Monday, June 22, 2020

Can we make a Confession and still not be reconciled?

There appears to be some confusion regarding the end or result of the sacrament of confession in quite a few peoples’ minds.  It has been raised to me as a very sincere question whether it is all right if one goes to confession for a sin, especially where the sin was the cause of a severing off of a relationship, but one still hasn’t reconciled with the person concerned.  In short, does confession necessarily also include reconciliation with parties somehow liking each other, and if there is no reconciliation, is the sin therefore unforgiven?

While this appears to be a legitimate question, it also reveals something that is not quite understood about the sacrament of confession itself.  Perhaps part of the confusion comes from the different names that this sacrament is given.  One of it’s other names is the sacrament of reconciliation, and if the terms ‘confession’ and ‘reconciliation’ are used interchangeably here, it does give the impression that one only really makes a sincere confession if one is also reconciled with the one whom one has sinned against.  

My response to this seeming quandary is to ask whom it is that the penitent is ultimately confessing to, and who is the one who is ultimately offended by the sin.  

When one goes to confession, one is confessing to God.  The priest confessor in the sacrament is acting in persona Christi, meaning ‘in the person of Christ.  Every sin that you and I commit in life is, essentially and ultimately, an offence against God.  God’s commands have been transgressed, and it is toGod that we admit of our fault, accuse ourselves of wrongdoing, and it is fromGod that we are asking pardon of our sins.  The person whom we have wronged is of course also someone whom we have sinned against, but even that is because every man, woman and child is made in the image of God himself.  When we understand this at its core, then we also understand that when we reverence each person in the world, we are also reverencing God himself.  It brings to mind what Jesus said to Paul when Paul encountered him on his way to Damascus, striking him down and asking him “Paul, why are you persecuting me?” 

Having said this, while it is imperative that we ultimately reconcile with God whom we have sinned against, we should, as far as we can, also reconcile with the person whom we have hurt or with whom we had the altercation that led to a sin being committed.  Here is where sometimes things aren’t always as simple as they appear to be, mostly because we are a mixed bag of memories, emotions and sentiments, i.e., human.

Sometimes there are things that happen in our human relationships that do not make it possible to fully reconcile with one another in a total and complete way.  Sometimes partings of friendships are necessary simply because our worldview is stridently different, and the differences between two people have become like chalk and cheese.  This is especially the case between two people, one of whom wants to centre his or her life totally on God, and the other is a strong atheist and only lives for himself or herself.  It’s not so bothersome when it is a platonic friendship, because I do have friends who have no theistic leanings and we disagree on many matters, but we are still friends.

I am referring more to spouses, or maybe even business partners, who have, because of a strong desire for holiness and godliness, necessarily became estranged.  One can become very perturbed if one believes that one can only be reconciled with God if one is also in the same way reconciled with the person with whom one parted ways with.    

Remember that God’s command is that we love one another, and not that we like one another.  Perhaps for most people, this is where things get a bit confused.  Jesus’ command to love is a decision from the heart, whilst liking someone is more often attached to feelings, sentiments and emotions.   Loving as a decision entails much more effort and therefore is more meritorious to the soul than liking.  This is why I can love my enemy but not like what he is doing to me.  If after a disagreement, or even a split in a relationship, I can still truly love my fellow man or woman and even ‘take a bullet’ for him despite my not liking him or her, I would be fulfilling God’s commandment.

While seeking reconciliation at the human level is certainly recommended and promoted, there are instances where it may even be more prudent to not stir up the hornet’s nest and let the land lay fallow, at least for the time being.  Some wounds are best left to heal with time, rather than picking at the scabs resulting in scars that grow deep and even covered with unsightly keloids. 

If we understand that the most important law is to love the Lord with all our heart, mind and soul, then it isn’t hard to understand that the most important thing in confession is that one is reconciled with God first as well.  And if it is possible and expedient, then the first thing that we do after coming out of the confessional is to be reconciled with our brother and sister.  

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