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20 December 2006 @ 11:48 am
An Image for Confession  
One of the things Protestants often debate with Catholics about is Confession.  Most Protestants believe we can confess our sins directly to God and be forgiven.  Catholics believe that that is what the sacrament of Reconciliation is for.  On the catholic.org forum that I frequently post on, I wrote out an analogy to try to show a Protestant poster how Catholics view this sacrament.  Someone complimented me on it, so I thought I'd share some of it on my blog.  

Picture a sinner with dirt all over him. He goes into a confessional. In the ceiling is a showerhead. Above the ceiling (not visible) is an infinite basin of water; this water is God's power. The sinner confesses, and then with the words "Te absolvo", the priest turns the handle that opens the showerhead. Water (God's power) pours out and all the dirt washes off the sinner. 
Originally I came up with this image to explain the different senses in which the "power" of the sacrament comes from the priest and from God.  The priest has the power to perform the sacrament, because he turns the faucet.  Without him, the sacrament doesn't happen.  In another sense, the power is God's alone; he is the one actively doing the forgiving.  The priest can't make his own water or wash the sinner off with his hands.  Later I realized I could use this analogy for another purpose, too, and wrote the following.

I also want to extend the shower-stall analogy to explain something else that is sometimes hard for Catholics to get across. We really do believe that God is not limited to the sacraments. In some cases, at his discretion, he can choose to cause a rainfall that will cleanse someone of their sins even though they aren't in a showerstall (i.e. forgiveness outside of confession). If someone doesn't have access to a priest, for instance, God can lovingly choose to make up for that lack. Protestants sometimes leap on this and ask then why do we need confession at all, why not just confess directly to God? But for a Catholic, this is like someone walking past a dozen showerstalls (that God has gone to great effort to build so that we might take a shower whenever we have the least bit of dirt on us) and then expecting God to create a special rainfall for them whenever they ask. Such an attitude fundamentally misses the point, although it can be hard to describe exactly where it goes wrong.
(Anonymous) on December 20th, 2006 08:24 pm (UTC)
I think this is a terrific analogy for explaining the difference between what the priest does and what God does. Both are needed, but one is clearly superior to the other.
One caveat:
I do think you should clarify the necessary role that confession has with regard to mortal sin. Many venial sins that Catholics commit each day are forgiven by God outside the confessional. But the confessional gives us an opportunity to express our faith that God saves us not merely as individuals but as part of His family, the Church.

annafirtree on December 21st, 2006 09:10 pm (UTC)
I'm not really sure I understand those distinctions well enough to explain them.
(Anonymous) on March 27th, 2010 07:40 pm (UTC)
Lazarus Come Forth
Today, in eastern Christianity, it is Lazarus Saturday. It is the day before Palm Sunday.

Sometime in the last year, I had a vision of the sacrament of confession. When the priest proclaims you forgiven, it is exactly like as if he is calling to you come out of the tomb, just like Jesus told his friend Lazarus to come forth out of the tomb. Jesus then told the people to unbind him, because Lazarus was wrapped tightly in his burial clothing.

This is exactly what the sacrament of confession is like. We are called forth from the dead. We are freed from death. Our penance, small as it is, frees us from the restriction of the burial clothing. The priest's absolution frees us from the penalty of sin, which is death. We are called forth into Life.

We are spiritually resurrected from the dead. It is no less real than Lazarus' resurrection.

Lord Have Mercy!
annafirtree on March 28th, 2010 10:05 pm (UTC)
Re: Lazarus Come Forth
Thank you for sharing that. It's a beautiful idea.