In high school, a friend asked, “Why do you say a prayer of confession to God and then confess to a person when you can ask forgiveness directly to God?” I thought hard. I never knew how to answer this question. Until almost a decade later, a priest shared his story during the Homily.
The Priest and the Mall Confessions
Our country is predominantly Catholic. Every Sunday, churches overflow, so masses are extended outside Cathedrals. We have masses in covered courts, in gymnasiums, in schools, and even in malls.
This priest was assigned to hold masses at malls. During this particular day, he also held confessions.
Flawed as he is, he admitted, he was quite annoyed with the long line of confessions because he was looking forward to relaxing. He then asked that the grace of God will guide him through all these.
As he was about to leave, a woman came rushing and calling him, “Father, sorry but may I have this last confession?” He secretly sighed in frustration but he kept his cool because this was his job first and foremost. Praying harder for patience, he faced the woman and listened to her.
The Prayer of Confession and its Power
She prayed the confession prayer, then spoke. “Forgive me, father, for I have sinned” She started to cry. “Father, I had an abortion.”
The priest felt guilty that he initially wanted to decline this confession. The woman continued, “I have had … three abortions”. She had difficulty speaking. Her tears kept flowing heavily. “I am sorry”.
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The priest felt this unbearable sadness for her and at the end of the confession, when he dutifully spoke the words: “I forgive you”, he suddenly sensed this indescribable bright light from above that kept flowing through him. As this immense light came down, he felt that he became like a funnel for this light that flowed directly to the woman.
The Power of Forgiveness in God’s Call to Confession
He knew he just mouthed the words “I forgive you” but it was never actually him speaking, but Almighty God who gave this light…“my Boss” he said, pointing up.
The two of them were now in tears. He felt the immeasurable love that God has for this repentant woman. It flowed through him and could only express everything through tears.
When the confession was over, the woman still kept crying but now she was also smiling. She knew it in her heart that she was forgiven.
Why do Catholics Confess to a Priest?
The healing is not just between us and the Divine. God allowed us to heal each other. He uses people as instruments for his salvation. In this story, He used the priest to relay His message of forgiveness and love to the broken woman.
Jesus gave his disciple this authority, he said: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained”. (John 20:23).
This call to confession reminds us that we are given multiple chances. The woman committed a mortal sin but God saw her heart in deep repentance and forgave her.
“Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power to prevail.”James 5:16
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So in masses we pray:
“I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault; therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin, all the Angels and Saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God”.
In this prayer of confession, we not only pray to God or ask help from the angels and saints, but also from each other because we know that, as people of God, we can help each other and become funnels of God’s light, sharing His grace towards humanity.