Jesus Christ shed His precious Blood on Calvary, in order to wash out the sins of the world. But, though He thus shed His Blood, still He arranged that this Blood, so shed, should be applied by the priest to the soul of each individual and applied by means of the Sacrament of Penance, as when the sinner makes his confession. It was after the shedding on Calvary, not before it, that Christ instituted Confession, and this is an irresistible argument to prove that Christ meant that Confession was necessary, in order to apply His precious Blood and thereby to get sins forgiven. The best medicine in the apothecary’s shop will not cure unless it be applied. If Christ’s Blood, as shed on Calvary, were alone sufficient to forgive sin, should not Christ Himself know it; and, knowing it, how could He, Who was Truth itself, utter the lie when giving the commission to His Apostles: “Whose sins you retain, they are retained!”
The Church has, at all times, preached and practiced the doctrine of Confession. Saint Clement, a disciple of Saint Peter, taught in the first century, the necessity of Confession, in order to get the forgiveness of sins. Here are his words: “Saint Peter taught that we must reveal, even the bad thoughts, to the priests.”
Tertullian taught the necessity of Confession in the second century. He said: “Several fail to tell their sins, because they are more concerned about their honor than about their salvation . . . What is better, to conceal your sins and be damned, or to make them known and be saved?”
Origen, in the third century, taught: “If we are sorry for our sins, and if we confess them not only to God, but also to those who have a remedy for them, then they shall be forgiven us.”
Saint Ambrose, in the fourth century, writes: “But, they say, we show reverence to the Lord by reserving to Him alone the power of forgiving sins.”
Now, no one can more grievously offend Him than they who would annul His commands and throw upon Him the duty given to themselves. For, since the Lord Jesus Himself has said in His Gospel: “Receive ye the Holy Ghost; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” Who is it that honors Him the more, he that obeys His commands, or he that resists them?
Our Confession must be sincere. We must confess our sins just as they really are, without adding anything to them, or subtracting anything from them. What is doubtful should be told as doubtful; what is certain, told as certain; what is grievous, told as grievous. Saint Gregory says: “If you excuse yourself, God will accuse you; if you accuse yourself, God will excuse you.”
Our Confession must be simple. By this is meant that we must confine ourselves at Confession exclusively to our sins. The names of persons who may be implicated in our sins, or who may have given us scandal, must, on no account, be mentioned. Charity strictly requires this.
Let us, then, my brethren, make good use of Confession. Let us not be kept from it by sloth, nor by fear, nor by false shame. It is an awful thing to go to sleep at night in a state of mortal sin. It is easier to confess to one individual, tied up by all the laws of secrecy, human and divine, than to have to confess before the whole world hereafter.
Why should you be ashamed to confess your sins? Why not take the shame off yourself and put it upon Satan? When the devil is tempting the sinner to fall, he takes away the shame from him; but when he is going to make a Confession, the devil hastily gives back the shame. Let no one be ashamed, then. The power of forgiving sin has not been given by God to an angel, or to a saint, but to man, frail human creature, tempted and subject to fall like every one else; and therefore, disposed to feel compassion for the sinner, and to be full of mercy. Saint Peter, the chief and head of the priesthood, was permitted to fall into terrible sin, in order to teach a lesson to all. Saint Augustine cries out: “He who hears your sins is a sinner like you, and perhaps a greater . . . Why, then, do you fear, O sinner, to confess to man and a sinner?"
In the Sacrament of Penance Jesus remains as a Physician, inviting all who are laboring against temptations and heavily laden with sin to come and He will refresh and heal them.
Wherever there is a Confession made, there is Jesus present, silently and invisibly, saying to the confessor: “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them.”
Excerpted from a homily given by Reverend Patrick O'Keeffe, of the Archdiocese of Cashel, Ireland.
His homily is taken from "Discourses from the Pulpit" published in 1891.