My grandson Gabriel made his First Communion a few weeks ago, just prior to my ordination. Gabriel was going to Confession before his First Communion when he said, “Granddad, just think, if you were already a priest you could hear my Confession.” That caught me off guard, but I told him, “Gabe, I want to be your Granddad. It’s better for you to go to another priest.”
And then something happened that was wonderful, but absolutely normal. Gabe’s father came into the room and took Gabe with him to the Church for Confession. It was such a normal act: Boy followed Dad out the door to go to Confession. The lesson for me was, if you want your children to go to Confession, just go yourselves and take them with you. That is about the easiest catechesis there is. You go. They will go. You go often and regularly; they will go often and regularly. There is not a Catholic school or religious education program on earth that is more effective than that simple lesson. You can talk about the Sacrament of Confession with priests and theologians until you are blue in the face. There is simply nothing more effective than just going and doing it, as a family.
Perhaps the most common objection I hear about Confession is the complaint, “Why do I have to tell my sins to a man?” “Why can’t I just talk to God?”
God knows we need a little more accountability, and that is why he sent his only Son to be God with us as a human being. He came to call sinners. He came to forgive us our sins. Three of the seven sacraments he left us deal with forgiveness of sin, including Baptism, Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick. If you are still struggling with that question of why tell your sins to a priest, it should be enough simply to recall the Apostle James telling us to confess our sins to one another. God gave the role of forgiveness of sins to Jesus. Jesus gave the role to the Apostles and the Church. Why confess our sins to a priest? Because God knew we needed to be held accountable. Jesus set it up that way. He told the Church, “Whose sins you forgive will be forgiven.” That is our Catholic faith and good scripture. It’s pretty simple.
In that first reading from 2nd Samuel, God uses his prophet Nathan to chastise and hold accountable the great King David for his sinful, murderous behavior. King David had tremendous faith in God, but he got a little carried away with himself at times. Even though he had several wives, he fell in love with another man’s wife and she conceived a child by David. Then, David had the woman’s husband killed. God says to David through his prophet Nathan, “You have cut down Uriah the Hittite with the sword; you took his wife as your own.” We call that adultery and murder.
When confronted by God through Nathan, David did not try to hide it. Instead, he admitted his great sins to God’s prophet immediately, saying, “I have sinned against the Lord.” David did not make excuses or try to trick God or Nathan. He simply took personal responsibility for his action and said, “I did it. I was wrong.” And Nathan told David the same thing you and I hear in the Confessional when we confess our sins, “The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin.” That is a very early example of the way we practice the Sacrament of Reconciliation today.
The issue in the second reading is often a source of Protestant arguments against the Church regarding faith and works, and the Church’s authority to forgive sins. Most Protestants don’t believe the Church has this authority, despite clear statements in the Bible. They often use this scripture to support their position, when St. Paul tells the Galatians, “… a person is not justified by the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ.” The old Protestant argument is about faith vs. works. You don’t need the Church or priests. Just have faith in Jesus.
However, the real discussion in the bible text is about the Jewish concept of sin as we see later in the Gospel. The Pharisee cannot see the faith of the sinful woman, but only her sinfulness as unclean under the law. He is only testing Jesus, looking to see whether Jesus obeys the law and whether Jesus was a prophet.
For the sinful, contrite woman she, like King David, knows her sins and is genuinely, honestly, deeply sorry for them. And, like King David, she believes God can forgive her sins, no matter how great. Further, she has faith that Jesus can forgive her sins.
The Pharisee, on the other hand, cannot even see his own weaknesses. He was a devout follower of the Law, but he can’t see that he was a poor, inconsiderate host. He can’t see that he is a sinner. He can’t see the woman’s faith. He can only see the other’s sins. He is morally blind, and his heart is closed. Jewish thought at that time saw sinfulness as something you got from coming in contact with unclean persons. The only way to remain clean was to isolate yourself from the unclean. The sinful woman scandalizes the Pharisee.
Jesus shows Simon his moral blindness when he tells the Pharisee, “Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet (A common gesture of hospitality), but she has bathed them with her tears, and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with ointment. So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven, because she has shown great love.”
Simon, on the other hand, is shown what a small man he really is, and how little love he has for anyone but himself. Here is the Son of God telling the judgmental Pharisee Simon, “… the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” It’s time to wince. That was Jesus exposing a morally shallow phony. Simon would not acknowledge his sins and refused to show any love for the desperate woman.
Jesus came to forgive sins. God will not forgive us if we don’t ask for forgiveness. We must ask for forgiveness and say like King David, “I did this”, without any excuses. Forgiveness is available to us when we approach the Church, in the priest and tell the Church our sins, as the Apostle James tells us. And we are assured when Jesus himself grants forgiveness through the Priest.
The words of the priest are not his own, but Jesus acting through the priest. Jesus is in the Sacrament when the Priest says,
“… through the ministry of the Church
May God give you pardon and peace,
And I absolve you from your sins
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
And with that sacrament, God forgets our sins.
Don’t be blind! Go. Confess your sins to the priest. Regularly. Take your children.