"For this reason we believe that thou came forth from God." St. John, 16:30.
Some years after World War I the Prince of Wales visited a hospital for hopelessly wounded veterans. Beside each broken body he stopped, shook hands and spoke a word of encouragement. As he was led to the doorway the Prince asked a question: "I understood you had thirty-six patients here - but I've seen only twenty-nine."
The nurse explained that the others were too horribly maimed for him to see.
"Is it for my sake or theirs that you're not taking me there?" asked the Prince.
"For yours, sir."
"Then I insist you show me in."
Here too he stopped and thanked each wounded soldier for his sacrifice. Again he turned to his guide: "Where is the seventh? I have seen only six."
Again the nurse objected. "Please do not ask to see him, sir," she pleaded.
"But I must see him."
"I advise against it, Your Highness. It can do no good."
"I insist that you take me in," demanded the royal visitor.
The Prince followed the nurse into a darkened room to what was left of a human body - blind, twisted, hideously broken and disfigured. The Prince turned white, his lips were drawn, and tears trickled down his cheeks. Impetuously he bent down and kissed the cheeks of the broken hero.
There was another Prince who came down from His palace in heaven not only to visit and shake hands with those wounded in the war with sin, but to raise them up body and soul. Jesus healed broken bodies; Jesus healed broken souls. Several times He healed the body to prove that He could heal the soul. To the paralytic He said: "Thy sins are forgiven thee."
Then to prove His power to cure the soul, He cured the body. "That you, may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins. . . Arise, take up thy pallet and go to thy house." St. Matthew, 9:2-7.
This power of forgiving sins Christ gave to His apostles and their successors, the bishops and priests of the Catholic Church, when He instituted the sacrament of confession: "Receive the Holy Spirit; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained." St. John, 20:23.
What is confession? Confession is a sacrament which forgives the sins both mortal and venial which we have committed after Baptism. It has the three marks, of a sacrament: An outward or external, sense perceptible sign, the inward grace, and the institution by Christ.
1. The outward, sense perceptible sign includes the acts of the penitent and the acts of the priest. In his heart the sinner awakens sorrow. With his lips he confesses his sins. By his deeds he makes satisfaction. We can see the upraised hand of the priest and hear his words of forgiveness: "I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
2. What we cannot see or hear or feel, the inward grace, is the giving back to the soul of sanctifying grace, which had been lost through mortal sin, or the increasing of that same grace, if it had not been lost.
Confession also gives sacramental graces, special helps to perform good works, to avoid the occasions of sin, to be happy in doing good, and to overcome temptation. This inner power of confession is too often unknown or forgotten. The sacrament not only takes away sin; it gives helps to avoid sin. It gives graces and spiritual health which the soul needs.
Sanctifying grace is like complete spiritual health. Mortal sin destroys that health. Confession gives it back. If that spiritual health has not been completely destroyed, then confession increases your health of soul. This is one of the best proofs of what Christ tells us today regarding His heavenly Father: "The Father himself loves you because you have loved me." St. John, 16:27.
3. We have referred briefly to the institution of this sacrament by Christ, and we will speak of it again. For the present keep thisin mind: Christ is God. As God He could and did forgive sins. And as God, He could and did give this power to those who were to do His work in the world. Jesus knew there would be sinners today as well as in the years while He walked this earth. He knew there would be paralytics today as well. He knew there would be Mary Magdalens and sinners of every type and stripe in our day. For us, the sinners of today, Jesus left the sacrament of mercy and forgiveness. In words of blazing clearness He gave the power of forgiving sin to the leaders of His Church.
This mercy without limit, this mercy becoming to a God, this mercy and forgiveness which Christ made available to all sinners without exception, this mercy is offered to us in the sacrament of confession. What the disciples exclaimed we will repeat: "For this reason we believe that thou came forth from God."
If an earthly, limited person like the Prince of Wales could bring cheer and encouragement to the broken bodies and spirits of those who had been wounded in a cruel war, surely the Prince of heaven and earth, unlimited in love, unlimited in mercy, unlimited in power, can stoop down, as He does in confession, and kiss not only the body but the soul also, back to spiritual health. Thank God for this. Amen.
Adapted from Talks on the Sacraments
by Fr. Arthur Tonne,OFM (© 1947)