Living in the Two Hearts

My Spiritual Insights and Musings

Reconciliation Part II… Why a priest?

Posted by Anne Elizabeth on September 16, 2008

Let us see what Scripture has to say on the subject?  First, who were the first whom Jesus called?

Answer: The Apostles: Andrew, Peter, James, John, Phillip, Bartholomew,Thomas, Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zelot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus (cf. Luke 6: 14-16)

Now, what authority did Jesus give these men?  BIG QUESTION…scriptural answers coming right up!

Jesus is teaching His Apostles (cf Mt 18: 10-14) about the “lost sheep” and how they are, “not to despise one of these little ones”…it was well known that the religious authorities of Jesus’ day believed themselves to be ABOVE the people and often despised them (cf. Luke 18: 11-12), the common people because “they” could not know any better (cf. Jn 7: 45-52).

He then follows with instructions on forgiveness (cf Mt 15-22) and says in verses 17 to 18…

If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

A Good Side Note: The words bind and loose mean; whomever you exclude from your communion, will be excluded from communion with God; whomever you receive anew into your communion, God will welcome back into HisReconciliation with the Church is INSEPARABLE from reconciliation with God. ~CCC§1444

This is an extension to the Apostles from what Jesus had already given to Peter – the Rock on whom Christ will build His Church (cf Mt 16: 18-19).  The Church is clearly seen FIRST as the Apostles AND THEN LATER as those whom hear the preaching of the Apostles after Pentecost and are BAPTIZED as Jesus instructs them to do – Mt 28:19 – the Great Commission.

Now, this isn’t the ONLY TIME Jesus gives the Apostles the AUTHORITY to forgive sins on earth.  After Jesus was raised from the dead, He appeared to the 10 (because Judas Iscariot had killed himself by hanging earlier, and Thomas was out somewhere), and said to them…

“Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent Me, even so I send you.”  And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  ~Jn 20: 19c-23

Having established, Biblically, the authority of the Apostles to follow in their Teacher’s footsteps (cf Mt 9: 4-6) and be able to forgive the sins of men, we now turn our attention to the basic question of…

Did the Apostles have the ability to live forever…and are they still alive today… OR … did they appoint successors to continue the Great Commission and work of God?  Well, I’d have to say, they did not live forever – most of them died as martyrs for the faith – so they had to appoint successors to continue the work the God had given them to do.

This is where the direct term of Apostolic Succession comes from.  It’s not made up, it IS what IT IS.  When the Apostles received the power to forgive sins, and then later at Pentecost, the power of bold preaching, these gifts became theirs to “give away to others” by…

THE LAYING ON OF HANDS

Jesus was the first to demonstrate this each and every time He healed anyone, He always would lay His hands upon them and/or upon that which was afflicted.  Even the woman who was healed just by “touching Jesus’ garment” knew the power to heal resided with Him (cf Mt 9: 20-22).  So why not the Apostles follow the lead of their Master and Teacher?  They did!

Our first example of this is found in Acts 6: 3-6, when the Apostles appointed “seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom,…”  Seven were chosen and…

set before the Apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands upon them. ~Acts 6:7

This OCCURRED AGAIN in Acts when Saul – later to be called Paul – was commissioned to go with Barnabas to preach to the Jews in far reaching places.  Peter had just returned from his miraculous release from prison and all were giving thanks to God for hearing their prayers.  While they were…

…worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”  then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. ~Acts 13: 2-3

And anyone who had read the NT knows what awesome work Paul did, some among the Jewish people but much more among the Gentiles.  Even he had the opportunities to lay hands and pass on his office of Apostle.  This he did with Timothy…

the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek. ~Acts 16:1

It was during this time, as Paul was preaching to his fellow brethren, the Jewish people, that he desired for Timothy to accompany him on his journey, as he and Barnabas had separated company.  It was during this time of preaching that Paul wanted to return to Jerusalem but not before reaching the people in Macedonia and Achaia (Acts 19:21).

Well, there is only so much one man can do, especially when traveling on foot, so he…

…sent into Macedonia two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus… ~Acts 19:22

Jesus didn’t send out His Apostles without first giving them the power to preach, teach, and heal… neither did Paul.  We find out later that Timothy was indeed commissioned (cf 2 Cor 1: 19-22), when Paul tells him…

Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic uterance when the council of elders laid their hands upon you.  Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by doing so you will save yourself and your hearers. ~1 Tim 4: 14, 16

Timothy was a bishop, sent out by the Apostle Paul to assist the church in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3), but also to the church in Corinth (1 Cor 4:17; 16: 10-11), and to the church in Philipi (Phil 2:19).  In short, he was greatly loved by Paul for his faithful service to the Word of God and the teachings of Our Savior, Jesus Christ (cf Phil 2: 19-22).

