The Existential Encounter
+ Word Into Spirit + I. The Existential Encounter
*The following notes are taken from Word into Spirit: Pastoral Perspectives on Confession, a collection of articles compiled by editors Vasileios Thermos and Stephen Muse. I hope that the words offered bring insight into our relationship with God and this most Holy Sacrament and Crown of the Christian life.* 1. Synergy Between God and Man “Confession is Synergy. Words transformed by Spirit, issuing from a repentant heart as an offering to God of our human weakness, invite a cascade of God’s mercy and love, restoring us to life in communion” (Thermos and Muse 1). When we offer bread and wine to God, He transforms it into His Body and Blood. When we offer up our inner voice, our heart, to God, he transforms our heart into His image and likeness. This is the Sacrament of Confession. We must never question God’s overwhelming grace in this sacrament. The more we confess, the more truly we receive God’s mercy and love like a cascading waterfall. The more we confess, the more we give God something to work with. It is a journey of restoring the deep, hidden, inner self. 2. A Sacrament of Freedom and Authenticity “Confession is the mysteriological context in which persons unfold most in their own freedom and authenticity.” (Thermos and Muse 2).
Confession is the sacrament of authenticity. It is the art of learning to be yourself, before man and before God. We spend our lives hidding from ourselves, from others, and from God. Confession is the Church’s opportunity for the soul to become authentic. Afterall, how can God save us if we are otherwise? He cannot save something fake. Indeed, the process of becoming ourselves is very much the same process of our becoming God’s. 3. Vulnerability and Sanctification “In the service of confession — a mystery endowed with a cleansing, rejuvenating power to transform us — we often find ourselves uncertain and vulnerable, out of our customary depth, unwilling to be transformed, and unable to bear the personal freedom in which the Church welcomes and embraces us in this sacrament” (Thermos and Muse 3).
It is obvious why so many are anxious about confession. Most ‘churchiness’ is far easier. One can “go through the motions” and look good on the outside. Indeed, we are too often “unable to bear the personal freedom” of the Church. What is this personal freedom? It is the true life of the Church: learning to be oneself before God and others. 4. Where Two or More are Gathered “Through our personal noetic encounter and communion with God in Christ, experienced psychologically and lived out existentially and freely in community with others and with creation, we are transformed and saved. In the mystery of confession, where two are gathered in God’s presence, the transformative divine energies are active through being-in-communion” (Thermos and Muse 9). All salvation, all sanctification, all healing is in community. One can never have a “private” relationship with God. It is always in communion, with the Church, with the saints and angels, with a priest and bishop, with one’s fellow parishioners. This is why the devil likes to stir up Christian communities and divide the brethren. He knows, as we rarely remember, that it is only by being in relationship with one another that we can be in relationship with God. It is only by confessing to one another (James 5:16) that we confess to God. We cannot stand face-to-face with God in love and humility, until we can learn to do so before a fellow human being. Christ is present when two or more are gathered. This experience is exemplified most in the sacrament of confession, when two persons are together in a more than superficial way, indeed, in a profoundly vulnerable, honest, and repentent position, and in the sacramental presence of the Holy Spirit. What a beautiful and exciting sacrament — it is the sacrament of becoming truly human.