Many of my friends, regardless of their religious affiliation, ask why Catholics go to Confession. If someone asked you the same question, how would you respond?
Jesus became Man in order to forgive sins.
Recall the words of our Lord: “God so loved the world He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but may have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16)
During His public ministry, Jesus preached about the forgiveness of sins: remember the parables of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11) or the Lost Sheep (Lk 15:1) and His teaching that “There will likewise be more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent.” (Lk 15:7)
Jesus Himself forgave sins: remember the story of the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8:1) or the woman who washed His feet with her tears (Lk 7:36). He also taught us to pray for forgiveness in the “Our Father.” His mission of reconciliation would climax in His Passion, Death and Resurrection: where Jesus suffered, died and rose to free us from sin and death.
However, Jesus never trivialized sin or rationalized it. For Jesus, sin is sin, a violation of love against God and neighbor. In His divine mercy, Jesus calls the sinner to realize the sin, to repent of it, and be reconciled with God and neighbor.
Jesus wanted the ministry of reconciliation to continue. On the first Easter Sunday evening, Jesus appeared to His Apostles, “breathed on them, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive sins, they are forgiven them; if you hold them bound, they are held bound.” (Jn 20:21-23) Only twice in Sacred Scripture do we find God breathing into human beings. First, in Genesis 2:7, and now, when Jesus breaths His life into His Apostles, His Priests, so that through them, He will “breathe” life into the souls of contrite sinners. In John 20, Christ instituted the Sacrament of Penance and made His apostles ministers of it.
Later, at the Ascension, Jesus charged His Apostles with this ministry: “thus it is written that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead on the third day. In His name penance for the remission of sins is to be preached to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of this.” (Lk 24:46) Clearly, Jesus came to forgive sins, He wanted that reconciliation to continue and He gave the Church a sacrament through which priests would continue to act as the ministers of this reconciliation.
After the legalization of the Catholic Faith by Constantine, the Church fathers continued to emphasize the importance of Confession. St. Ambrose wrote, “It seemed impossible that sins should be forgiven through penance; Christ granted this power to the Apostles and from the Apostles it has been transmitted to the office of priests.” (De Poententia) Therefore, we go to confession because it is a sacrament given to us by Christ, and it has always been a practice of the Church.
Isn’t it beautiful that the Lord recognizes our broken nature and gives us a sacrament that brings us forgiveness for our sins and reconciles us with Jesus. May you reflect on this beautiful Sacrament of the Church and make use of it often.