The Primary Confessor

One of the books I am currently reading is Freedom and Forgiveness: A Fresh Look at the Sacrament of Reconciliation, by Fr. Paul Farren. Since even many Catholics who don’t regularly avail themselves of the sacrament of Reconciliation do so during the Lenten season, it seemed a good book to pick up for my flight to Philadelphia yesterday.

Many people view Reconciliation as an unpleasant duty that must be undertaken from time to time, or a required appeasement of a judging God, thinking of it as something that makes God feel better, something we do for God. Something that gets us back into God’s graces.

That misconceives the real nature of the Sacrament. As Fr. Farren observes

The sacrament of Reconciliation is primarily that sacred place and moment when God confesses. The primary confessor in the sacrament is God. What does God confess? God confesses his love, his forgiveness, his gratitude, his confidence, his trust and his belief in us. It is God’s confession that enables us to confess. God’s attitude creates a safe and non-judgmental environment for us to be true to ourselves and to be true to the one who loves us most.

We see the truth of this observation several times in the Gospels.

We see it, for example, in the story of Zacchaeus. Here is Zacchaeus – a short man who couldn’t even see above the crowds. He is unpopular, not what we think of as a good person. This is not someone who was on the guest list of most people’s dinner parties. Most people wanted nothing to do with him. Those who didn’t think he was vile simply thought he was unimportant. But Jesus invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house – effectively saying: Zacchaeus, it doesn’t matter to me that you are a tax collector and that you are unpopular. I still want to be with you. I want to be your friend. And it is Jesus’ greeting Zacchaeus with joy that is the cause of Zacchaeus’ promise to give half of his possessions to the poor and make recompense to all he has cheated. God loved Zacchaeus first, and that allowed him to respond back in love.

Michael Himes makes the same point when he write that Reconciliation “is not about how wicked I have been but rather about how good God is. Like all sacraments, reconciliation is not primarily about my action, whether good or bad, but about God’s action.” Himes observes that this makes Reconciliation a source of joy as the community (in the form of the priest to whom we confess) acknowledges that all have sinned and all are forgiven because all are embraced by the love of God….What is being celebrated is not the depth of our sin but the height of God’s love.”

What we are really asked to do in the sacrament of Reconciliation is to accept the loving embrace of God. To accept that, in Fr. Farren’s words, “God believes in us far more than we will ever believe in God. God believes in us far more than we will ever believe in ourselves.”