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Ryan wrote:

Hi, guys —

I'm fairly new to the faith, but really bothered by one thing ... Confession. Here is why:

  • I was told when we meet all three requirements together for a mortal sin, we should go to Confession ASAP and until then avoid receiving Holy Communion.
  • I was also told that if we have committed mortal sin(s) then truly repent and ask God to forgive us, we will be forgiven ... but you still need to go to Confession before receiving Communion!

I find this very contradictory.

The Church is saying,

"Ask God to forgive you and He will ... but you have to go to Confession and ask to have the same sins forgiven over again!"

  • Is not the first time sufficient?

I really couldn't find anything in the Scriptures about this either.

Thanks!

Ryan

  { Why do we have to go to Confession, when we can privately repent and have God forgive us? }

Mary Ann replied:

Ryan,

Catholics know that Christ wants to encounter us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where He both:

  • forgives us of our sins and
  • gives us healing grace.

We know that is God's plan. We also know that God forgives as soon as we repent honestly.

For a Catholic, honest repentance involves willing what Christ wills, which means intending to receive the Sacrament of Confession as soon as possible (if the sin is grave).

The reason we cannot receive Holy Communion until we confess our sins (unless some grave scandal or difficulty prevent us from confessing) is because we have to be reconciled not only to Christ, but to His Body, the Church, before we receive His Body in union with other communicants in the Eucharist. It isn't contradictory, it is logical.

If a Catholic refuses to go to Confession, it means he is rejecting what he knows to be Christ's desire for him, the normal way of granting the grace of reconciliation.

I hope this helps.

Mary Ann

Paul replied:

Ryan,

It is the will of God as established by Christ that He forgive serious sins in this way, through an ordained priest who acts in the Person of Christ in the Sacrament of Confession. Just as we rely on ordained men for the consecration of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, so too did God ordain priests to forgive sins. The priest in the Sacrament of Confession represents both Christ and the Church, to which both were offended by our sin(s), and from whom we must be forgiven. Reconciliation to Christ and His Body (the Church) is formally accomplished in this sacrament.

  • Then why bother asking God's forgiveness beforehand?

Because it's natural and human to do so. Otherwise Confession would be seen as a legalistic, mechanical ritual rather than the encounter of forgiveness of a personal offense (against God) in a personal relationship. We don't wait until right before Confession to be sorry. That would be dishonest.

  • If we express sorrow immediately, aren't we forgiven and able again to receive Him in Communion?

No, unless it is a true emergency. Should the person die before having the opportunity to confess in the sacrament on Confession, a true, honest act of contrition (of sorrow) to God grants the repentant heart the grace needed for salvation. Because the penitent has true contrition, with the intent on going to Confession ASAP to have the sins absolved, the heart is open to the mercy of God and His grace at the moment of death.

Regardless of what may occur in emergency situations, as in when one is in danger of death, all other situations call the person to refrain from Communion until Reconciliation is formally accomplished through the Sacrament of Confession.

God can work outside of His sacraments in extraordinary situations, but we should never commit the sin of presumption in thinking that we need not go through the formal channel that He established for the sake of our salvation.

Hope this sheds a little light.

Paul

Ryan replied:

No,

This doesn't help at all, because your replies never answered my question which I find troubling.

Ryan

Mary Ann replied:

Ryan,

Asking God twice for forgiveness does not mean that we don't trust Him. In the Old Testament, David asks for forgiveness multiple times, as the Psalms show. To ask for mercy for our sins is a sign of trusting them to God.

To know one is absolved of a grievous sin is a great thing, and God has given us a great sacrament so that we can be assured of both our own repentance (that it is honest) and of His forgiveness. The sacrament of Confession is the way in which He wants serious sins addressed.

Sin is not just between me and God. It is between you and every member of the Body of Christ. That breach and injury needs to be repaired. To return to the fullness of community after a serious sin, one needs to go to a representative of the community, the one given the authority of Christ to remit sins, as Christ Himself said.

Protestantism tends to be individualistic. The individual decides for himself what is truth, what is sin, and whether he is forgiven; or he chooses some preacher whose opinion he likes, from Martin Luther to Calvin to 10,000 other "church" founders.

