A Calvinist prepares for confession

I’ll make no bones about it. Confession was probably the Catholic teaching with which I struggled the most. Again and again, I came back to the question, why not just confess my sins to God?

Two passages in the Bible challenged this view. One is the verse in James 5:16 ‘Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”

The other is the passage in John 20:23 where Jesus breathes on his disciples and says, ‘“Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” The Catholics belief that this passage describes Jesus establishing the Sacrament of Confession.

In my first post on confession, I described how some of the things I had done in the past came back to bother me as I investigated Catholicism. They bothered me so much that I couldn’t wait for some future date when I might or might not become Catholic, and so I confessed them to God. I felt a great sense of peace afterwards, which would suggest that I had never actually confessed them to God before.

Now I know that Protestant readers are going to say, ‘Stop right there’. You confessed them to God and that’s enough. However, these things had come back to bother me in the context of investigating Catholicism. When I confessed them to God, I told Him that I wasn’t trying to bypass Confession. Therefore I think that the peace I felt would have been falsely won if I had dodged out of Confession.

I mentioned in the last post, that I was brought up in a Calvinist church where many people didn’t take Communion, because they didn’t believe that they are worthy. These people struggled to believe that God has forgiven them.

In one of my conversations about Confession, I blurted out, ‘There’s nothing you can do about Protestant guilt.’ I had a good think about what I had said, and realised that the church in which I grew up, provided no clear path for those burdened by guilt, to talk over the things which were bothering them and receive assurance that God can forgive. This may have happened in informal conversations between individuals and their minister. However, many people were waiting for God would to give them assurance that they were saved. They faithfully attended church and lived exemplary Christian lives without ever receiving Communion.

Some people in my Protestant church did put themselves forward for church membership and Communion. Perhaps they were troubled by a less sensitive conscience. Leaving it up to something as subjective and dependent on the individual and their circumstances as a feeling of assurance, doesn’t work. Some people will come to the conclusion that God has forgiven them and others will always doubt that they are forgiven.

These thoughts led me to the conclusion that some formal way of helping people deal with guilt was necessary and I accepted the idea of Confession. As I prepared for it, my biggest fear was that I would bare my soul, confess my sins and at that at the end the priest hearing my confession would say, “I’m sorry. One of these sins is just too bad and I amn’t allowed to absolve you.”

Father K told me that a priest could absolve almost any sin, including murder. However, he mentioned that one sin required permission from Rome, and I immediately started worrying that I had committed the one and only sin which parish priests weren’t allowed to absolve. This sin was so rare that Father K no longer had it on the tip of his tongue. He did some research and told me that a sin leading to ex-communication from the Catholic church was the only one parish priests couldn’t deal with. Obviously that didn’t apply to me, but I was still very nervous as I got ready to go to Confession. I’ll write one more post about Confession and I promise that that will be the last you’ll hear about it for a while.

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