“And He said: Young man, I say to thee arise. And he that was dead, sat up and began to speak”.
The recount of Christ raising the young man from the dead seems, at first sight, to have little connection to the preceding epistle, or even to the sacrament of confession. Yet upon further examination the connection is exceedingly clear and can be used to make a beneficial meditation upon the necessity of that sacrament. Christ brought the young man back to life on account of the tears of his mother, who mourned the loss of her only son. As physically incredible as this is, such a miracle is not as wondrous as the forgiveness which one receives in the confessional in a worthy confession.
For the effect of confession on the soul, especially a soul in mortal sin, is one of giving life to the dead. Through mortal sin the soul rejects God and His grace, closing oneself off from the path of virtue and choosing the path of perdition instead. If one were to carry on and eventually die in such a state, then hell would of course be the result. But through confession, this spiritual death can be overcome, much as the physical death was overcome. The Heavenly Physician in both instances is Christ, although in the regular sacramental confession it is not Him we see, but the priest. The confessional box receives those who are spiritually sick and dead and sends them away healthy and alive.
Indeed, the necessity of confession is paramount for attaining Heaven, for who can claim to pass through life without falling into temptations and giving way to sin. Here is where we find a link to the Epistle, which states that “what things a man shall sow, those also shall he reap. For he that soweth in his flesh of the flesh also shall reap corruption”. The wages of sin and virtue and fundamentally opposed: one brings death and the other brings life. One cannot escape the consequences of his actions, for even though a visibly evil man may seem to have great success, he must ultimately face the justice of God at the seat of judgement. How is it then, that we can hope to present ourselves before this heavenly court in a worthy state, if we do not avail of the healing graces found in the sacrament of confession? Hence, confession is an absolute necessity for those who have fallen into mortal sin since baptism.
Even if one has the strength of virtue and will to avoid mortal, the great number of venial sins committed in life darken the conscience and lessen the ability to perform acts of virtue. These venial sins act as a toxin which gradually but surely affects the system. With time and repetition they can lead to spiritual apathy and a rejection of truth. Confession is necessary for these also then. But it is also a channel of graces, bestowing these gifts: a remission of the eternal punishment and at least a partial remission of the temporal punishment due to sins; the restoration and increase of sanctifying grace; a renewed strength to avoid sin; the restoration of the merits of the good works which we lost through mortal sin. (1)
With such graces found in the sacrament why would one wish to avoid it? The Epistle teaches that “if we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit”. Such is not possible without the sacrament of confession. It strengthens us in the path of virtue, and gives life to those who have fallen into death. We are urged in the Epistle - “in doing good, let us not fail”. Yet if and when we surely fail, what could one do if he did not have access to the pardon and forgiveness of God in confession?
The difference between the Gospel passage and sacramental confession is of course the matter of repentance. Whilst the tears of the mother moved Christ to perform the miracle and restore life to her son, it must be the tears of each individual truly repentant of his own sin, which is the requirement for a worthy confession. A rejection of God’s grace, as occurs in mortal sin, requires a similiar return to Him. Repentance and a firm purpose of amendment must also be present in order that the spiritual health of the soul can be made anew. Without these two aspects, one cannot present himself at the confessional and expect to be forgiven for his offences. As St. Paul teaches in the Epistle, “for if any man think himself to be some thing, whereas he is nothing, he deceiveth himself”.
“And he that was dead, sat up and begun to speak”. These lines from the Gospel appear directly after the young man was brought back to life and present an important teaching about the disposition of the one who confesses his sins. Just as contrition and a purpose of amendment are necessary, these must be put into action. In other words, the renewed spiritual life must be a vivacious one, not merely a state of inactivity. The young man did not return to life but remain asleep in bed. Rather he got up and began to converse with those around him, with his mother and with Christ. He was determined to use his life properly and not to waste it. In like manner, after receiving the healing graces of confession, one cannot be idle or lazy in the spiritual life, but firmly active, desiring to make the most of this gift and to draw closer to God as a result.
The sacrament of penance is the great sacrament of all who desire perfection. The devout soul finds in the confessional the loving forgiveness of the Redeemer, who tirelessly pardons the sins of those who come before Him with contrition. Through a worthy confession, we are restored to life and the grace which we rejected is returned to us. In order to make such a good and holy confession, we should carefully follow the steps of preparation, ensuring that we are fully aware of the faults which we have committed, and the gravity of these transgressions. When accusing ourselves of these sins, we ought to succinctly relay the details which are necessary, in order to present an honest account of our sins. Yet we should not attempt to excuse ourselves in any way - God knows the truth of our lives and any attempt to deceive Him only deepens the wounds which we have already caused. Having confessed to the priest, we should humbly and lovingly accept the penance which he imparts, remembering that “our sins have increased the bitterness of the chalice that was offered to Christ in Gethsemane”.(2) The acceptance and performance of this penance is a good sign of our contrition and the firm purpose of amendment, both of which are necessary in order to make a worthy confession.
We may be often tempted to avoid confession out of fear or shame, yet we should turn to this sacrament as one of the most essential weapons in our fight against sin. It is such an incredible gift in the spiritual life, to be able to throw ourselves at the foot of the cross, confess our sins and to be then forgiven. Even if our sins appear to us as the most terrible, we should not hesitate to avail of the sacrament, since Christ is waiting for us to confess to Him, ardently desiring to bestow His forgiveness upon us and draw us to His Sacred Heart. Fear of the confessional does not come from God; He wishes us to be free of our sins, not to avoid the sacrament and thus remain enslaved to sin. These are the words of Bl. Marmion, who thus beautifully describes the sacrament of penance: “each time God pardons us, each time the priest gives us absolution, it is as if all the sufferings, all the merits, all the love, all the Blood of Jesus were presented to His father and applied to our souls to restore life to them”.(3)
The Epistle and the Gospel form an exhortation and a promise. The exhortation is found at the end of the Epistle in the words “whilst we have time, let us work good to all men”. It is a command to go forth and “walk in the Spirit” as the Apostle stated earlier. By doing so, one is able to follow the law of God but also to instruct his fellow men. But when the time arrives, as it so often does, that this command is neglected and rejected, the words of the Gospel bestow the promise of God’s life-giving pardon which is to be found in the confessional. He restores life to those who come before him, humble, and desirous of being united to Him once more.
1: Connell, Baltimore Catechism No 3, q382.
2: Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Spiritual Life, 400.
3: Dom Marmion, Christ the life of the Soul, 180.