[ WordBytes on FAQs & Teachings of the Faith ]

confessionalQuestion:

If God’s love is UN-conditional, then why must we go to confession if we have mortal sin — so that our sin can be forgiven by the priest? That is “conditional” love, i.e., God will only love me if I conditionally go to “Jesus-in persona” specifically in a specific time and place and only at that time and place. My Catholic church confessional is open only on Saturdays at 3:30 pm. Someone please explain this for me?

– A convert to the Catholic faith that never got his questions answered by RCIA or his priest.

Answer:

Thank you for questioning and being open to learning! I’m so sorry that your RCIA experience did not provide enough answers. Having been a Director of RCIA, I know what a wonderful, educational, and faith-building time that it can and should be for the candidates and catechumens … and even for the sponsors! (This is one of the reasons why I founded Catholic Digital Resources and included a line of resources for RCIA. Perhaps there’s something there that can assist you post-RCIA.)

We go to confession not to resume God’s love for us. His love is indeed unconditional, never-ending, even while we are sinning. Our sins interfere with our love for God — sin is turning away from God by doing something unGodly, unloving — but our sins cannot stop God from loving us. Nothing can stop God from loving us.

The reason we should go to confession is to restore our side of the relationship. We are the ones who need healing, and thus it is called a healing sacrament. Going to confession is an act of humility because we are sorry that we have been unloving. It’s also a humble acknowledgement that we need God’s help in becoming more able to avoid the same sins in the future, and thus the Sacrament of Confession gives us supernatural grace and power to grow in holiness — because it is a Sacrament, it is more helpful than simply praying alone by ourselves for forgiveness.

This is true whether it’s a mortal (soul-killing) sin or a venial (minor) sin. For mortal sins, however, the effect is much more healing, because more conversion is required from us in order to return to God.

You said, “…so that our sin can be forgiven by the priest.” Rest assured that the priest is not the one who forgives our sins in the confessional. It is Jesus himself working and speaking through the priest. The priest as a faulty human being; if he is a poor minister of the Gospel and sinfully chooses to hold our sins against us, no matter, we have been forgiven by God. The Sacrament of Confession was successful.

It’s wrong for your Catholic church confessional to be open only on Saturdays at 3:30 pm. Priests are supposed to be available by appointment to hear confessions at other times. However, where the shortage of priests has made availability much more limited, limiting confessions to Saturday afternoons might be sadly necessary. Either way, if your own priest won’t make himself available outside of Saturday afternoons, and if there is another parish within reasonable traveling distance, call the office of that other parish to make an appointment — unless of course you are available on Saturdays at 3:30.

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© 2010 by Terry A. Modica
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