Confession: An Ignored or Forgotten Spiritual Practice

“Religion tends to make you closed and dishonest. Alcoholics Anonymous works, but in church we just don’t trust enough to confess to each other.” Dallas Willard, a brilliant philosopher and theologian, made this comment recently.

James advises us, “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.”

Confession may be one of the Spiritual Practices (or Disciplines) that is least done–ranking up there with fasting.

I have not heard my American Catholic friends talk about the formal “going to Confession” (is it a Rite or a Sacrament?) for many years. Is this something slipping away even there? In the Catholic tradition, you would confess your sins to a priest in complete privacy who would offer forgiveness in the name of Jesus and the community. In the Protestant tradition, we remove that intermediary.

But all the same, when was the last time you confessed any sin to another Christian? In my case, most likely never aside from the times as part of a worship service when the leader makes us repeat something printed in the bulletin or liturgy.

Willard suggests a problem. Do we trust those around us in church enough to stand and confess before the gathered community? Probably not. We know too many gossips in the group. Or, we’re afraid of the gossips–or those who would use the information against us.

And that’s a tragedy.

What a lost opportunity to help others heal! What a lost opportunity for us to heal.

My last post talked about opening our eyes to see our failings. The next step is to confess to someone. Confessing to God in private most assuredly helps. But having someone around us offer assurance is necessary for healing.

The small group movement–which I’ve been involved with for 40 years probably–always begins with a covenant that “what is told in the group, stays in the group.” (And you thought Las Vegas invented that line!)

We need that covenant in church. We confess, receive assurance and it stays there.

2 Responses to “Confession: An Ignored or Forgotten Spiritual Practice”

  1. Eoin Ó Riain Says:

    Yes Gary, it is a sacrament (one of seven) of Penance – now called the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is one of the Sacraments of Healing.

    The Catechism says: “The Lord Jesus Christ, physician of our souls and bodies, who forgave the sins of the paralytic and restored him to bodily health, has willed that his Church continue, in the power of the Holy Spirit, his work of healing and salvation, even among her own members. This is the purpose of the two sacraments of healing: the sacrament of Penance and the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.” (http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P46.HTM)

    After confession the properly authorised priest in the name of the Lord grants us “pardon and peace.” Sometimes it is called the Sacrament of the Conversion of the Baptized. The Catechism is quite beautiful on the subject.

    The practice of frequent confession, common when I was young, has largely fallen by the wayside though it is still available especially in city churches.

    • Gary Mintchell Says:

      Thanks for the explanation, Eoin. I can’t believe how much knowledge of the Catholic church I’ve lost over the years.

      Always trying to learn. And sorry to hear that what I see in the US is also happening elsewhere. Maybe the drive to secularism will subside–although hopefully not toward mindless fundamentalism but more toward true Spiritual practices.

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