Ah, but St. James said, “Go confess your sins to one another.” Why couldn’t Edward be healed by confessing his sins to his friend? Why could not anyone be healed by confessing their sins to their friends? We must read Holy Scripture in context: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (James 5:14-17) St. James is recommending getting your sins forgiven by the presbuterous – elders, root of the English word priest. Saint Ambrose said, “Christ granted this power to the apostles, and from the apostles it has been transmitted to the office of priests alone.” St. John Chrysostom said, “Priests have received a power which God has not given either to angels or archangels . . . they are able to forgive our sins.”
Why can’t I just talk to God in a mirror or my friend and confess my sins? Why did Edward walk back into the darkness and say, “I am a monster”?
ONLY GOD CAN FORGIVE SINS.
This past week, I was privileged to read and discuss “Lord, Have Mercy: The Healing Power of Confession,” by Scott Hahn, former Presbyterian minister turned Catholic theologian. Hahn points out in this book that when Jesus said to the paralytic in Mark’s Gospel, chapter 2, “Son, your sins are forgiven you,” the scribes sitting around watching this thing unfold disbelieved He could do this. In their hearts, they said, “Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” They knew that only God can forgive sins. The only thing they hadn’t figured out was that Jesus Christ was God. Jesus wasn’t ignorant of the teachings of his people. He knew what they would think if he said, “Your sins are forgiven.” So he healed the man to show that He could forgive sins. By forgiving his sins, He revealed that he was God.
I wish someone would do a romantic movie like Twilight about Christ. He is really phenomenal, and none of it has to be made up. It’s real. So if only God can forgive sins, why are sins forgiven in the Catholic Sacrament of Reconciliation and Penance? In our Catholic discussion group this past week, my husband of 25 years told us a story I had never heard before. In his youth, he had attended well, a “holy roller” Church. And he said it was very satisfying rolling around on the floor and crying about his sins. “Oh God, please, forgive me.” But when he went back the next week, they were still rolling around on the floor. And the same thing happened the third week. He concluded they did not recognize that they had been forgiven. And the one thing he knew from his life as a Catholic was that Jesus Christ has given the power to forgive sins to the apostles and they handed that power down to the prebuterous – the priests. So the next week he went to Confession for his sins.
After the Resurrection, Jesus came among his apostles in the locked upper room, and said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21-23)
Jesus gave the apostles a divine power that night, the power to forgive sins. No man had ever held this power before. Now we know the apostles were human and they were not perfect people (Peter denied Christ three times). But yet they were human men given a divine power. And to what purpose? So that we might be healed. Was it only that generation that would be healed of their sins? No a divine power is given in every generation because Jesus Christ said He would be with the Church until the end of time. And He is not a liar. So the line of succession from the apostles has remained unbroken in the Catholic Church. Men of every generation have been given this power to forgive sins since the time of Christ. Good men, bad men, but still a divine power given so that the people who repent, who seek the Light of Christ might indeed have an encounter with Jesus similar to the one of the Samaritan woman at the well.
Does it work? Yes, after I go to confession I don’t walk around thinking I am a monster. I feel restored to my rightful place as a beloved child of God. The healing of the Tribunal of Mercy is something that no mere man could do. It is a divine power. I tried explaining it once to a teenage girl: I go to confession and confess my sins, and I reveal my temptations. Now I have done this many times, and the temptation has completely left me. If I had confessed my sins to a man, he would have had to follow me out of the confessional and say constantly, “Susan, don’t commit that sin again.” Over and over again. But the priest doesn’t do that. He doesn’t follow me out of the confessional. He doesn’t even remember what I told him. Yet the desire, the tastiness of the sin so to speak is completely gone! That is divine power. I thank God that Jesus has given this power to Catholic priests, and I can avail myself of this sacrament of the Catholic Church frequently. I may have loved the darkness at one time, but I have come into the Light enough times to know "But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God." (Jn 3:21)