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The Sacrament Of Confession… Confession In The New Testament

September 2, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM

Part 2

Bearing in mind that sin is the leprosy of the soul, the role of the priest in the Old Testament in cleansing the people from leprosy is of particular interest. In the Book of Leviticus, the entire chapter 13 is dedicated to the priests’ declaration of cleanliness or uncleanliness of a man who appeared to be a leper.
“And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: The man in whose skin or flesh shalt arise a different color or a blister, or as it were something shining, that is, the stroke of the leprosy, shall be brought to Aaron the priest, or any one of his sons. And . . .upon his judgment, he shall be separated [or] he shall declare him clean. If the stroke of the leprosy be in a man, he shall be brought to the priest, and he shall view him . . . and shall judge that the leprosy which he has is very clean: because it is all turned into whiteness, and therefore the man shall be clean. But when the live flesh shall appear in him, then by the judgment of the priest he shall be defiled, and shall be reckoned among the unclean.”
The priest was the doctor, or the judge of the man’s condition, and God gave detailed instructions about how to judge the condition. Sin is to the soul as leprosy is to the body. If you sinned, go and show yourselves to the priests. This is precisely what Jesus commanded the ten lepers to do: Go and show yourselves to the priests, so that you may be declared clean.
St. Luke 17:11-15: “And it came to pass, as he was going to Jerusalem, he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered into a certain town, there met him ten men that were lepers, who stood afar off: And lifted up their voice, saying: Jesus, master, have mercy on us. Whom when he saw, he said: Go, show yourselves to the priests. And it came to pass, as they went, they were made clean. And one of them, when he saw that he was made clean, went back, with a loud voice glorifying God.”
The leper who became clean was not the one who declared his cleanliness: It was the priest who did it, after examining the person’s condition.
Again, bearing in mind that sin is the leprosy of the soul, Jesus both cured lepers and forgave sinners. “But that was Jesus,” the non-Catholic will argue. “The priest is not Jesus, so he can neither cleanse lepers nor forgive sins.”
Really? So, then why did Jesus delegate the power to forgive sins to the apostles?
St. John 20:18-20 tells us that after the Resurrection, Jesus said to the apostles, “Peace be to you. As the Father has sent me, I also send you” — He gave to the apostles His own mission! And then, “When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.”
Here we have in very clear terms Jesus giving to the apostles — mere men like us — the divine power to forgive sins!
And St. Matthew (18:18) explains that the forgiveness of sins committed on Earth was confirmed in Heaven:
“Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven.”
In other words, and applying the authority given to the apostles to Confession, “whatsoever sins you shall forgive on Earth will be forgiven in Heaven, and whatever sins you shall retain on Earth shall be retained in Heaven.”
Let us reiterate that it is very common for non-Catholic readers of the Bible to overlook this most important verse, when, after the Resurrection, Christ appeared to the apostles and said to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:21-23).
What an immense, divine power to forgive sins and to retain them in the sinner He gave them!
Let us note that Christ sent His apostles just as the Father had sent Him, Christ: with a divine power to forgive sins! Christ thus made the apostles judges of sinners, with power to grant or withhold absolution; and in giving them this power, He gave them the authority to prescribe all that its exercise demanded — authority, therefore, to require men to confess their sins, and to submit themselves to examination as to their dispositions, their sorrow, their purpose of amendment, and their willingness to “bear fruits that befit repentance” (Luke 3:8).

To The End Of The World

But, you may ask, how could the apostles decide which sins were to be forgiven, and which sins were to be retained? Of course, the penitents had to confess their sins to them. If not, the apostles would have to know their sins by — telepathy? Of course not. The people normally confessed their sins to the apostles, as the history of the Church tells us.
Strictly speaking, in no case can a priest know for certain that sin has been committed except through the sinner’s own avowal. No matter how criminal his outward act may have been, it does not follow that the full consent of his will went with it. His guilt is a secret of his conscience, and can be revealed by him alone. Therefore, the apostles had to be told the sin in order to be able to judge and absolve.
Some non-Catholics try to evade the problem by stating that the power to forgive sins was granted to the apostles, but only to them and to nobody else.
But history tells us a different story. The power of forgiving sin in the Sacrament of Penance was not given to the apostles alone, but to their lawful successors as well. Christ said, “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” He sent them, therefore, clothed with His own power. He sent them to all nations, even to the end of the world.
It is evident that the apostles could not fulfill that command during their own lifetimes. They died. Their successors carried out the command, and the successors of their successors did the same, and so on, until the end of the world. As long, therefore, as the world shall last, the apostles and their successors shall be with us, exercising the power of forgiving sin through their living representatives, the bishops and priests.
Next article: More on Confession in the New Testament.

+ + +

(Raymond de Souza, KM, is a Knight of the Sovereign and Military Order of Malta; a delegate for International Missions for Human Life International [HLI]; and an EWTN program host. Website: www.RaymonddeSouza.com.)

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