That would not have been startling to me if it had come from a Roman Catholic priest; but it came instead from a Presbyterian psychiatrist. Confession is one of those gifts of God that has not been tried and found lacking, but found uncomfortable and not tried.
We exercise all manner of creative rationalization to avoid facing the call of God to come to Him with an open and honest heart confessing our Sin and our sins, that He might forgive us. We do all in our power to avoid assurance of, "Whose soever sins you forgive are forgiven, and whose soever sins you retain, they are retained." Jn 20:
The use of a confessor is the assurance that we need when we just don't see how God could forgive us those things that we have done. We don't deserve to be forgiven. In confession we are not seeking what we deserve; we are seeking what God has prepared for us in Jesus Christ.
Scripture deals with SIN in two ways. Original Sin is the nature with which we were born. We were born in the likeness of the first Adam, of the earth.
Its effect may be seen in Genesis 3. When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, their eyes were opened. They knew there was a moral quality that was a necessary part of life. Whether you are a Creationist or an Evolutionist or both, that quality was new to humanity.
It gave them the characteristics that we see in all humans - the capacity to judge both themselves and others, and the ability to rationalize any action they thought wrong, and blame it on someone else.
They were, at the same time, separated from God, who alone knows the truth of what is good and what is evil. From that time on, we have been judging ourselves and others, with own faulty perceptions of good and evil.
Sin stands between us and the possibility of doing what we ought. First, we do not know what we ought to do, and second, we could not do it if we did know it. We are born into that bondage. It is one of the truths that can be known through observation of the human condition.
It is to that Sin that Paul refers when he says, "...the law of Sin is at work in my members." Rm 7: It is like a sickness that must be treated if we are to recover.
The church has taught that it is washed away in baptism as we are brought into the community of faith wherein we can know God. The truth is that until we know God as He knows us, and our ignorance is completely removed, we are subject to the residuals of that Original Sin. Until we receive the power of God to break the bonds of Original Sin in our lives, we abide in its power.
The other concept of sin that we find in Scripture is that of transgression of the Law. When we behave in a manner contrary to the Law, we call that a sin. That is the definition most of us think about when someone says sin.
What we find on reflection is that one stems from the other. In my ignorance (Sin), I do things (sins) that are not good. It is much as in physical illness. I have an infection of some sort in my body (Sin), and as a result I have symptoms that transgress the law (sins), a temperature that breaks the norm of good health and pain that violates the sense that we should be comfortable.
If we go to a physician, he will treat both the symptoms and the disease. When we come to God, the Great Physician, we reveal to Him our symptoms and if we see it, our disease, and we allow Him to treat our spiritual disease. We are not to be content with treatment for the symptoms alone, for it is God's will to make us whole.
If we were to examine ourselves for physical or mental problems, we might take a list of symptoms and see if we found any of them in our lives. There are fourteen symptoms that indicate we might be an adult child of an alcoholic. There are seven danger signals of cancer.
There are ten danger signals of Sin. They are called the Ten Commandments. Since none of them has been changed, we might use them to examine our lives to see if they indicate that we are not well spiritually.
Just as cancer may lie beneath the seven danger signals, Sin may lie beneath the sins indicated in the ten commandments. The church in her spiritual tradition has identified seven diseases we call the deadly Sins. They are Pride, Envy, Avarice (or Greed), Sloth, Anger, Gluttony and Lust.
When we make our examination, it is a good idea to find a time and place where we might be alone with God. Ask Him to send Holy Spirit to reveal the sins we are to confess. Let our mind go back over the times of our lives we remember. When something we have done comes to light, write it down. We continue to work on the list until we have gone over our entire lives.
Then we look beneath the list we have made to see what it is showing us about the Sins that beset us within. If a group of the actions we have written down seem to express anger, then we likely have anger within us.
It is likely that we will find all seven of the deadly Sins within us to some extent. It is helpful to see just how much our lives have been affected by them, and just which ones need our immediate attention.
Before we complete our examination, we would do well to make arrangements to meet with our chosen confessor to make our confession. Examinations have a tendency to be depressing, and we do not want to put off the completion of the task and remain depressed.
