There’s infinite reasons why nothing on earth comes remotely close to how good a Catholic lifestyle is. To take the most obvious, which we can see in simply looking at Jesus at the moment – it doesn’t do him so badly! Not only is every bodily, psychological and spiritual part of him flawlessly where and as it should be, but even death is powerless over him – he is Risen flesh and blood, utterly free, unbreakably secure, overflowing with happiness, totally loved and perfectly loving. He lacks nothing and has everything, faultlessly in tune with the entirety of creation, be it the greatest stars or the narrowest blade of grass – and even perfectly open to every single person. So much so that he is standing in the room where you are reading this now, looking at you and giving himself and the life he has now to you – for free!
Jesus’ risen presence with us right now contradicts one of the most poisonous lies we can believe: that we’re alone, that we’re struggling and no one knows. Regardless of what our state of mind or situation, Jesus is there, risen, radiating life and goodness, to turn to.
This means that the huge good we do is never private – but so also is the wrong we do. There is an idea that my sins are private, that they hurt nobody, and that God just forgives me in my heart. Jesus contradicts all these ideas in his actions and words at the Resurrection, giving his apostles the gift to be able to forgive sins: After saying this he breathed on them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.’
Vatican II hammers the value of the help of confession 8 times in Sacrosanctum concilium no.72, Lumen gentium no. 11 and 26, Orientalium ecclesiarum 27, Christus dominus 29, and Presbyterorum ordinis 5, 13 and 18. So has every pope since Vatican II, especially Pope Francis, who has urged us more than any other to discover the joy and liberation and opening up of our intelligence and heart that confession brings.
Because confession is first of all and always an encounter with Jesus. Some people have said to me, “Well if God is real, where is he?” He’s in the confessional. The amazing thing about confession is when we go, we meet Jesus. We really do – it really works. And this is not surprising, because it’s a gift from Jesus. Jesus doesn’t make things which don’t work, he doesn’t give gifts which are no good – and he doesn’t make mistakes. So confession is and does exactly what he says it is and does: an encounter with Jesus who forgives my sins.
Sometimes we might worry about what the priest thinks. As a priest, let me tell you something: he is not sitting there itching to impose judgement. He’s there first of all because Jesus told him to be there, to help the poor and sinful – i.e. everyone. And he’s there as a brother, to help the brothers and sisters who struggle like him. He’s not there because he’s an expert, but because Jesus has given him gifts, his priesthood, pastoral experience and absolution, to share with his brothers and sisters. That’s it. And so the priest doesn’t have a crisis when he hears our sins: he has compassion, and he’s happy to be able to help. He isn’t shocked by the novelty of what we’ve done, as he’s heard it already a million times, and no sin is ever original – it’s all blandly the same. He doesn’t remember either, for the same reason. What he’s mainly doing is praying, for us who are confessing, that God helps us, and for himself that the Holy Spirit shows him what to say – just as his own confessor does for him.
This is why one of the countless advantages of the ordinary Catholic lifestyle is to plunge into the forgiving heart of the Risen Jesus in confession at least once a month, to start each month completely renewed in interior peace, lightness, happiness, and freedom to love everyone, especially God, as we’d desire.