I get it, many people are scared to go to confession, especially in front of another person (even though he is a priest) to reveal their sins, mistakes, and failures. Even though there are many arguments why we should not confess our sins to a priest from other denominations, the honest truth is that many are scared of being judged and to be vulnerable in front of another person. Yet, there is so much grace in and through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and at least in my own experiences, I have never felt judged or condemned — nor shameful — in front of a priest who is present as the Lord’s and the Church’s representative. I, as a priest, try to go to confession regularly — at least once a month — because I know that I am also a human being that often failed to love the Lord and my neighbors. I, as a priest and a sinner, always try my best to reconcile with the merciful God of my faith so I can become an instrument of His grace for those who are seeking His mercy.
I often joke with my parishioners that, “I sin at least once a day…sometimes, two or three times a day!” However, this is also the truth. Sometimes people think that priests do not sin. There are an unhealthy and unrealistic image and expectation of who we are or who we are supposed to be for people, yet at the end of the day, we are all sinners just like you! That is not to say that I let myself go easy and sin in any and every occasion that I get, but I am weak and still short in many areas. I am working on each and every day to overcome and sanctify myself with God’s grace. I come to the Sacrament of Reconciliation often because I know that the Devil wants all of us to hide everything as a secret so he can have control over us, yet to admit our weaknesses and failures open our souls up to the abundant grace of God to heal and strengthen us. I was given heartfelt advice from an old, respected priest from early on regarding going to confession regularly and have made it into a personal habit. I look at it as an act of personal trust and humility to lay down myself as I am before God and His Church as to be reconciled, counseled and guided by His representative. It is weird for many people to see two priests confessing their sins to one another, but please remember that we are all sinners striving to be saints! We know who we are and who we are striving to represent, and that is why we all need the grace of the sacraments as everyone does.
Some people asked, “Why do you have to confess your sins to another priest even though you’re a priest? Can you just absolve yourself? Isn’t it awkward to do so (confess your sins) in front of another priest who might be your friend or know you?” I think it is important to recognize who we are and be honest with ourselves. I am not embarrassed to seek God’s mercy and to lay down my sins as I am because I know that I am weak. I have never feel judged or isolated by my brother priests. We both know our roles, and often times, take our individual turn to confess our sins as penitent first then listen and reconcile the other as a priest of the Church. Yes, the Lord already know our sins because He sees and understands our hearts, but it is important, too, that we see ourselves as we are and lay down our sins before Him in genuine humility and trust.
I have many people who asked, “Why do I have to confess something over and over again? Especially ones that I know that I will fail again!” Each and every one of us has several (repeated) sins that we struggle throughout our lives. Spiritual masters often call them “thorns in the flesh,” as also with Saint Paul when he asked the Lord to remove his own’s. (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:7-9) Yet, the Lord answered the saint and to each and every one of us that His grace is enough and will be much more efficacious than our weaknesses. Our sins might be obstacles at times, but they are also great “stepping stones” for us to grow in trust and faith. The saints over the millennia have assured us to trust that the Lord will not abandon those who are sincerely sorry for their sins as He will bestow His abundant grace upon us for the battle. As much as we have sinned and genuinely feel sorry for our failures, we need to come before Him to lay down everything that is enslaving, hurting, or manipulating us. Similar to the recovery process, anyone who struggles with overcoming a dependency can tell you and I that the greatest achievement is to know that even though we might fail from time to time, we have to desire, will, and choose the right choice and trust in the higher power of grace (beyond ourselves) to battle well. Even though there are bad days and relapses, we try our best to grow in endurance and perseverance, hence to overcome them through personal trust, sanctification, and especially the divine power of grace.
Some told me that they do not think that they sin because they did not break any law or did anything grave. I think that is a very legalistic and minimalistic view between law and love! If we only do things (especially the bare minimum) according to the law, we become legalistic and have not really love. If we truly love someone, especially God, we should not solely focus on whether if we are breaking the laws or commandments but whether we have loved. Some even said, “I only commit small, venial sins, not grave or mortal ones so I really don’t need to confess! What’s the point (of going regularly)? I’ll go back and commit them anyway!” Again, let us look at our faith not on a legalistic or transactional way but from a relational and loving perspective! There were times that we know deep within ourselves that we have not loved rightly. There had been times that we let our greed, anger, impatience, envy, slothfulness, and the likes get the best of us! There were times that we chose to omit or not care. Therefore, to sin is to fail to love God and our neighbors (not just simply looked at or defined as breaking the law or doing something grave). Our words and actions shape who we are as we personally chose to omit or commit to something against true faith, hope, and charity. Therefore, as long as we turned away from God and failed to love Him, we need to be honest with ourselves and lay down our failures before the Almighty to receive His forgiving grace.
There are many images to portray the power of confessions, but they mean nothing if we cannot be honest, genuine, and trusting in the Lord’s goodness. To be reconciled with God is like cleaning our lenses and windows of the soul so the light of grace can shine deep within our heart of heart, especially in areas that have been darkened or hidden by our own hurts, failures, denials, or sins. To be forgiven is like to allow God to fix our gutters as to properly draw and direct His water of grace to the depth of our soul. To confess one’s sins and to receive absolution is like to smoothen and shave down the calluses of our heart so it can be sensitive, attentive, and in tune with God’s loving voice and presence again. No matter what the image we might use to portray confession, it is important that we trust and dispose ourselves to the grace of the sacrament!
I have heard many confessions of many people who had been away from the sacrament of forgiveness and healing for a long time. Many of them shared stories of being yelled at, belittled, or scared of being honest because the priests were not caring or compassionate enough. I do not know what really happened, and if any of my brother priests did not love and forgive your sins like Christ, I am sorry. That had not been my experience and I would not wish that upon anyone! For those who are scared or had been turned off in the past, please give the sacrament another chance. I believe you can always find a patient, caring, and compassionate priest around you so do not let past hurts or reconcilable excuses keep you from receiving the Lord and the Church’s forgiveness. We should never let an individual’s failures to stop us from receiving the abundant grace of the sacrament.
I cannot tell you the wonderful feeling of being reconciled with God. After every confession, I have the indescribable feeling of being loved, weight lifted off my chest, sins removed from my soul, and embraced by Mother Church and the Almighty God. Pope Francis once said (in similar words), “The Lord is never tired of forgiving us (of our sins). It is often us who are too worried or tired of asking Him for His forgiveness.” Therefore, I would like to extend the same invitation to you! If you had not gone to confession for a long time, find time soon. If you are going regularly, I pray that you and I continue to grow in our own personal sanctification with the grace given in the sacrament. I pray and wish that each and every one of us will be able to feel, live, and embrace God’s abundant mercy through the Sacrament of Reconciliation! God loves you so do not be afraid.