Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
This verse is not like Confession; this verse is Confession. Four things happen. I entrust myself to God through a spiritual father, a presbyter, an elder of the church, a priest. I pray for insight and understanding since, once again, my own dim-lit sight led me astray. I acknowledge the work of God; I give him thanks and praise (Sirach 51:11-12, Phil. 4:4, Psalm 77:11-15). In this whole exchange of sin, grace, sorrow, repentance, and penance, God reorders my paths and my journey. He reorders me to the straight and narrow Way.
Back in the old days
Let’s see what Leviticus has to say about this ordeal. Keep in mind, that whatever happened in the Old Testament was “but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities” (Hebrews 10:1). In other words, the Mosaic Law, the Old Covenant was fulfilled in Christ Jesus (Matthew 5:17, John 1:17).
In chapter 5 of Leviticus a person guilty of a particular sin “shall confess the sin he has committed” and bring a guilt offering (an animal) to the Lord. The priest mediated for the person and made atonement for the sinner (verses 5-6). We can also say that the priest, with the cooperation of the person, repaired the broken relationship between the person and God, and rebound the person to God and His Covenant. Jesus fulfilled this law by giving his apostles the authority to forgive sins (John 20:19-23).
What about today?
Do we bring an animal as our guilt offering? No. Today, we bring our own self and our own sin. We bring our hardened heart, to be cleansed and transformed. We appeal to the mercy and justice of Jesus, our Redeemer. Knowing this, we should never fear Confession. Instead, we should gladly search for and find the evil we let take root in our heart. Once having a firm grip on it we should yank it out! Actually, uprooting something like a deep sin and attachment (usually) takes longer than one confession. That’s part of why “once saved always saved” is a heresy.
It assumes forgiveness is the same thing as restoration.
What? Well, when we receive forgiveness, we receive grace “to avoid the near occasion of sin.” Our response to that grace determines our sanctity in the world or insanity in our mind. Consider St. Paul, “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (Romans 6:15). This grace calls us to respond in obedience from the heart and by obedience which leads to righteousness (verses 16-19).
I only need to confess once a year, right?
How often do you feed yourself? How often do you exercise, sleep, relax, work, pray? How often do you take care of your kids, make money, study for class? Notice the preceding questions imply two qualities: knowledge of self, as well as taking care of self.
I can confess my sins once a year, yes. I can also deny the help of the Holy Spirit the other 364 days of the year. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). The Holy Spirit, God Himself, restores us to a more perfect nature. The Holy Spirit helps me trust, gives me insight, helps me praise the Blessed Trinity, and reorders my life.
Know thyself, practically
The examination of conscience (like the Examen Prayer) may be the most important part of Confession. I must know what wrong I have done and what good I have omitted. I must examine myself and seek to understand myself. How else will I root out sin or grow in virtue? Here’s a biblical and practical example of how 1) to move away from sin and 2) move toward virtue.
When [Jesus] had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.” In Mark 9, the disciples attempted to cast out a demon in Jesus’ name. They couldn’t. Jesus did it, though. They are astonished. Lord, you gave us power, why didn’t it work?
Prayer and fasting
Is it Lent again? No, it’s the Christian life. We must be salt of the earth and light of the world. We must know our enemy, our sin, our concupiscence. We must know ourselves so intimately and thus be restored to full health. Both prayer and fasting help this necessary search for self.
As Pentecost approaches, make and renew your commitments to live out your baptismal vows. The Holy Spirit renews us and conforms us to the mind of God, to the life of Christ. When God breathed life into Adam, he “ruah-ed” into Adam. He breathed the divine life, his spirit, his breath (Catechism of the Catholic Church 691). Only after ruah-ing into Adam did he become a living being (Genesis 2:7).
Did the apostles expect it? They prepared for it (Acts 1:14), though they may not have known how they were to be clothed with the power from on high (Luke 24:49). Be moved! Jesus himself said it was better for him to go away, so he could send the Spirit (John 14-16). Let us open our hearts. Let us confess our sins and prepare to receive in a deeper and more manifest way the gift of God and God Himself.
Pray with this psalm. Muse a little bit. Think about it. Consider it for your own self.
Blessed be the LORD!
for he has heard the voice of my supplications.
The LORD is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts;
so I am helped, and my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him.
The LORD is the strength of his people,
he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
O save thy people, and bless thy heritage;
be thou their shepherd, and carry them forever.