by Msgr. Charles McGlinn
“Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven. Whose sins you shall retain, they are retained” (Jn 20:23).
These words of the risen Lord to the apostles established the sacrament of reconciliation, one of God’s great gifts to the church. These words indicate that Jesus intended for his priests throughout time to bring his divine mercy to all in the church in this sacrament of penance.
For me, when I go to confession, I encounter Jesus, just as I encounter him when I receive holy Communion. I tell him, through my priest confessor, what he already knows but wants me to say out loud to another person.
I confess my sins — my sins of laziness, especially in prayer, my sins of impatience, of lustful thoughts, of my lack of charity toward others.
Actually, many of my sins are not the bad things I have done, but the good things I haven’t done that I should have done. All of these I tell the priest.
It takes some humility on my part to discuss this, but I figure: “What is sin anyway, but my pride acting out, making me a law to myself.” The antidote for pride is humility.
It is precisely here that I meet Jesus, who paid the price for my prideful sins and selfishness. It is through my faith that I meet him, but I truly meet him. And I am really confessing to him who loves me more than I love myself.
It is in the absolution of the priest that Jesus touches my soul and tells me that all is forgiven. And I feel deeply loved and cleansed.
Often, I confess the same sins over and over again. I don’t think that is a sign that I am not really sorry for my sin. It just says that I am weak. I am weak in those areas, and it is likely I will fail again.
But Jesus knows that in my heart, I am truly sorry and will try to do better. And he forgives me. Sometimes, I reflect on past sins I have already confessed. I think I do that because I am so ashamed of what I have done. Then I remember the Scripture that says that God throws our sins into the deepest part of the ocean (Mi 7:19).
I always add — and he puts up a sign that says: “No fishing!”
I have to say that as a priest confessor for almost 49 years, hearing confessions and granting absolution has been one of the most fulfilling parts of my pastoral ministry. It is a most humbling experience.
Because of their faith and love for the Lord, people share with me their innermost secrets, and I am truly humbled by their faith and holiness. They may not think they are holy in those moments of reflecting on their sins, but they are.
In those experiences, when a person admits his sins with regret and sorrow, that person becomes very close to our Redeemer and shares his life in a new way.
Looking back on my priesthood, I wish that I had been better able to help people who came to me in confession, especially in truly accepting the love that God has for them, despite their sins. Sometimes, people are more convinced of God’s wrath rather than his love.
I think that the biggest challenge in faith for most people is to truly believe in the personal, individual, infinite, irrevocable, unconditional love that God has for them. I wish that I had been better able to help people to forgive themselves.
I think that many people neglect the sacrament of reconciliation because of sins committed long ago, but never confessed, and they feel a lot of shame. Perhaps, there is even the feeling that God would not forgive me because my sin was too big.
I would like to say that we are all sinners in need of forgiveness, and there is no sin whose magnitude is greater than the greatness of God’s love for us. Jesus said that he came for sinners, not the self-righteous. And for those who do not believe that they are sinners, it really means that they don’t need Jesus. It means that they don’t need what he did for us on Calvary.
Jesus gave his life to forgive all of us. He waits for you and me to let him come into our hearts in this sacrament of his healing mercy.