Published September 17, 2020, 4:37 PM

by Fr. Emeterio Barcelon, SJ

Fr. Emeterio Barcelon, SJ


The telling of our sins to a priest is the sacrament of confession. God can forgive us anytime He wants. However, He promised that whatever is retained here is retained in heaven. Whatever is forgiven here by a priest is forgiven in heaven.  This was a promise Jesus gave to His apostles.  By this we are assured of forgiveness. The priest is bound by the seal of confession. He cannot reveal what he has heard in confession even if it cost his life. If there is a problem with this, it should be easy enough to go to a priest who does not know the sinner. Our confessionals are designed so the priest does not see the penitent. In New York and in the rest of the US the sacredness of this seal was and is recognized legally (with the case of Fr. Kollman, SJ)

In the 1960s, confession was the sacrament of choice in the US Families went to confession weekly and priests were kept busy all Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. We all sin in small ways so we ask the Lord for forgiveness. We can also present our sorrow for past sins. Unfortunately this custom of going to confession frequently has slowly died down.  Even the Holy Father goes regularly to confession.  We should revive this practice of going regularly to confession, probably once a month will be good. This custom helps us to be on alert not to offend God even in small matters.

To go to confession, one first makes a review or examination of conscience.  It is easy to spot important transgressions but it is more difficult to dig up the smaller faults that keep us from praising God more faithfully. Then we pray to be sorry for our sins and make the resolve not to make them again. Then we confess our sins to the priest and accept a small penance which we perform after coming out of the confessional. In ancient times penances were more severe like fasting for several days or being segregated from the community for weeks. Confession is a sacrament just like all the other sacraments. It is a source for grace. Just like Holy Communion we receive grace through confession.

The main commandment is to love God with all our heart and the second is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Then there are the specifications, of the two main commandments in the Ten Commandments given through Moses. Of these the first three are about our relations with God. The fourth is to honor our parents. The other commandments are concerned with our dealings with fellow men. Do not kill; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not tell a serious lie; and do not covet the wives of others; finally do not covet the goods of others. These are specifications of the great commandments.

Fasting is a penance which all people recognize as a way of making amends for our transgressions. When Jesus was alive, He was asked why his followers were not fasting like the Jewish scribes and Pharisees.  His answer was:  how can you ask the people to fast when the bridegroom was still with them. But they will fast when the bridegroom is taken away. Fasting can be done in many ways but the form Jesus practiced was for 40 days. In our Catholic practice we used to fast all the 40 days of Lent. This meant that we ate only one full meal a day. Two small snacks that would not constitute a full meal may be added. (The Muslims fast by refraining from food while the sun is up during Ramadan. Then they can eat when the sun light is gone.) Alms giving can also be considered a way of atoning for sins.

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