In the Time of My Confession

That is the title of my most recent column over at The Catholic Thing. Here is how it begins:

When I was an Evangelical Protestant thinking about returning to the Catholic Church of my baptism, among Catholic practices I found difficult to accept was the sacrament of penance.

I thought that the sacrament took away from Christ’s sufficiency to forgive all our sins, past, present, and future. For I believed that it diminished the scope of Christ’s atonement if I had to do something in order to acquire forgiveness, such as confess to a priest and/or do penance, i.e., say some prayers, do a good deed, or engage in a spiritual discipline, after receiving absolution. But good reasons eventually led me to change my mind.

First, even Evangelical Protestants have a means for dealing with post-baptismal sin: the rededication. The backslider, depending on the severity of his iniquity, rededicates his life to Christ by walking the aisle once again, as he did when he first converted. In fact, given the Protestant understanding of justification and sanctification – that good works and good living follow from being truly saved – the backslider may wonder if his first confession was a sham. So, he confesses again. Thus, it became clear to me that Christianity requires some way to deal with post-baptismal sin.

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  • charlie

    Enjoyed the article very much. My wife and I are both converts to the Catholic Church (we grew up in the evangelical Protestant tradition). We have found the sacrament of penance to be one of the rich treasures we have received.

    I can also say, only half facetiously, that whoever thinks he doesn’t need to go to confession does not have a wife.

  • eric

    Professor Beckwith, I love the story you’ve told about Ralph McInerny and confession. Whenver I start to doubt the need for confession, or to feel ‘above’ it all, I remember that story and think, “If McInerny wasn’t above going to confession, I’m sure as heck not!”

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