There is a well-known saying: Confession is good for the soul. What does that mean? How does that apply to the Sacrament of Confession in the Catholic Church?
The meaning of this saying is that people will feel better about themselves if they confess to whatever is nagging them with guilt. Get it off your chest!
Rejecting Guilt Leads to More Suffering
However, guilt is definitely “out” in our current society. Guilt feels bad, but our cultural obsession is to feel good, so we have to ignore guilt. Sadly, the rejection of guilt has led, it seems, to a rejection of responsibility and accountability as well.
Nonetheless, people carry a great deal of guilt. To assuage the guilt, people turn frantically to anything that makes them feel better. Could it be that we are a nation with serious addiction problems—drugs, alcohol, sex, pornography, media—because we are a people who won’t deal with their guilt?
One major source of guilt is abortion. In my blog on post-abortion healing, I address the inevitable crushing guilt and the help that is available to regain peace. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/musingsfromthepew/2021/11/post-abortion-healing-the-need-and-the-response/
The Catholic Church is frequently criticized for laying a guilt trip on its members. You hear jokes in the media about “Catholic guilt.” It’s considered browbeating and another example of stodgy religion.
However, the opposite is true. Guilt is good. It means you have a conscience, and like pain telling your body there is a problem, guilt tells you that you need God, that you need to go to church where we can find mercy and love.
Popes Francis and John Paul II on Confession
Pope Francis said, “One does not go to confession as chastised people who must humble themselves, but as children who run to receive the Father’s embrace.” https://www.vaticannews.va/en/church/news/2021-09/confession-sacrament-pope-francis-joy-editorial.html
The Church has stood steadfast against the ridicule about guilt and confession knowing they are essential to our spiritual and emotional well-being. We are offered a wonderful healing process for the wounds we have inflicted upon our own souls.
While some people bridle at the thought of admitting their faults to another person, just talking it over with God by yourself doesn’t have the assurance of hearing the priest say, “You are forgiven.” Unless God speaks to you directly, your human self wants to hear the words from a real voice.
Besides, as St. Pope John Paul II saw it, you don’t go to confession to be judged but to be guided. The role of the priest is to help the sinner find a better way to live and to more deeply love God. Above all, confession is a sacrament of mercy.
As St. Pope John Paul II described confession, it is not so much a duty of the faithful, but a right to a more personal encounter with Christ.
In like manner, it is Christ’s right, he said, “to meet each one of us in that key moment in the soul’s life constituted by the moment of conversion and forgiveness.” https://angelusnews.com/faith/st-pope-john-paul-ii-and-the-apostolate-of-confession/
The Remedy for Guilt
You could call confession a close encounter of the divine kind. People who see guilt and punishment in confession are missing the opportunity to be freed from guilt and receive love in exchange.
Leah Libresco Sargeant, the atheist-turned-Catholic writer, said in her October 15 email forum that her conversion enabled her “to release the burden of guilt I had been carrying for so long.”
She noted that Catholics are not more subject to a guilty conscience, they just talk about it more, which helps a person to work it through and acknowledge the need to change.
She found that the sacrament of confession is a response to those times when we fall short, adding that confession gives us a space to be genuinely ashamed and forgiven yet still loved.
The state of sin is when we are closed to God. Like Adam and Eve hiding from God in the Garden of Eden when they realized they had sinned, so we, their descendants, pull away from God in shame. As we all know, though, you can run but you can’t hide, especially from God.
It’s doubly ridiculous to avoid confession because, not only can you not hide anyway, but why would you want to when forgiveness, love, and encouragement await you in the confessional?
Our culture is suffering terribly from the burden of guilt because so many have removed themselves from the treatment that would alleviate the pain and remove its source. The hospital bed is in the confessional. The cure is in the Catholic Church.