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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Questions & Answers About Confession

Who can forgive sins?

Only God can forgive sins, and those to whom he has given the power to do so.

To whom did God give such a power?

The Scriptures reveal that Jesus gave this power to his apostles. We read in John 20:22-23: “And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’” Our Lord says that all power in heaven and on earth has been given to him, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (John 20:21). Jesus was sent into the world to forgive sins, and so he similarly sent the apostles.

Instead of confession, maybe this meant that priests could forgive sins in baptism?

The Bible makes a clear distinction between the sins forgiven by baptism and those remitted afterwards. Regarding the former, we are told, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness [remission] of sins” (Acts 2:38); as for the latter, there is the charge, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23).

Maybe Christ forgives sins, but not priests?

Jesus Christ does forgive our sins, provided that we confess them to a priest (particularly if we have the opportunity to do so).

The Scriptures assert that the forgiveness of sins shall be preached to all nations; if mercy is granted in preaching, why is confession necessary?

The proclamation of forgiveness points to the remission of sins through baptism, confession, or any other means instituted by the Lord.

Does not the biblical notion of forgiving sins apply to the excommunication of sinners or their restoration?

The apostles are given a two-fold power. First, they can forgive sins as our Lord makes clear. Second, they are given the authority to excommunicate. Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18).

If Mary Magdalene can have her sins forgiven because she “loved much” then perhaps all sins are similarly forgiven (see Luke 7:47)?

Mary Magdalene’s outward display of great sorrow in her confession of Jesus brings about the forgiveness of her sins by Christ (who knew her sins). It is not the sentiment of love that is sufficient, but a practical love which results in sorrow, confession if possible, satisfaction and a firm resolve not to sin again. Few priests are given the supernatural power to read souls; thus, unlike Jesus, the priest cannot know what your sins are unless you tell him. This allows the priest to apply an appropriate penance and to give adequate counsel.

If confession is legitimate, why does the Bible remain silent about it?

It is not silent. We have already read Christ’s stipulation in its favor. The historical fact that the early Christians, indeed Catholics during the last two thousand years, have confessed their sins is proof that Christ taught the apostles that sins should be confessed.

But St. Paul said as proof of ourselves, “Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:28). He did not say “Go to confession.” Is there not a real clash?

St. Paul meant that we should be proved according to the teaching of Christ. In other words, we are to prove and to examine our conscience. If we discover any sins, then we should confess them before “eating of this bread.” Certainly, St. Paul would not contradict Jesus who commanded the apostles to forgive sins.

As we say in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” are we not forgiven by forgiving others?

It means that if we want our heavenly Father to forgive our sins, then we must forgive our neighbor. This is more than a precondition connected to human activity. God is not crudely bargaining with us. This line has everything to do with conversion or transformation into a new Christ. We are to imitate and to manifest the loving mercy of God in our very selves. By forgiving others, we become precisely the types of persons who are open to the graces of mercy. God can use us in ushering in his kingdom. We grow in holiness because we become revelatory to the face and presence of God. Ultimately, the Father will look upon us and see his Son living in us. He will give us a share in the eternal life that Christ merits on our behalf.

If sins can readily be forgiven, will it not entice people to easily relapse into sin?

No, because a good confession demands true sorrow for sin and a firm intention to avoid sin in the future. The more a sinner experiences and expresses his sorrow in confession, the less likely will he return to his sin. This sorrow is more than just “feeling” sorry. It reflects a real remorse over what our sins have accomplished. Our sins inhibit our transformation in Christ, deprive us of grace, and threaten us with the loss of heaven and the pains of hell. While fear of punishment illustrates imperfect contrition; we are all to strive for perfect contrition. This requires that we be conscious of the dishonor our sins bring upon God for whom we are created. They strike down our Savior upon Calvary (often imaged in the Sacred Heart devotion).

Can it be said that the apostles went to confession?

We certainly know that our Lord told his apostles to forgive sins; no doubt, if they committed any, they forgave each other’s sins.

Can a priest charge money for forgiving sins?

No, this would be a great crime called simony. Severe punishments would be inflicted upon any priest who would dare do something so offensive.

Can a priest forgive a thief who has no intention to return stolen goods?

No, the stolen property, if possible, must be restored to the lawful owner or at least a promise must be given that restoration will be made. Only then is the priest at liberty to absolve the sin.

Does the Bible distinguish any sins as mortal?

It most certainly does. The Bible tells us that some sins deserve death and that they exclude sinners from the kingdom of heaven. St. Paul states in Galatians 5:19-21: “Now the works of the flesh are plain: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” St. Paul enumerates a number of serious or mortal sins in 1 Corinthians. Exclusion from the kingdom of God literally means damnation.

Does the Bible mention any sins as venial (more easily forgiven)?

Again, the answer is yes. “For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again” (Proverbs 24:16). Evidently it is possible for a righteous or just man to commit certain sins and not forfeit his good status. However, if a person commits a mortal sin, he can no longer be considered righteous or just. [Also see James 3:2.]

Is there a clear biblical teaching that God punishes mortal sins with temporal and eternal punishments?

This is the case. David was guilty of murder, which merited the pains of hell (2 Samuel 12:9). Nathan warned him of his mortal peril. David repents: “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13). Nathan responds as the voice of God: “The Lord has put away your sin,” (2 Samuel 12:13) that is, the eternal punishment of hell. Nathan continues: “You shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die” (2 Samuel 12:13-14). This was clearly temporal punishment.

How is the Sacrament of Penance administered?

It is very simple. The ritual usually begins with the sign of the cross. The penitent will often ask for a blessing from the priest at the beginning. Next, he confesses his sins. The priest might offer some fatherly advice, a penance is imposed, and absolution is given.

What are the essential words of absolution?

“God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; 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. Amen.”

For more such material, contact me about getting my book, CATHOLIC QUESTIONS & ANSWERS.