Mary Ann

Mike replied:

Hi, Ryan —

Thanks for the good question.

Whether you are new to the faith, or a cradle Catholic who has never been taught the faith, it is good and healthy to have a spirit where you want to understand the faith better. I applaud you for this.

You said:

  • I was also told that if we have committed mortal sin(s) then truly repent and ask God to forgive us, we will be forgiven ... but you still need to go to Confession before receiving Communion!

You were told something that was incorrect.

As Paul said, this would only be true in cases of emergency, as in when one is in danger of death. When we sin seriously (commit a mortal sin), as Mary Ann stated:

We have to be reconciled, not only to Christ, but to His Body the Church, before we receive His Body in union with other communicants in the Eucharist.

The concept that Confession is this needless sacrament of the Church, because we can confess all our sins personally and honestly to the Lord in our own bedroom, ignores three important teachings of the Church:

  1. that there are two types of sin: venial (serious but non-deadly) and mortal (deadly) sin
    (Yes, this is Biblical)
  2. that mortal sins can only be forgiven in the sacrament of Confession per Our Lord's desire,
    (Jesus is acting in the priest to forgive us) and
  3. when Catholic Christian's sin, we effect not only our relationship with God, we effect our relationship with the body of Christ, other members, in the Church.

You would never hear a Protestant defending these points because they don't believe in these articles of faith.

Your question asked:

  • Is not the first time sufficient?
  1. If one commits a venial sin, yes, it is sufficient, but you miss out on receiving the healing grace in the sacrament of Confession that assists you in not committing that sin again.
  2. If one commits a mortal (deadly) sin, no, because it was Christ's desire to have mortal sins forgiven through the sacrament of Confession. Christ left us the sacrament of Confession to absolve both mortal (and venial) sins. As with venial sins, this sacrament also give us the healing grace not to commit the same mortals sins over again.

    A note from my personal experience: There are some habitual sins that are extremely hard to over come. If you are having difficulty in making a firm purpose of amendment in not committing a specific sin again (which is required for a valid Confession), ask the Confessor while in the Confessional for the grace to make a better firm purpose of amendment then don't worry!!

Hope this answers your question.

If it doesn't just Reply All, to this e-mail.

Mike

Ryan replied:

Thanks Mike,

It helps a "little" but not a whole lot.

I can't find anything in the Scriptures that talks about:

  • any need to confess serious sins to a priest or
  • about venial or mortal sins.

It says all sins separate us. The only deadly sin I have found in the Scriptures is the blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. It seems many of these Roman Catholic teachings didn't come about until the Middle Ages, when the Church was amidst much evil.

I just don't feel the same way ... maybe it's because the majority of my life I have been a Baptist and we are more "Christ-Centered" and trust in Christ alone.

I think this is why I'm having difficulty believing in these teachings.

Ryan

Mary Ann replied:

Ryan,

Now this is a whole different question. The Scriptural basis for Confession is strong. Confession is Christ forgiving us through the priest. They have received a special gift of the Spirit to do this, as you see in the Gospel of Easter night visit of Christ to the upper room (John 20:21-23; cf. Luke 10:16; Matthew 16:19, 28:18-20). The Church's power to bind and loose is shown in Matthew.16:19, 18:18. 1 John 5:14-17 shows the distinction between deadly or mortal sin and sin not unto death:

14 Our fearlessness towards him consists in this, that if we ask anything in accordance with his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he listens to whatever we ask him, we know that we already possess whatever we have asked of him. 16 If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that is not a deadly sin, he has only to pray, and God will give life to this brother — provided that it is not a deadly sin. There is sin that leads to death and I am not saying you must pray about that. 17 Every kind of wickedness is sin, but not all sin leads to death.

1 John 5:14-17

Mary Ann

Ryan replied:

Mary Ann,

You quoted this one Scripture passage.

"16 ...There is sin that leads to death and I am not saying you must pray about that. 17 Every kind of wickedness is sin, but not all sin leads to death."

How come all the Bibles I read, except "Catholic" bibles say "There is sin that leads to death, making it plural. All other Bibles say:

"There is "a" sin that leads to death.

