The sacrament of confession: instrument of divine mercy

Divine Mercy Sunday is April 7
Special to Catholic Times

I have been Catholic for about 15 years, having been baptized and confirmed when I was 18 in 2008. I grew up in the Protestant South, where many people (including some in my family) were anti-Catholic, but for the most part, I knew nothing about Catholicism for most of my childhood. I was raised with some concept of Christianity, but for various reasons in my teens I became an atheist. Although my first encounter with the faith came through the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien in my early teens, I did not truly convert until going through a long journey of studying philosophy and the different religions of the world, as well as struggling to overcome my own sinful habits. In the end, it was the support of my father, who converted with me, and the final realization that, without an infallible, objective authority, there is no intelligible meaning or moral standard in life, which finally brought me home.

I give this brief biography of my conversion story to illuminate a theme of Divine Mercy Sunday (April 7) and the story of doubting Thomas in this reflection. This theme is the sacrament of penance as an instrument of God’s mercy. Throughout my life, both before and after my conversion, I desired a definite truth which could answer all questions and an objective good which could dispel all the evils of the world. I discovered this truth and good to be Christ, but only through the Catholic Church which He established. Unlike St. Thomas, whose doubts were mercifully answered by the physical evidence of Christ’s resurrected body, Christians ever since have needed to trust in the authoritative tradition of the Church.

Since childhood, I have also always felt a sometimes-overwhelming sense of the vast darkness of sin prevailing in the world, in my life and in myself. Although St. Paul taught us to focus on the good (Philip 4:8), the Scriptures are full of lamentations for the world corrupted by the Fall. Simply take a moment to imagine all the instances of pride, hatred, pornography, adultery, abortion, slavery, prejudice, genocide, greed, indifference to God, and hatred of His Church as a very small sample of sins, rampant in the world today, perhaps more than ever before. Anything good is seen as evil while evil is promoted and the good is brought to ruin. How many people, in their daily life choices, stop to weigh the morality of their actions, or to ask if their beliefs and desires are in accordance with God’s will? How many, including Christians, simply live however they wish, excusing or avoiding the consequences for their sins, and presume God’s mercy? Is it any wonder that so many doubt the Divine Mercy of God? How could God, who is infinitely perfect and has no need of us, forgive those to whom He has given everything, even the death and Resurrection of His Son, and yet who consistently offend, mock and ignore Him, even those claiming to be Christians?

We know through Christ that God is “not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pt 3:9). This means we must seek out His mercy. So, then, what is the ordinary means He has established for our forgiveness? John chapter 20 verse 23 answers that question: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” This pronouncement of Christ, giving the Apostles and their appointed heirs the power of the Holy Spirit to forgive sins in His name, is the sacrament of confession.

All my sins were washed away in baptism, and I was filled with the Holy Spirit and united to the Church in confirmation. Now, each time I go to confession, I continually know and feel the liberation of Divine Mercy and its restoration of the sanctifying grace of baptism through the ministration of the priest acting in persona Christi (in the person of Christ), and I am reminded that the Church is the true instrument of Divine Mercy in the world, as the Body of Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit. Distraction, hedonism, self-justification, and erroneous beliefs are not enough to conquer sin — they only leave us in a comfortable complacency which, like walking a tightrope over a chasm while wearing a blindfold, will inevitably lead to our destruction.

Only the Divine Mercy of Jesus Christ can illuminate the darkness and carry us to safety. This is the heart of the Gospel and the cure to indifference and corruption in the modern world, as St. Pope John Paul II knew when he established this feast day and as Our Lord knew when He commanded it be done to St. Faustina. May its message of hope, joy, and peace inspire us this Easter season to evangelize the world and alleviate the burden of sin through the Divine Mercy of Christ, inspiring us to confess our sins in Confession and profess our faith in Christ, like St. Thomas: “My Lord, and my God.”

This article originally appeared in, reprinted with permission. Missio Dei was founded by Phillip Hadden, parishioner of St. Alexius in Beardstown.