Why do we have to go to a Priest for Confession?
My immediate answer is that this is what our Lord and the Church advise us. Our Lord who loves us very much knows what is good for us much better than we do. Actually, anyone who has truly been to Confession, and by this I mean anyone who has confessed very honestly, bravely, and with true contrition, would not need an answer to this question. They would have experienced for themselves the peace and Grace that results from this blessed Sacrament.
The Bible teaches us that we should go to a priest for Confession. In James 5:16 we read, “Confess your trespasses to one another.” After His Resurrection when granting the Holy Spirit to His disciples, Jesus said to them: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23). The Apostles thus received the authority to forgive sins on earth. They then transmitted this authority to their successors, the Bishops and Priests. And only they, as canonical and lawful successors of the Apostles, have the power to grant forgiveness and remission of sins.
The Church is a hospital for our soul. St John Chrysostom said, “Enter into the Church and wash away your sins. For here there is a hospital and not a court of law. Do not be ashamed again to enter the Church, be ashamed when you sin but not when you repent.” It is very sad if we have a serious physical illness, however a spiritual illness is even worse. For example if we have anger, or hatred, or pride and always want to have our own way, then the misery that is created is worse than physical illness.
We go to Confession because we need our sins to be forgiven. It is special if we receive not only forgiveness, but also healing of our spiritual illnesses. The Priest we go to for Holy Confession can become our spiritual guide. He can give us advice, encouragement, and we can benefit from his wisdom and discernment. It will help us enormously if, with his help and encouragement, we come to understand our spiritual illnesses. Once we diagnose our problems we can slowly come to cleanse our heart from the passions.
As an example, someone may confess to their priest that they get angry frequently. They come to understand that their temper hurts others and creates hardship, and they make a commitment to try very hard to not get angry. This is good. Even better, however, is to use the help of their Spiritual Father to truly understand what it is deep in their heart that leads to them becoming angry. Is the fundamental problem that they judge others and therefore others annoy them and irritate them? At an even deeper level is there pride, an exaggerated sense of self–importance? Or perhaps there is addiction to technology, or pornography, or money – and this addiction is contributing to them being very irritable. Our biggest problem is not others, nor anything external to us.
Our biggest problem is our sins. Thanks be to the Lord that He has granted us His Church, where we can receive remission of our sins and healing of our spiritual infirmities. One of the main ways this happens involves us finding a holy Spiritual Father, and once we have discovered him we go to him regularly for Confession and for spiritual guidance.
† Fr D. K.
Source: Lychnos December 2019 – January 2020