John is referring to the unforgivable sin.

Ryan

Mary Ann replied:

Ryan —

There is no indefinite article in Greek; there is no "a" or "an" in Greek.

Mary Ann

Eric replied:


Mary Ann said:
There is no indefinite article in Greek; there is no "a" or "an" in Greek.

... therefore in the original language there is presumably no grammatical distinction between:

"There is a sin" and "There is sin".

Eric

Ryan replied:

Ahh, OK, I didn't know that.

  • So if I'm having trouble seeing the Roman Catholic Church in the Holy Scriptures, specifically, the New Testament Churches, what do you advise?

I truly don't see teachings:

  • on confessing to men
  • anything about Mary, except of her obedience to God
  • nothing about Purgatory, and
  • a slew of other practices that, if anything, contradict the Scriptures.

It's still all very confusing to me!

Ryan

Eric replied:

So Ryan,

  • If you don't see confessing to men, what do you make of James 5:15-16?
  • And what is it specifically about John 20:21-22 that isn't making a connection with you — Jesus gives his Apostles the power to forgive sin?

This is only the second recorded instance of God breathing on someone — the first is at creation, so it is very significant. Jesus is entrusting to them with his own mission — "as the Father has sent me, so I send you" — and part of that mission was forgiving sins (Matthew 9:2, 8).

Part of the problem is that we think sin only affects us and God. It doesn't. It affects the whole community: read 1 Corinthians 12:26-27. We are one body, and what happens to one member of the body affects the whole body. That is why we need to be reconciled to the Church, as a Body, as well as to God.

My recommendation is that, first of all, you approach the Scriptures with a spirit of humility and sincerity, open to what God has to say and not leaning "on your own understanding". (Proverbs 3:5) Read all of the Scriptures, not just the ones that agree with the particular tradition you come from or have been influenced by. Read with an open heart, and see how the early Christians, the Fathers of the Church, interpreted them. You may be surprised at what they found in Scripture and how deeply steeped they were in it. I am thinking here, in particular, of the Catechetical Lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, although, by no means, is he the only one steeped in Scriptures. I also recommend reading some conversion stories, such as:

I've been through all of this as someone who made an intellectual conversion from the Evangelical perspective back to Catholicism, and I had almost every sort of objection you could imagine.

You mentioned Purgatory. What we believe about Purgatory is found in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15.

  • What do you make of that verse?

As for Mary, see Psalm 45 and Revelation 12, two passages that portray her as Queen and as the mother of all believers. However, Mary is usually the last thing that people accept; it requires being deeply steeped in the Catholic approach to Scripture and relies on things woven throughout Scripture that can't be easily proof-texted. Mark Shea did a great series on these topics called "Mary, Mother of the Son".

Eric

Ryan replied:

Thanks Eric,

You reply did bring some light to my problem. I know that Christ started one Church, and gave
St. Peter the keys to the kingdom to bind and loosen, forgive or retain, etc; but at times I struggle to fully understand this.

When I get in this situation, I tend to turn my back on the Church altogether and "lean on my own understandings".

  • Do I need to just put complete trust in our Lord and quit worrying about these issues?

I usually don't share this but I suffer from some mental disorders and am on two different medications. (panic, severe anxiety, depression, compulsive, etc.) I try to remind myself that God created me and knows my intentions, but I then feel that I'm not doing enough and it bothers me. When this happens I feel like a complete failure.

I feel everything is a mortal sin and often have impure sexual thoughts. I try not to think about it, but sometimes I do and feel, "Well, I did it again, I committed a mortal sin." Sometimes this can be a daily struggle! I sometimes feel like Martin Luther, who suffered terribly with similar sins.

Ryan

Eric followed-up:

In reply to Mary Ann's follow-up, you said:

You quoted this one Scripture passage.

"16 ...There is sin that leads to death and I am not saying you must pray about that. 17 Every kind of wickedness is sin, but not all sin leads to death."

How come all the Bibles I read, except "Catholic" bibles say "There is sin that leads to death, making it plural. All other Bibles say:

"There is "a" sin that leads to death.

