The following was a college essay written by Maureen Francois. It has been edited and approved by Christopher Centrella. If you have a Theology essay that you would like published that received a grade of an A- or higher, please be sure to contact us.
By Maureen Francois, Benedictine College
The third chapter of The Enduring Faith and Timeless Truths of Fulton Sheen discussed the sacrament of Confession; particularly the reasons for confessing our sins, despite what Protestants argue. It also laid out the basic teachings of the Church regarding confession.
Several non-Catholics argue that forgiveness of sins is between the sinner and God, and no human person has the authority to stand in the middle. But as Catholics, we believe that the Church is the mystical Body of Christ. Sheen tells us that Christ’s divinity is communicated through the Church “in exactly the same way that His divine life was communicated when He walked on earth. As He then used His human nature as the instrument of divinity, and used material things as signs and symbols of the conferring of His pardon, so He now uses other human natures and material things as the instruments for the communication of that same divine plan” (43). To put it simply, Sheen is saying that on earth, while Jesus forgave sins through His divine nature, He communicated it through both material objects, such as clay and mud, and His human nature, such as His voice, His hands, and His touch. Through the Church today, He continues to communicate His forgiveness through the human nature of the priest, and through material objects such as a purple stole, a confessional, and a kneeler.
Other explanations Sheen provides for our confession to priests include the necessity of verbal acknowledgment of our wrongdoings for true contrition, the humbling of our souls through confession, and the offense of our sins against humanity as well as against God. While many Christians believe that they can be forgiven simply by telling God they are sorry and asking for forgiveness, Sheen explains that this is not enough, for we cannot silently be our own judges. By saying aloud to another human what we have done and that we are sorry, we come to full terms with the fact that we have offended God and man, and we achieve a deeper level of sorrow and humility.
We are required to confess any grave sins at least once a year. We also must confess them before we receive communion. But the gift of confession goes beyond removing guilt of serious sins. By confessing our venial sins, we increase our awareness of our everyday failings, and we obtain grace to avoid the near occasions of sin.
By reading this chapter, I gained a number of new insights. I learned that the priest is an expression of Christ’s human nature in forgiving sins. Just as God took on our human nature to commune with us on earth and redeem us, He continues to commune with us through another human being. When I read the quote on page 42, that “it is through humanity that we are able to receive divine grace and advance toward heavenly glory”, it reminded me that the human body is itself a gift, a blessing, and a sacrament. God gave us our human senses and desires so that our earthly experience can better elevate us toward the divine.
Another thing I learned is that when we sin, our whole being–body and soul–sins. We go to confession with our bodies, and God forgives us through the priest, another human, another body-soul composite. While making an act of contrition is sufficient for being forgiven of our venial sins, it is only a soul-to-soul interaction with God. By confessing to another member of the mystical Body of Christ, we are whispering in Jesus’ earthly ear. The quote from Venerable Fulton Sheen that the priest “appears as the witness and representative of this ecclesial nature of the sacrament” (45) made me think of the priest as like a lawyer in a court of law.
Something very new to me was that the priest forgives on behalf of humanity. We sin both against God, and against man, and the priest represents them both in the confessional.
I found it very interesting reading Sheen’s thoughts on the sacraments being made up. He asserts that if it were up to the Church to decide if a sacrament were necessary, the priests would have done away with confession long ago. I never really appreciated just how hard it is on priests to spend long hours cramped up in the dark, listening to strangers recite the bad things they’ve done. I now understand some of the priests in my home diocese who would only hear confessions once a week or by appointment. It is clear to me why I’ve seen so many priests on their way to the confessional with a water bottle. Frankly, I’m surprised they don’t carry Tylenol too! When I watched the movie Calvary earlier this semester, I came to realize how painful it is for a priest to watch his parishioners struggle and suffer. The priest acts as a confessor and a confidant, and under the Seal of the Confessional he cannot tell anyone if something that someone confessed is troubling him. I’m sure there are often times in confession when a priest laughs, too. I often wonder how many times a priest has heard people of all ages say, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. I cut the confession line.”
This chapter gave me some compelling thoughts on how to radically change my life, reading that “[i]f a person truly values the health of his or her immortal soul…then the person will be sure to find the time needed to set right what has been destroyed by sin.” (49). In the first place, we so often prioritize our busy lives, putting our relationship with God on the back burner, that we don’t always go to confession as often as we want to. But do we really want to? This is the challenge we must face and conquer. The beauty of having seemingly infinite things to do is that if there are really that many things, there are plenty we can cut. If we really love God and want to grow in His friendship, we can carve out the time to go to confession.
In reflecting on the passion and death of Jesus, and the difficulty and discomfort that holds so many of us back from the confessional, I thought of an idea to make confession much easier. If one were to watch The Passion of the Christ, and then examine their conscience, confession would be a breeze. It would also be a sheer exposure to the limitless mercy of God.
There are many things I learned from Chapter 3, but if I wrote them all down, I suppose the world could not contain the books I would write. I became more aware of the reasons for confession, and the requirements of confession. Honestly, I dreaded and put off reading the chapter, as the topic of confession can make me extremely uncomfortable at times. But once I read it, I was much more peaceful. The most compelling quote from the chapter was the very last sentence, “No obstacle is strong enough to keep us from reconciliation with our Heavenly Father.” (50).
Zia, Mark. The Enduring Faith and Timeless Truths of Fulton Sheen. Servant Books, 2015.