Immersed in Grace

In a recent post, “The Struggle is Real,” one of our writers gave a very clear and informative overview of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, powerfully outlining the difference between a mortal sin and a venial sin, and explaining that confession is a powerful way to exorcise our guilt over our own sinfulness in order to grow closer to God.

All of this is true, but it misses a fundamental, too often neglected point about the sacrament: The sacrament of confession is fundamentally an infusion of grace and an encounter with resurrection.

When we confess our sins, we definitely leave our guilt behind. We definitely walk out of the confessional lighter, having shed our burdens. God has forgiven us, and taken away the weight of our cross. We become clean and sinless again.

In this sense, it really is like going before a tribunal. Stepping before God the judge, and becoming our own prosecutor, witness to our own guilt, accepting that we are worthy of condemnation only to have God forgive us and set us free without punishment, free to go with a clean record.

But to stop here is to miss the most beautiful dimension of the sacrament!

As Catholics, we are not only called to not sin.

If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you had asked almost any of the great Christians of old, he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance.

—C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”

Yes, more than philological importance. So much more. Catholicism is not only the avoidance of the negative, ugly practices which we call sin. It is not only about not failing.

We are not simply called to not be selfish, greedy, or gluttonous. We are called to give.

We are not simply called to avoid hatred or lust. We are called to love.

We are not simply called to not despair. We are called to hope and faith.

The fundamental sin, the sin at the center of everything, which leads us to the confessional, isn’t a matter of venial sins or mortal sins. It is the same sin for everyone, at the root of all other sins.

We don’t trust God enough. We don’t love Him enough.

And those shortcomings lead us to trip and fall into all the other things.

So when we go to the confessional, it isn’t just about expunging the guilt for the other things. At its heart, confession is a lesson. A moment in which we learn to love and trust God more.

When we hit our knees in front of the priest and confess our sins, we aren’t saying that we want to go forward and stop being less. We are saying that we want to go out and be more. We want to be the fullness of our humanity, the entire human person that we were made to be. We want to walk out of the confessional and be the true image and likeness of God.

We tell God that we want to fall in love with him all over again, and trust him more fully.

Confession is the closest thing on earth that we can experience to the Resurrection. We walk into the confessional condemned, and we walk out a new person.

It is not simply that we have left behind the weight of our sins. We feel lighter because our legs, our spiritual muscles and faculties, are actually stronger than when we walked in! In the sacrament, the Holy Spirit infuses us with grace. And not just random grace (if there could be such a thing)!

When we leave the confessional, we are infused with the particular graces to counteract the things we have confessed. Not the grace to be less crummy. No! The graces of faith, hope, and love. We come out with a greater capacity to love God. It isn’t so much that our sins have been erased, but rather that they have been replaced, by grace.

If we go to confession in order to get rid of our sins, in order to walk through some kind of divine car wash, then we are doing it wrong. That isn’t why we should go to confession. We go because of how much we love God, and because we want to learn to love Him more.

So go to confession regularly! Go often! Not because of how sinful or guilty you are. Confession shouldn’t teach you about your fault. Go on weeks when you have lots of sins, and you are afraid to confess them. But also go on the weeks when you can’t think of anything. When you kneel in the pews and struggle to come up with even the least thing to confess.

Confession should teach you how much you love God, and how much God loves you. It should remind you that you are someone God loved so much that He was willing to sacrifice His Son. Confession reminds us that Christ had us in mind when he felt the nails in his hands. It should remind us that the Holy Spirit is always with us.

Beyond everything else, confession is an immersion in the grace of God’s love.

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