John is referring to the unforgivable sin.

I think you're reading this too narrowly. If I said,

"There is a tax return that leads to prison", clearly I do not mean that there is only one physical tax return. I mean that there is a kind of tax return that leads to prison. Also note that verse 17 says "there is a sin not unto death".

By your logic, there have to be exactly two sins: One unto death, and one not unto death. Clearly this doesn't make sense, so I submit that this passage means that there are kinds of sins that are unto death, and there are kinds of sins that are not unto death.

Eric

Mike replied:

HI, Ryan —

This posting should help clarify the issue:

You said:
It seems many of these Roman Catholic teachings didn't come about until the Middle Ages, when the Church was amidst much evil.

I just don't feel the same way ... maybe it's because the majority of my life I have been a Baptist and we are more "Christ-Centered" and trust in Christ alone.

I think this is why I'm having difficulty believing in these teachings.

Middle ages!! My brother, you have to read the writings of the Early Church Fathers. These are Catholics who lived from 100 A.D to 850 A.D. They believed everything we believe today.
Here are some good books that tell you about them and contain their writings:

You don't feel the same way, because Baptists focus solely on a "me and Jesus" relationship; Catholic Christians focus on both:

  1. A me and Jesus relationship, and
  2. a divine family relationship that includes: those in Heaven: Jesus, Mary, Joseph,
    the saints, and those among us on earth.

All practicing Catholics trust in Christ alone!

  • We believe in the Church He established over 2000 years ago and the sacraments
    He instituted before His Ascension into Heaven.
  • We believe in the original Apostles and disciples He chose, as well as their successors they choose, guided by the Holy Spirit.
  • We believe in both the Oral Tradition that as been passed down to us by word of mouth from the Apostles and the Written Word the Church has given us.

We really receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ in the Eucharist.

  • How can you get more Christ centered than that?
  • Did you go through RCIA when you came into the Church?

If you give us some background we can help you better.

Mike

Ryan replied:

Yes, Mike I did go through, RCIA, but it was not in depth.

I actually learned more studying by myself.

You said:
Middle ages!! My brother, you have to read the writings of the Early Church Fathers. These are Catholics who lived from 100 A.D to 850 A.D.

The problem with this is that the Church Fathers did not speak infallibly, the Holy Scriptures are the only thing that are without error. I've notice that Catholics place more faith on what mankind says then on what the Bible says.

Anybody can cherry-pick the Bible and make it say what they want it to say, hence, one Bible, but thousands of denominations. Nevertheless, Christ, regardless which Church it is, is not a Catholic, Baptist, or Methodist. We are all followers of Christ whom we put our faith in, not mankind.

Ryan

Eric replied:

Ryan,

  • Where do you get the idea that only the Holy Scriptures are without error?
  • How would you know the Holy Scriptures are without error unless someone you trusted told you they were without error?

According to the Scriptures:

  • the pillar and foundation of the truth is the Church, not the Scriptures (1 Timothy 3:15)
  • the foundation of this church is "the apostles and prophets" (Ephesians 2:20)
  • "Hold fast to the traditions which you received, whether by word of mouth or by letter"
    (2 Thessalonians 2:15)

So it is not by Scripture alone that we derive our truths of the faith, as testified by Scripture itself. So I'm confused.

  • Are you saying that it's God's will that people can cherry pick whatever they want and make the Scriptures say what they want to say?
  • If the Scriptures are without error, what good is that if you can interpret it however you wish and claim it is without error?

Part of why Tradition is important is so that we know how to interpret the Scriptures without error and we don't have thousands of conflicting ideas of what is truly "Scriptural". It is possible to interpret things so wrongly so as to jeopardize your salvation:

"[Paul's] letters contain some things which are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction." (2 Peter 3:16)

  • How do you know you're interpreting things rightly?

Jesus said two things that are important here:

  1. "But when he, the Spirit of Truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13)
  2. "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you" (John 14:26)

The Spirit of truth doesn't reside in a book, but in the People of God. Thus it can decide how the Scriptures are to be interpreted, which is why it is the pillar and foundation of the truth.

Eric
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