Therefore, make it your habit to confess your sins to one another and to pray for one another, so you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective!
As we walked through the large wooden doors into the Cathedral of the Divine Savior in Morelia, Mexico, a hushed awe fell over me. Light flooded the lofty hallways and sanctuary. A service was in progress as tardy parishioners trickled in, finding a seat in the back. I smiled thinking, “They are not unlike American parishioners, I see.”
Making our way along one of the side corridors, we passed two confessionals. Both of which were in use and had waiting lines. I had never seen this before, and not growing up Catholic I was taken by the scene.
Trying to be discreet, I watched the priests with their ears pressed against the screen inside their shadowed confessionals. The confessors, too, leaned in on the other side of the screen and quietly whispered the sins and sorrows that weighed heavy on their hearts.
It was a very moving experience for me. And I’ve been pondering it ever since.
As Protestants*, we don’t have confessionals. We take all of our heartaches and guilt directly to Jesus, our personal High Priest.
So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God...who understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testing we do, yet did not sin...let us come boldly to the throne of our God and there receive mercy and find grace when we need help.
But, I can’t help but wonder if this stance on confessionals hasn't contributed to many of us Protestants to avoid the admonishment by James to confess our sins to one another. We tell the Savior our secret sins, but, without accountability and prayer support, we often find ourselves repeating those sins again and again. Even if we try really hard not to. We continually find ourselves echoing Paul’s thoughts in Romans 7:15, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”
I, for one, could really do with a confessional!
I mean, I like the idea of speaking through a screen to an ear pressed and ready to hear my confession. Let’s face it, looking someone in the eyes and confessing our sin isn’t easy. Sharing our uglies with people we love and respect takes courage. Many of us avoid it until we are forced to―before marriage counselors, debt counselors and the like―and even then there are some who refuse to come clean.
I also like the idea of waiting in line. Well, okay...I have a confession to make...seeing those folks waiting in line made me feel really uncomfortable at first...for me and for them. But, then it dawned on me. We’re all sinners in need of a Savior. We’re all on equal footing. We all fail and fall. So, waiting in line to confess our sin to one another should be as natural as our prayers to Jesus.
And then there are the prayers of confession themselves. We would do well to use these beautifully-written prayers from the heart when releasing our uglies to others.
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee,
and I detest all my sins of (___) because they offend Thee, my God,
Who art all good and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace,
to confess my sins, to do good, avoid evil,
and to amend my life. Amen.
Catholic American Version
My God, I am sorry for my
sins of (___) with all my heart.
In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good
I have sinned against you whom
I should love above all things.
I firmly intend, with your help,
to do penance, (penance: repent, make reparation, apologize), to sin no more,
and to avoid whatever leads me to sin.
Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered
and died for us.
In His name, my God, have mercy.
Anglican Modern Version
Precious Savior, thank you for forgiving me when I cry out to you. And, thank you, too, for the amazing healing that comes when I confess my sins to a powerful prayer warrior, who in turn prays for me and holds me accountable in confidential love.
*Not all Protestant denominations have removed confessionals. Episcopal, Anglican and some Lutheran churches continue this practice with the James admonition in mind.