And the Appointment of Priest comes from the Bishop…

“Christ, whom the Father hallowed and sent in to the world, has, through His Apostles, made their successors, the bishops namely, sharers in His consecration and mission;  and these, in their turn, duly entrusted in varying degrees various members of the Church with the office of their ministry.  The funcion of the bishops’ ministry was handed over n a subordinate degree to priests so that they might be appointed in the order of the priesthood and be co-workers of the episcopal order for the proper fulfillment of the apostolic mission that had been entrusted to it by Christ.” ~ CCC§1562; see also again reference in Acts 6:3-7

Remember:

Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance for all sinful members of [His] Church: above all for those who, since Baptism, have fallen into grave sin, and have thus lost their baptismal grace and wounded ecclesial communion. It is to them that the sacrament of Penance offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification. The Fathers of the Church present this sacrament as the second plank [of salvation] after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace.” ~CCC§1446; Tertullian, De Paenit. 4, 2; Council of Trent

Since …

Christ entrusted to [His] apostles the ministry of reconciliation, bishops who are their successors, and priests, the bishops’ collaborators, continue to exercise this ministry. Indeed bishops and priests, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, have the power to forgive all sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” ~CCC§1461

Note, it’s by the virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders and in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, are your sins forgiven you.  This is most important to remember!

The priest and bishop are standing in the Person of Christ – or as the Latin says it – En Persona Cristi. It is really Christ who is forgiving you of your sins when absolution is pronounced.  It is really Christ who hears your confession and reads your heart, as He works through His minister, the priest:

The confessor is not the master of God’s forgiveness, but its servant. The minister of this sacrament should unite himself to the intention and charity of Christ. He should have a proven knowledge of Christian behavior, experience of human affairs, respect and sensitivity toward the one who has fallen; he must love the truth, be faithful to the Magisterium of the Church, and lead the penitent with patience toward healing and full maturity. He must pray and do penance for his penitent, entrusting him to the Lord’s mercy. ~CCC§1466 (emphasis added).

When he celebrates the sacrament of Penance, the priest is fulfilling the ministry of the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep, [that is Jesus Christ, cf. Jn 10:11-15] of the Good Samaritan who binds up wounds, of the Father who awaits the prodigal son and welcomes him on his return, and of the just and impartial judge whose judgment is both just and merciful. The priest is the sign and the instrument of God’s merciful love for the sinner. ~CCC§1465

SIDE NOTE: The priest, standing in the place of Christ, is why women cannot be priests.

To confess ones sins, one must first:

…endure all things willingly, be contrite of heart, confess with the lips, and practice complete humility and fruitful satisfaction. ~ CCC§1450; Council of Trent (1545- 1563).

From the very depths of our hearts we must recognize all that we have done, all that we failed to do, both to our selves, our neighbor and our God.  We must not dwell in self pity, but instead embrace forgiveness that can be obtained in this beautiful Sacrament for all who have been baptized into His Church.

For contrition – the sorrow for one’s sins…

…is the sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again .” ~ CCC§1451;Council of Trent (emphasis added).

Its efficacious grace that comes from this sacrament IS VITAL  to our continual growth in holiness.  Therefore, it is not to be taken lightly.  The soul seeking that repentance should understand the significance and seriousness of this free gift of FORGIVENESS.

The reception of this sacrament ought to be prepared for by an examination of conscience made in the light of the Word of God. The passages best suited to this can be found in the Ten Commandments, the moral catechesis of the Gospels and the apostolic Letters, such as the Sermon on the Mount and the apostolic teachings. ~ CCC§1454; Cf. Deut 5:1-22; Mt 5:7; Rom 12-15; 1 Cor 12-13; Gal 5; Eph 4-6; etc..

When will you have this?

When it arises from a LOVE by which GOD IS LOVED above all else, contrition is called “perfect” (contrition of charity). Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. ~ CCC§1452; Council of Trent (emphasis added).

I’ve GOT IT!  Now what?  Now you go and visit your local parish priest…

But my priest knows me well.  I know you’ve said that he sits in the “Person of Christ” and it is really Christ who hears the sins and forgives the sins, but I can’t help feeling really embarrassed about confessing to someone who knows me.”

DO NOT BE AFRAID!  Fear is NOT of God…

The minister of this sacrament should unite himself to the intention and charity of Christ. He should have a proven knowledge of Christian behavior, experience of human affairs, respect and sensitivity toward the one who has fallen; he must love the truth, be faithful to the Magisterium of the Church, and lead the penitent with patience toward healing and full maturity ~ CCC§1466

Thus you have NOTHING TO FEAR…the Priestly order to this sacrament is taken quite seriously by any conscious bound priest…

Given the delicacy and greatness of this ministry and the respect due to persons, the Church declares that every priest who hears confessions is bound under very severe penalties to keep absolute secrecy regarding the sins that his penitents have confessed to him. He can make no use of knowledge that confession gives him about penitents’ lives.  This secret, which admits of no exceptions, is called the “sacramental seal,” because what the penitent has made known to the priest remains “sealed” by the sacrament. ~CCC§1467

The priest is In the Person of Christ, not something he takes lightly.  Ask any good priest, and make a good confession.  Jesus is waiting for you with open arms!

Next Post: The power of Confession and its ally: The Eucharist!

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