When Confession Becomes Therapy

No matter how often I go, confession usually feels like a trip to the dentist after a several years’ absence. So, the passage below does not necessarily describe my experience in the confessional, but I thought it was great anyway.

The following is excerpted from Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year with writings from Benedict XVI, entry for September 18, from: Zur Lage des Glaubens:

There are priests who are inclined to turn confession almost entirely into a “conversation”, a kind of therapeutic self-analysis between two persons of equal rank. This seems to them much more human, more personal, and more appropriate for people today. But this kind of confession runs the risk of having little to do with the Catholic concept of the sacrament, according to which the actions and words of the person entrusted with this ministry are of much less importance. It is far more necessary for the priest to realize that he must remain in the background and so leave room for Christ, who alone can forgive sin. Here, too, it is necessary to return to the original understanding of the sacrament where we come face to face with its mystery. It is necessary to discover anew the meaning of the scandal that enables one man to say to another: “I absolve you from your sins.” In that moment—as, for that matter, in the administration of every other sacrament—the priest draws his authority, not, certainly, from the consent of a man, but directly from Christ. The I that says “I absolve you …” is not that of a creature; it is directly the I of the Lord. I feel more and more uneasy when I hear the facile way in which people designate as “ritualistic”, “external”, and “anonymous” the formerly widespread manner of approaching the confessional. And the self-praise of some priests because of their “penitential conversations”, which have become rare but, as they say, “in compensation, much more personal”, sounds more and more bitter to my ears. When we regard the matter properly, there was, behind the “ritual” of some confessions, also the seriousness of the encounter between two persons who both knew that they were in the presence of the awesome mystery of Christ’s forgiveness, bestowed on them through the words and gestures of a sinful man. We should not forget that in many such “conversations”, which have also become quite ritualistic, it is only human that a kind of complacency, a self-absolution, should insinuate itself, which—in the torrent of explanations—hardly leaves room for a sense of personal sin, for which, beyond all extenuating circumstances, we are always responsible.

(This is the first in a category dedicated to quotes from Benedict XVI, or Rat Zingers. I’ll be here all night, folks.)