Friday, July 8, 2016
The Word Made Flesh and Confession
Edited. Originally posted 1/24/11
After a ladies' Bible study over 5 years ago, I was blessed to go to Starbucks with a friend who, at the time, taught at St. Edward's University in Austin. As soon as I could, I asked her about St. Athanasius's On the Incarnation and about a summary of something Karl Barth had said.
Among the many things that came of our conversation was the importance of Jesus as the Son of Man, as revelation of what we were meant to be, without our sin. That the more sin we have, the less human we are. It is only through the Word Made Flesh that our humanity can be healed and we can become more completely human. His sacrifice for us is important (and that's putting it mildly), but His revelation to us of who He is and who we are meant to be is also crucial. I believe (and I'm pretty sure St. Athanasius would agree) Confession is a conduit for Christ's healing of our humanity.
The idea of going to Confession terrified me before becoming Catholic. Although Catholics would be quick to correct me that the sacrament was called "Reconciliation," I would just retort that it didn't change that it was still "Confession." I knew it was scriptural to confess our sins "one to another," and I would confess to my husband or to a close friend if sins were weighing on me. But for some reason confessing to a priest seemed, well, mortifying.
My first Confession was a year ago. The priest was kind, compassionate, and encouraging, yet I still found it painful. To reach back through over forty years of living to bring up sins that I considered long gone and covered was, for me, horrid. When I was given absolution by the priest, who was so gentle, I just wanted to bolt out of the church as fast as I could. I wanted to scream, "I don't want to be Catholic! I quit!" Which was of course ridiculous because the obstacle I had feared the most had been overcome. The problem was that my pride was still hanging on. (Does it ever go away? I'm pretty sure there really is some "mortifying" involved in Confession . . .)
After a year of going to Confession, I admit that Reconciliation is a good name for the sacrament. I start to miss it after two weeks go by, although I used to dread it once a month. My heart still races as I wait in line at the confessional, but I can't imagine running away anymore. I have found it to be healing.
It was revolutionary for me to hear from my friend, years ago, that our humanity is not the problem--our sin is the problem. It echoed other things I had read and heard, but that day, a light bulb turned on in my head. There was so much hope in what she said, and it ran counter to the teaching of total depravity (that sin is so ingrained in us that we can never be free from it while on earth). Jesus came to us for so many reasons, and not just to set up houses for us in Heaven. We were meant to be healed of our sin while on earth and to follow Him.
When we say, "Jesus is the answer," there is more to that statement than forgiveness. Because of Jesus, we can change. With His grace, we don't have to hate others or accept any kind of sin as "just the way things are." The Word Made Flesh dwelt among us, and by His Spirit and in the Sacraments, He continues to be with us. One day we will all be changed in a twinkling of an eye, but we don't have to wait until that day for God's healing. He invites us to be more human today.