Malankara World

Holy Confession - Spiritual Therapy for the Soul

by Fr. George C. Mathew, Baltimore, MD

Recently, I was asked to explain Holy Confession to someone and explain some misconceptions. I thought it might be helpful to others too as Great Lent is the 'Confession Season.'

1. Holy Confession is one of the sacraments of the Church through which the grace of God is imparted to a believer. It is a prerequisite for many other sacraments, especially Holy Communion. Holy Confession is provided by the Church as a means of repenting of the sins we have committed in thought, word, or deed and receiving forgiveness and absolution. It is therapy for the soul. Through Holy Confession, we can leave our sins and evil acts at the feet of the Cross, where our Lord trampled down death by His own death. We can leave unburdened and guilt-free if we are sincere and truly repentant, regaining peace of mind and true joy.

2. Sin (Gr. "amartia") literally means 'missing the mark' or deviating from God's will and standards. St. James says that intentionally doing what we know is wrong is sin (James 4:17). The Fathers teach that a passing thought to sin is not sin unless it is mulled over and enacted. It becomes sin when one allows the lust for it to overtake him. He thinks about it and plans a way to accomplish it. Most personal sin occurs in private, when we believe no one is watching. The thrill is in accomplishing the sin. But, more than often, after the sin is committed, the temporary satisfaction and enjoyment subsides and guilt consumes us. If we fell guilty, that is a healthy sign that the Holy Spirit is convicting us. However, we have reason to worry if we feel little or no guilt because our sin paralyzes us spiritually and blocks the prodding of the Holy Spirit. This can happen when we avoid Holy Confession and true repentance.

The best way to avoid sin, then, is, when the opportunity to sin arises, to channel that energy to some other medium. If a person is hooked on pornography, for example, when the thought enters the mind to look at something pornographic, he/she should shut off the monitor and leave the computer. He can even set up filters to avoid such sites if he is not strong spiritually. If a person loves to gossip, when the desire to gossip comes, he/she should pray and ask God for the gift of silence. Read Psalm 1 for more guidance on avoidance.

3. When confessing, be honest with yourself. God already knows the sins committed; we cannot fool God. We should take some meaningful time to ponder our lives and think about where we have gone wrong. Where are we in our walk with Christ? Holy Confession is about making a 'U-turn' in life and returning back into the favor and communion of God. The story of the Prodigal Son is the best example. The Heavenly Father waits patiently for the repentance of all His creation and to restore a relationship with each one. Sin disrupts that relationship and cuts us off from our Creator, Sustainer, and Provider.

4. When confessing, be specific. We need to be complete and mention everything that comes to our minds. Whatever sins we confess in true repentance will be forgiven and wiped away. However, whatever sins we choose to hold on to are ours to keep and answer for on Judgment Day. Isn't it better then to confess our deepest and darkest sins and secrets to one person (the priest), rather than waiting for Judgment Day and having to admit them before trillions upon trillions of people, not to mention in the presence of God Himself?

Although the priest does not need to know all the details of the sinful act (like persons involved, places, dates, etc), he does need to know the extent of the sin. This is so he can counsel you properly on why that particular sin is wrong and how best to combat that sin in the future. Imagine going to your doctor and saying only 'I'm sick.' This is not enough information for the doctor to correctly diagnose the problem and he will likely ask more questions to get to the root of the problem. Similarly, this also needs to happen in Holy Confession. The roots of serious sin need to be plucked out of our souls to prevent it from continued spiritual damage. Ultimately, we have to heed the warning of St. Paul - "the wages of sin is death."

5. It is important to remember that the priest is not there to judge you, but rather lead you to true repentance and absolution. He is only a witness to the confession as the forgiveness and absolution come from Christ alone. Christ Himself gave the authority to forgive sins to His disciples, who in turn gave it to the bishops, who gave it to the priests. The seal of confession prevents the priest from revealing what is said in Holy Confession. It is also important to note that the priest also has the authority to determine if it is a legitimate Confession. True repentance has two aspects: admitting the sin and then making things right. If a person kills another person, true absolution of the sin cannot happen until the person makes amends for what he has done; that is, accepting the consequences for his actions. Holy Confession should never be seen as a "simple cure" that can avoid such consequences. The priest may ask you to accept responsibility for what has happened and make things right before real absolution can be given. There are no shortcuts in the spiritual life.

6. Holy Confession is therapy for the soul. It has great benefit for the soul and can only improve our relationship with God and our fellow man. But, we have to be honest with ourselves and God. Holy Confession is not meant to a once-a-year event, but a daily, weekly, monthly process. The priest is always willing to listen and advise, but we have to be willing to come and obey if we want to grow spiritually. Let us make use of the gift of Holy Confession, using it as a means to rid our souls of the filth and sin in us. Let us continually pray to the Holy Spirit to bring to our remembrance all that we have sinfully so we may confess them and receive true absolution.

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