Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Can Another's Sins Keep You Away from God?

These past weeks have been troubling to say the least...

Most disturbing are the actual cases of abuse that have been revealed and the priests and Bishops who looked the other way (who are in the minority, but who's sins are so horrible that they stand out amidst all the good that the Church does every single day). Then there has been the incredibly disturbing distortion of the mainstream media, who has twisted the facts so thoroughly that even faithful Catholics are confused.

It is incredibly evil to harm a child. It is also incredibly evil to attempt to destroy the life of an innocent person for selfish motives (which in this case appears to be distracting the American public from the fact that abortion is now going to be funded by a bill that the majority of us did not want).

Lately the poor catechesis of the past decades also seems to be adding to the crisis that some Catholics are experiencing.

I have to say that sometimes when I read about the "problems" that some "Cradle Catholics" are having with their faith, I'm thankful that I converted later on when I was old enough to go out and research the Church's stances rather than blindly accepting the words from someone who may or may not have known what they were talking about. I've heard so many statements from friends about what's wrong with Church teachings that weren't even vaguely true, but which they absolutely believe because some person, twenty some years ago, taught them that particular bit of garbage in CCD.

However the excuses can only go on for so long. All of us must take responsibility for our own faith and must move beyond an childhood understanding of that faith. Incorrect catechesis is very unfortunate, but after a while each of us must realize that excuses blaming a childhood teacher begins to fall a little flat after decades of doing nothing more to learn the truth and grow in our relationship with God.

And now we finally get down to the news article that I read that inspired this post. I was flipping through my parents' copy of The Week and read a sentence that went something like this: A woman in Philadelphia is no longer going to confession because she wonders if her priest is more of a sinner than she is...

I always cringe when I hear people say something like this. It comes in different forms. Sometimes it's an excuse for missing Mass for decades. Less frequently it's an excuse for not receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation (possibly this is heard less frequently because this has become such a norm that people don't even feel the need to make an excuse).

I only have one answer for this and it's in the form of a question: How could anyone let another person keep them away from their Lord and Savior?

There is no way I would let someone else's sins keep me from receiving Christ in the Eucharist.

And there is no way I would use the excuse of someone else's sins to keep me from Reconciliation. The priest does not forgive your sins. He has been given the power to bind and loose by Christ. Christ alone paid our debt and he alone forgives sins. However he gave that power to bind and loose to his disciples and that power has been passed down from generation to generation and is necessary for the forgiveness of mortal sins.

The idea of staying away from the Sacraments of Christ because of someone else's sins only hurts the person who is separating themselves from these great gifts. And that is a great tragedy...

God has given us, even priests, free will. We are free to draw near to him or to flee from his Grace. Don't allow another's sins to push you away from God and the Church that he founded.


  1. I've never heard that the power to bind and loose sins was the reason for confession. I've always believed that it was because of James 5:16.

    "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful."

    But it does sound very similar in nature.

    I will say that I don't believe in encouraging confession if a person is just going to repeat their misdeeds on purpose. I also don't believe in forcing a person to confess no matter the reason. In my opinion God alone forgives regardless if you go to confession or not. Some people are unable because of distance.

  2. Bravo! I love your post. I too am a convert and I find it frustrating to hear people state untrue statements of what the church believes and they are Catholic. I know Cradle Catholics who will argue with me and say that Advent is not a penitential season. Or that we have too much celebrating in the church with Easter being 50 days long and Christmas being 12 days long. Learning about what you believe in is so important to how we live. Without faith we are lost in a secular society living only for personal pleasure. How very shallow.

  3. Part of encouraging anyone to participate in any sacrament is only given when the recipient has the knowledge of what the sacrament is and why it is being given.

    If a person is planning on repeating their misdeeds before they head into the confessional, then their confession is invalid. This is certainly not what anyone who has encouraged another to participate in the sacrament of reconciliation was had intended. Therefore, following the advice to go to confession with the mindset to repeat the sin, would be taking the intent and message of the encouragement out of the original context in which it was meant.

    No one forces anyone to confess anything. I will say that given our human nature we are inclined to sin, and we do have a responsibility to correct each other when we are sinning. We cannot force each other to confess, but we certainly do have a right to let someone know when they are sinning. Often they have no idea that they are doing so.