It is always helpful to take our list with us. We are going to confess our Sins, not explain them, to God. The list often helps us to make a confession rather than an explanation to God.
In a confessional situation, the penitent confesses his sins to God, not to the priest or minister. The priest or minister is there to witness the confession and to pronounce God's absolution and the church's. The form used for the confession should make this clear.
There are a variety of forms that are used for confession. There are two in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. There are devotional books that have their own forms. The one I prefer is written below:
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.
Bless me, for I have sinned.
(The blessing of the Confessor will be something like this: The Lord be in your heart and upon your lips so you may worthily confess all of your sins, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.)
I confess to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, before the whole company of heaven, and before you, that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word and deed; and I accuse myself of the following sins. (Here, read the list of sins you have to confess. When you have completed your list continue).
For these and all other sins which I cannot now remember, I am heartily sorry, and I purpose amendment of life. I ask pardon of God, and of you, Father, penance, counsel and absolution.
The confession is complete, and the confessor may give what counsel comes to him from the Spirit. On occasion the confessor will assign penance. Penance is an act of faith confirming your intent in making your confession. It does nothing to compensate for your sins. I personally like the use of penance because it is an act of faith made in reflection of what I have done.
The nature of penance usually assigned is to read a passage of Scripture - a Psalm or some other passage that is relevant to the forgiving love of God. For some penitents the awareness of the forgiveness they have been given comes to them when they have completed their penance.
SOME PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS
When you are deciding whom you will use for a confessor, ask the Lord. There are some advantages to using a minister. Most of them have heard a great number of people unburden themselves, and they will be neither surprised nor offended. They will be easily able to pronounce God's absolution and the church's.
If there is any legal matter in your confession, ministers do not have to testify in court as laymen do. A layman is open to being subpoenaed, and made to testify in court. Some churches require that the confessor be a priest. It is always recommended that you follow the traditions of your own denomination, if they have one that covers confession.
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with
all thy soul and with all thy mind.
Do I give God priority for prayer and study of Scripture?
Do I seek His will in all of my decisions?
Do I allow anything or any person to distract me from His will when I consider decisions?
Do I put my family, my job, my house or car, or the image I want to project to others, before God?
Am I proud of those persons and things that are important to me, or am I thankful?
Do I use God's Name in profanity?
Do I pray for my will to be done rather than His?
Do I take time for proper rest of body, soul and spirit? I was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for my well being. Am I taking care of my health?
Do I set aside time for the weekly worship of God. (Sunday is not a Christian Sabbath, it is the celebration of Easter as the first day of God's New Creation.)
The second commandment is like the first. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Have I acknowledged my parents as a gift from God, and given Him thanks?Do I give my parents reasonable time and attention?
Do I live my life in a manner that reflects honor upon them?
Have I murdered anyone?
Have killed anyone through destructive criticism and put-downs?
Have I carried resentment against anyone?
Have I forgiven my enemies and prayed for them?
Have I indulged in sexual relations outside of marriage? (In the event you are not married and have indulged in intercourse with another who is unmarried, the sin is named fornication, and you may confess that. Adultery stems from adding the presence of another person to the bond between husband and wife through sex.)
Have I indulged in sexual fantasy to satisfy my desires for another person?
Have I taken anything without the permission of the owner?
Have I cheated or lied on any test or tax return, or any other thing of that nature?
Have I intentionally lied about someone else?
Have I passed on second-hand information about another person?
Have I been open and honest in support of others, instead of remaining silent when I should speak?
Have I desired something that belongs to another person?
Am I satisfied with the gifts God has given me?
Am I content to seek His will in the stewardship of His things?
At the risk of being repetitive, I would urge those who are preparing for a confession to make a list to be confessed. It is a help in remembering what Holy Spirit has led us to confess. It is a defense against our rationalizing our sins, and trying to justify them in the process of our confession.
God does not need an explanation. He already knows and understands better than we penitents do. He asks us to give Him access to the sins (actions) and the Sins (causes) so He might treat the sins and have access to begin healing the Sins that are within our penitential hearts.
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