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Lent: the paradox and perfection of sacramental confession

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So, let me get this correct? An imperfect sinner is forgiven, perfectly, through the words and ritual gestures of an imperfect priest?


Just as Jesus assumed human flesh and became fully human, along with being the Divine Son of God, He perfected our humanity through His truly human life, death, and Resurrection, as Jesus of Nazareth. Likewise, in the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, grace perfects nature, through the cooperation of the repentant sinner and the obedient priest.

For Jesus is truly present, in the Person of Christ (in Persona Christi) in the priest, and Jesus is truly present for the sinner as the Lamb of God who shed His Blood for our salvation.

But how can this be when our confessions are far from perfect--either because we are imperfectly contrite, or only partially repentant; and when the priest is cranky, critical, or distracted?

Contrition is a reflection of our sorrow for having hurt our Lord in our sinfulness. The Church expects us to be as honest and specific as possible about the sins we confess. Repentance, moreover, should flow less from fear of God's eternal punishment, and more from our Love of God and our sorrow for having offended such a Merciful Father. This, however, is not always perfectly fulfilled in an all too imperfect person--people like you and me.

God, nevertheless, is Merciful, and all Loving, and understands our limitations. And if all we have to offer Him is imperfection, if this is our honest best, God forgives and accepts us, and Reconciles us to Himself, and His Church, abundantly.

As far as priestly imperfection goes...we need to cut them some slack. After all, they are human! And, if we are attuned to Catholic History, we remember St. Augustine, and the lesson we learn from the Donatist heresy, and realize that as long as the priest follows the rubrics faithfully (the liturgical and sacramental 'script'), and intends to do what he is supposed to do in the sacrament, Jesus overcomes any human inadequacies found in the man.

It's safe to say, 99% of the priests in confession mean to do, and do, the right thing!

Bottom line, the sacrament of confession (Reconciliation, Penance), in our imperfect sinfulness, and the imperfection of the priest, is still the guaranteed place where the repentant sinner meets with the Abundant Mercy of Jesus our Lord and Savior.

Why not make this Lent a special time to meet the Mercy of Jesus in the intimacy of sacramental confession?