The Sacrament of Confession

By Fr George ADIMIKE

Confession funds the reconstruction of the household of God. In this sacrament of reconciliation, God’s prodigal love encounters the extravagance of our iniquities. Through its agency, the Father’s never-fading, never-waning and ever-comforting love liquidates the penitents’ squalor of disgrace and restores the squandered sonship.

In this regard, the graciousness of God through this sacrament invites repentant sinners to live their lives as a tribute of jubilant gratitude. Indeed, the realization of the infinite love and boundless goodness of God, in confrontation with our indigent and deprived existence on account of sin, fuels an ecstasy of conversion and funds one’s exodus back to the Father’s house.

Therefore, Confession plunges a repentant sinner into the current of divine mercy, the wellspring of all goodness and forgiveness.

In reality, Confession is one of the puzzling sacraments. It unsettles many non-Catholics, who do not appreciate confessing through another human being. These Confession sceptics mount scathing criticism against confessing through a priest in utter negligence of the biblical and theological foundations (cf. Jn 20:21-22;Matt 18:18; Lk 5:24; I Tim. 2:5; Lev. 5:4-6; 19:21-22; Matt. 9:6-8; 2 Cor 2:10; 5:18; James 5:15-16; 1 Jn 1:9; Acts 19;18).

Yet, the same authority the apostles had over the forgiveness of sins continues in the Church through their successors because it was an authority given primarily to the Church. Hence, it behoves us to interrogate our faith relative to sin and reconciliation of sinners with God.

It has to be stated that cultures and religions have various rituals and programs of reconciliation with the deity or deities that constitute the object of their faith. For Christians, sin ruptures the divine-human relationship and wounds the spiritual-social order in the faith community.

This rupture, objectively healed by Jesus Christ through his paschal mystery, is accessed by being part of his body through faith. Thus, he empowered his body to participate in the ministry of reconciliation. Since sin has both personal and communal consequences, reconciliation has to involve both dimensions. Consequently, penitents approach this reconciliation through a priest, who represents Christ and the Church.

As a result of the triangular ramifications of sin, namely destruction of personal-spiritual balance, wounding of the social order and dishonouring God, the sacrament of Confession reconciles one with God, the Church and self. Precisely because of the social nature of human existence, the sacrament of reconciliation aims at reconfiliation of the sinner, which contributes to reconstituting the household of God.

As such, what happens to one affects all. By implication, an individual’s holiness affects the whole community in the same way the sin of one also contaminates the community. Therefore, in reconciling the sinner with God, self and society, the Confessor represents a social structure through which the Church assures one of divine forgiveness and reconciliation with the community.

Throughout the history of salvation, God reaches His people through a sacramental structure. He normally communicates His blessings and fulfils His promises through the mediation of others who stand in the volume. He chooses a person or persons to act as a go-between.

The mediatorship, which was in shades and shadows concerning the people of the Old Law, was fully revealed in the Christo-time of the Law of grace. In and through Christ, the three-dimensional ramifications of sin intersect. Christ, in whom is the reconciliation of God, individual and community, forgives sins. He forgave sin and continues to do so through his body (totus Christus – the whole Christ, that is, Christ and members, the Church).

Christ continues the ministry of reconciliation and delivery of forgiveness in his blood through his body and bride, the Church. The Church expresses her sacramental nature as the sacrament of Christ by exercising Christ’s ministry, knowing that Christ is the reality of what she is as a sacrament.

The repentant sinner needs God’s mercy, which he can only receive and not manufacture or conjure. As in quotidian reality, the best and the most important things are received, beginning from our existence (earthly life), spiritual life (grace) and our names. We received our first and last baths from others, baptised by others, eucharistified by others, anointed by others, married by others, and buried by others. Similarly, in Confession, we are forgiven and reconciled by others.

Human life is a shared existence lived within a web of relationships, and God comes to us through the mediation of these relationships. Hence, in ordinary as well as in supernatural things of life, God blesses us through people. He heals, empowers and restores us through others – through an established Health care system or the Spiritual care system. While Christ is the principal agent of these ministries, the whole Christ (Church) is their sacramental or instrumental agent.

In the Confession, through this Spiritual Health Care System, a penitent is plunged into the river of mercy. The experience of sin is a reality of significant deprivation and loss in a strange land of suffering akin to the experience of the Israelites in the land of slavery in Babylon or the prodigal son in a distant land.

The sacrament of Confession is an agency for a return to the waiting embrace of God (cf. Lk 15:11-32).

Weeping by the river of Babylon seems quite apt to translate the experience of the repentant sinner. The memory of the indescribable goodness of being in Christ, the bastion of the eternal Zion, haunts the sinner and stirs him to overwhelm and overcome in the battle between slavery to sin and struggle for freedom of the children of God.

By this river of Babylon, the realization of the deficiency of whatever the land of captivity promises becomes rather too obvious. Every sinner cries audibly or silently for help, liberation, reconciliation and reunion with their spiritual motherland by this riverside.

While our captors, the sin and its enslaving structures, would not let us go, in our apparent or real quagmire, they demand our ultimate pride and glory, the Lord’s song in a strange land of captivity.

By this river, life and death stare at us as we ache for freedom while plunging into the flowing river proves the only open access. This plunging means nothing but death, yet, a move we must make. By the institution of the sacrament of reconciliation, Christ made death a door to life, thus dying to oneself leads ultimately to life.

The river that frightens us is transformed into the river of mercy. Confession in this transformation becomes a plunging of self into the river of mercy, our only hope.

This submersion proves a plunging into the waiting embrace of the Father by the spur of the Spirit, whose love is nothing less than prodigal and prodigious. In the Confession, the Spirit plunges us into the river of mercy, Christ, and into the waiting embrace of the Father’s prodigal love.

Hence, after confession, a penitent has nothing to live other than making his life a tribute of jubilant gratitude that radiates the reconciled radiance of the joy of the restoration of the squandered sonship.