    As for the efficiency of the sacrament and it's installation in the priesthood it comes from MT 16:19-20 when Jesus tells Peter "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loose in heaven."(Jerusalem Bible) This is the standard biblical reference given for the sacrament of confession as being a responsibility of the priesthood. As for how a priest can forgive sins, he can't nor has he ever. Rather he acts in persona Christi in which Jesus is the one giving the forgiveness to the sinner through the priest. Therefore, the state of the priest, wether he is in sin himself or not, is irrelevant. He is not the one forgiving the penitent. Jesus is. Therefore it is Jesus' sinless and divine nature that provide the efficacy of the sacrament. The only other condition necessary is the penitent's willingness to accept God's grace. If the penitent is not willing, no grace will be conferred. This is another reason why no one forces anyone to go to confession. It would be futile.

    Distance is a weak excuse for not going to confession when needed and not in keeping with the reality for the majority of people in the world. Heck, in the frozen tundra of Alaska there are missionaries who preach and hear confession. Is it possible that there are some people who can't get to confession whenever they wish? Yes. However, in those cases a person should pray the act of contrition, tell God of their sorrow for having offended him, and then go to confession when it is possible.

  4. Wow. A bit touchy there. First things first. Some children are forced to go to confession by their parents or at least pressured to. I've seen it for myself working at a church.

    Secondly, you are exempt from church attendance if the closest church to you is 50 miles away. I was told this by a priest. And since I grew up in the Bible belt where priests are more scarce and some churches are over 50 miles away rules get a bent a little. For example a nun told me that she had to baptize someone. A young teen was dying and a priest could not be summoned quickly enough because the nun was there she had to perform the rite. Anyone can baptize that is true but generally it is preferred that a priest perform it. So for me going to confession often was difficult. And I lived in the lower 48 not the tundra of Alaska.

    But thanks for your information. I was speaking from personal experience. Things are great on paper but different in practice.

  5. Not touched at all! =)

    Just really wasn't sure what that had to do with Cam's post. Either way it looked like a good time to talk about what people often forget.

    Like the parents forcing their kids. They were, sounds like, doing their jobs to raise good Catholic kids.

    As for being exempt from going to mass I'm not sure why this is coming up. But it is permissible to miss mass if it is not possible to attend. No one is going to be held accountable for that. But where I would disagree with your priest friend is that the line is set at 50 miles. No such limit exists. It seem's that this 50 mile rule is more of a rule of thumb than anything more. Yet, today it's pretty easy to travel 50 miles round trip in the US. My great grand uncle Owen, now there was a guy who had it tough. He had to travel on horseback 40 miles to say mass in Ontario as being a missionary for being an Oblate of Mary Immaculate. Driving an hour today is nothing to get to a mass. When that is possible, of course.

    I do have one question though, Miss Deltaflute. You made your first statement simply because Cam's article reminded you of confession or because you are commenting on the article itself?

  6. A little bit of both. She said that a lady didn't want to go to confession because of the sins of the priest. James 5:16 says to confess to a righteous person. Perhaps that's how she felt. We pray to saints who are righteous people with powerful prayers (or what would be the reason for asking for their assistance). And I think while it's noble to have a strong desire to attend confession, I would say that I'm not a strict Catholic. You can say that I'm more Protestant in the fact that I would rather ask forgiveness of God directly more than I have a strong desire to go to a priest. Not that I'm opposed to confession; it's just that I can see why some people lose the meaning and beauty behind it.

    Some children are forced to go to confession. And I disagree. Forcing a child is not a good way to raise Catholic children. That's why many of them don't stay Catholic. Bad memories and all. You shouldn't force a child to do anything. If you raise them correctly to make decisions for themselves and you lead by example, there is no reason to force a child to do anything.

    And I understand that people travel huge distances to go to Mass. And I applaud them. But some people don't own cars. And where I grew up there was no bus system because it was too rural. When I was a small child, we lived too far away from any "home" church. And that's hard on parents to take an infant (my younger sibling) to the closest church especially when the Baptist one is up the street. They get fussy and tired during the long car ride. And then because there are so few churches you have to stand a lot if you don't get there early enough. Maybe the 50 miles is a rule of thumb, but he was the Vicar so I suppose he knew what he was talking about.

    I just like being a bit more devil's advocate and trying to see where people are coming from. The news skews things considerably. Nothing in life is black and white. Perhaps her confessor was pro-abortion. I worked a Catholic church where the priest knew that one of the staff was gay in a relationship and the Bishop specifically told the priest to fire the gay man if the priest knew that the gentleman was in a relationship. But the priest didn't. I don't judge. But a lot of priests do go against Church teachings and their superiors. Working in a church you learn a lot.

    My worse job where I was totally mistreated was working in a church and I've vowed never to work for one again. I will still attend, but I'm very weary of staff and priests. You would think that working at a church they would treat you well and lift you up, but instead I was made to feel inferior.

    And I apologize if I don't make sense in posts these days. I have an infant and what usually sounds good to me these days I've discovered isn't all that coherent to others.


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