A very sweet, nice image from, I think, the Baltimore Catechism. Fine. There is some correct theology there. Good. Jesus is making happen what He commanded His Apostles and their successors in Holy Orders to do. Great. But there is more.
Here’s another image, more recent, which emphasizes that the priest is acting in Persona Christi, in the Person of Christ, for the absolution of sins:
That’s um… nice too. I like it. But, well, sheesh… there is so much more to what is happening in Confession that people really should realize, so that they have more of a sense of how deeply and completely they are forgiven even if their fallen human emotions still weigh them down with a guilt which isn’t there (which is a cross we sometimes carry, a cross which we are commanded to carry by Jesus, a cross which doesn’t hold us back spiritually, just the opposite).
I would like to see an image, a line-drawing say – even from someone thinking they have no talent for drawing faces, hands and such – of Jesus going to Confession to a priest, and perhaps in a more traditional Catholic setting, something like the photo below, but with an adult Jesus, with His wounds, going to Confession to the priest:
Here’s the deal: Jesus walked among us so that He could stand in our place (or kneel in our place, or be crucified in our place), the Innocent for the guilty, so that He would have the right in His own justice to have mercy on us. Effectively, He was taking our place, not only for original sin but for all of our personal sins, however hidden, however embarrassing, however shameful, confessing them, as it were, as if those sins were His own sins: “I did this…. I said that… I thought the other thing… I omitted doing…” And, by the way, Jesus got a penance, a big one, being tortured to death, the Innocent for the guilty. And He did His penance. Why? Because He really does, in fact, indeed, love us.
To be Christian we have to have a sense of what to us in this world seems to be such biting irony, mercy being founded on justice, mercy and justice being one in God. Otherwise, we are a train-wreck:
- Mere mercy cut off from noticing the above mentioned justice brings us instantaneously to the darkest of existential states of cynicism and doubt.
- Mere justice which doubts even the possibility of mercy is a crushing darkness throwing us into the most existential peripheries of dark bitterness.
We’re just not strong enough to bear such horror, as it is untruth, for mercy is founded on justice and Jesus does bear the wounds which give Him the right in His own justice to have mercy on us. Does He love us? Does He forgive us? Yes.
Do we, in our weakness, want that our weakness goes away already in this world? Yes. And it doesn’t happen because, in justice, we have to suffer all the effects of original sin, even while carrying the grace of Christ within us, while we are in this world. To be free of the effects of original sin we have to be in heaven, where there will be no more weakness of mind, weakness of will, emotions all the hell over the place, no more sickness, no more death. Jesus isn’t going to throw away justice, for then He would also be throwing away mercy. Jesus instead lets all our weakness teach us how to be in humble thanksgiving to Jesus. Jesus doesn’t want that we beat ourselves up. He wants that we accept the forgiveness, but as mercy founded on justice. It is hurtful to have false expectations, as in “no more weakness in this world,” “no more cross,” “a method of salvation I came up with so that I can ditch that dumb Jesus with His dumb mercy founded on His dumb justice.” But, as said in the bulleted points above, that leads to an impossibly heavy, crushing darkness which throws us into the most impossible self-made peripheries, having us think we are outsiders. No. That’s not the way. Jesus is the Way. He’s the only Way. Jesus is the One. He’s the only one.
Let’s watch Him, let’s listen to Him confess all our sins. Let’s watch Him do His penance for us. We imposed our misery on ourselves. Jesus doesn’t like that. He came among us to take that misery away. We’ll see that especially in heaven. But we can already get a sense of His love for us here, even amidst all the chaos within and without. It’s like Saint Therese said, it’s not necessarily a jump up and down peace, but a peace bound by love which enables us to go on. We gotta be little children. Little. Children. Look at Jesus, in wonder, as He confesses our sins.
I would love to have a line drawing of this, even one with little talent.
And more, how about a little boy or girl watching Jesus go to Confession, with mouth agape in thankful wonder and surprise and joy.