I am constantly reminded why I love His Holiness, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. On Friday, the Vatican produced a helpful brochure on confession, and the 24 Hours for the Lord, which is part of the Year of Mercy. This brochure contained a short address of Pope Benedict given in 2011 at, of all places, a prison. (Mercy is needed everywhere and especially in prisons!)
Sometimes it seems people like to paint Benedict as rigid and Francis as merciful. I think that is a false dichotomy. Here is a clear example of Benedict at his best: heartfelt, intellectual, compassionate, and orthodox.
Why Should I Go to Confession? This is a big question. Here is an answer that Pope Benedict XVI gave: I would say two things. The first: naturally, if you kneel down and with true love for God pray that God forgives you, he forgives you. It has always been the teaching of the Church that [when] one, with true repentance — that is, not only in order to avoid punishment, difficulty, but for love of the good, for love of God — asks for forgiveness, he is pardoned by God. This is the first part. If I honestly know that I have done evil, and if love for goodness, a desire for goodness, is reborn within me, [and if there is] repentance for not having responded to this love, and I ask forgiveness of God, who is the Good, he gives it to me. But there is a second element: sin is not only a “personal,” individual thing between myself and God. Sin always has a social dimension, a horizontal one. With my personal sin, even if perhaps no one knows it, I have damaged the communion of the Church, I have sullied the communion of the Church, I have sullied humanity. And therefore this social, horizontal dimension of sin requires that it be absolved also at the level of the human community, of the community of the Church, almost physically. Thus this second dimension of sin, which is not only against God but concerns A Companion to the Individual Celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation 8 the community too, demands the sacrament, and the sacrament is the great gift in which through confession, we can free ourselves from this thing and we can really receive forgiveness in the sense of a full readmission to the community of the living Church, of the Body of Christ. And so, in this sense, the necessary absolution by the priest, the sacrament, is not an imposition — let us say — on the limits of God’s goodness, but, on the contrary, it is an expression of the goodness of God because it shows me also concretely, in the communion of the Church, I have received pardon and can start anew. Thus, I would say, hold on to these two dimensions: the vertical one, with God, and the horizontal one, with the community of the Church and humanity. The absolution of the priest, sacramental absolution, is necessary to really absolve me of this link with evil and to fully reintegrate me into the will of God, into the vision of God, into his Church and to give me sacramental, almost bodily, certitude: God forgives me, he receives me into the community of his children. I think that we must learn how to understand the Sacrament of Penance in this sense: as a possibility of finding again, almost physically, the goodness of the Lord, the certainty of reconciliation.