Good for the Soul

During the mid-1960s, traditional forms of private confession seemed to disappear abruptly from Roman Catholic practice, according to James O'Toole, associate professor of history at Boston College. The perfunctory nature of the confessional and changing notions of sin on the part of the laity led to the demise of this long-established ritual.

Does confession have a future? he wondered. O'Toole wasn't sure if there could be a recovery of old rites. Yet the disappearance of the traditional form for seeking reconciliation with God and with our neighbors has left a gap that has not yet been filled, he wrote.

Jim Forest, author of Confession: Doorway to Forgiveness, sees a hopeful trend. He believes that this once-common discipline is today making a comeback. "While confession is most easily found in the Orthodox Church, Catholics are increasingly finding their way back to this ancient practice," he writes. "In Protestant churches various forms of spiritual guidance and counseling are on the rise, perhaps paving the way for the recovery of a lost sacrament."

Writing for an ecumenical audience, Forest, a convert to Orthodoxy, argues that for too long Christians have been neglecting classical Christian themes such as sin, guilt, forgiveness, and penance. He denies their irrelevancy, concluding that though currently out of fashion, the human condition they describe and seek to address remains unchanged.

Confession reconnects people with God. It is necessary for good mental health and revitalized relationships. It has healing effects not only for individuals but also for communities. Many see therapists today when what they may really need is a trusted and understanding confessor. Opening to God in Christ through another human who stands as witness, not as the object of confession itself, can be profoundly salutary.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2002
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