, where Paul reminds Timothy that the office of
bishop had been conferred on him through the laying on of hands. Notice in 1Timothy 5:22 that Paul advises Timothy not to be too quick lay
hands on anyone (this shows that
the act of laying of hands in the context at which it was described is to
confer authority to another, it is not just a simple act). In Titus,
Paul describes the apostolic authority Titus had received and urges him to act
decisively in this leadership role.
Therefore,
the Bishops are the Successors of the Apostles, and the faculty of confession
is primarily reserved to them; this faculty is granted to priests by their
respective Local Ordinaries (the Bishops).

Hence, based on the Biblical evidence, we see that the forgiveness of sins is
explicitly tied to confessing to a priest, who has the authority to forgive
sins, which is given by Christ. Christ thus heals the relationship through the
priest and we are reconciled to both God and the Church – healing the two-fold
damage done in our relationships. Little wonder this Sacrament is also called SACRAMENT OF RECONCILIATION.
From
what we have seen so far, it is apposite to make clear the requirements for
Confession. What does it require to make a good Confession?
REQUIREMENTS
FOR CONFESSION
Three
things are required of a penitent in order to receive the sacrament worthily:
1. He must be contrite—or, in other words, sorry for his sins.
2.
He must confess those sins fully. This is so, because, our Catechism makes
us to realize that anyone who willfully conceals a serious sin in confession is
guilty of a great sacrilege by telling a lie to the Holy Spirit in making a bad
confession
3.
He must be willing to do penance and make amends for his sins.
Here comes the ultimate question:
“When last did you go to confession? When last did you approach this source of
grace, of mercy and forgiveness? When last did you visit this Laundry of the
Holy Spirit? We should endeavor to go to confession as soon as we fall into
sin, and make a firm purpose of amendment. This sacrament gives grace to those
who receive it worthily. Even the Pope, the visible shepherd of the whole
flock goes to confession… How much more we (the flock). Think about it.
Shalom!

CLICK HERE ALSO TO READ: “AT THE CONFESSIONAL: HOW TO MAKE A GOOD CONFESSION”

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