ON THE CONFESSION OF OUR SINS
Consider first, that God always expected from sinners an humble confession of their sins. This he prescribed in the Old Law, Numb. v. 6, 7. ‘When a man or woman shall commit any sin that men commit, to do a trespass against the Lord, and that person be guilty, then they shall confess their sin which they have done,’ &c. This he ordained in the New Law by the very institution of the sacrament of penance, which necessarily includes or presupposes confession. This was signified by the ordinance of the law, Levit. xiii., xiv., prescribing that such as were infected with the leprosy, which was a figure of sin, should show themselves to the priests and be under their inspection and direction. This was practised by the people that came to St. John the Baptist, St. Matt. iii. 6, and by the primitive Christians and disciples of the apostles, Acts xix. 18, and St. James v. 16. this was always insisted upon in the church of God. And surely nothing could be more just, than that the sinner should submit to this little humiliation, as some small atonement for the pride and presumption by which he had rebelled against his God.
Consider 2ndly, the many advantages the soul receives from the Catholic practice of humbly confessing our sins to the ministers of Christ, whom he has bound by all laws to a perpetual and indispensable secrecy. It procures us proper medicines and prescriptions for all our spiritual maladies, which we here lay open to the physician of the soul; it furnishes us with council in our doubts, comfort in our sorrows, and remedies against temptations; it gives present ease to the wounded conscience; it rectifies our errors, enlightens our ignorance, restrains our passions; it gives new strength of resolution and courage to do better for the time to come; and, what is one of its greatest advantages, it humbles the soul, and teaches us to know and to despise ourselves. O what blessings are entailed upon this sacred institution of confession! O how much do these outbalance the momentary confusion that may accompany the declaration of our sins!
Consider 3rdly, that the principal advantage of an humble and sorrowful confession of our sins is, that it is the means of divine appointment for obtaining the absolution and remission of all our transgressions, and reinstating us in God’s favour and grace, and this by virtue of the commission given by Jesus Christ ‘whatsoever they should bind upon earth, should be bound also in heaven; and that whatsoever they should loose upon earth, should be loosed also in heaven,’ St. Matt. xviii. 18. O! how happy would that criminal account himself who should be allowed to escape the hand of human justice by a sorrowful acknowledgment of all his crimes in secret to his judge, or to one appointed by his judge! But how much more happy is the penitent Christian, when by a humble confession of all his sins, with a sincere repentance, to the minister of Jesus Christ, he is assured of being delivered, not out of the hands of men that can only kill the body and then can do no more, but out of the hands of the living God, who otherwise will cast both body and soul into hell – and not only of being delivered out of the hand of divine justice, but of being received into the arms of his loving kindness, and made once more a friend and a child of God, and an heir of his eternal kingdom.
Conclude by giving thanks to the divine bounty, for having ordained for us this easy means of reconciliation after sin, and annexed so many graces and blessings to it. But beware of abusing this most wholesome and sacred institution, by making it an occasion of sinning more freely, or by using it only as a thing of course, or as an empty ceremony, without any true change of heart.