I have been thinking a lot about sin and confession lately. No, not because I have done anything particularly wrong recently. I have just been a run-of-the-mill sinner like most of us. Rather, it was on my mind because I was invited to go talk to one of the youth Sunday School classes about the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which is often colloquially called Confession. There are two kinds of confession in the church. There is the corporate or communal confession we do at nearly every Eucharist (also a part of the Daily Office) and there is individual or private confession, which is one-on-one with a member of the clergy.
There is an old pithy Anglican/Episcopal saying about private confession: “All may. None must. Some should.” Basically, the sacrament is open to anyone and no one has to do it, but some really ought to consider it! I take private confessions by appointment. Not many at St. Mary’s do it. I get about a half dozen requests a year. Most find the corporate confession we do to be sufficient for them and that is perfectly fine. If you do want private confession, know that the Sacrament is completely sealed. The clergy person cannot reveal what is said to anyone and nobody, not even the court, can compel the member of the clergy to share what is said. I am not even supposed to follow up with you about it after you have confessed and been absolved. If you want to talk more about it, you need to start the conversation back up.
As I mentioned early, the technical name of the sacrament is Reconciliation, not Confession. Why? It is a matter of emphasis. Reconciliation emphasizes the destination, not the path. Yes, one confesses their sins along the way, but the point is to be reconciled to God. At the end of private confession, the priest says “The Lord has put away all your sins.” All. Completely. For good. That complete absolution is the destination. The language in corporate forms of confession is less direct, but it is just as true: you are completely absolved of your sins. When you do confession, either privately or corporately, which do you notice more? Do you then to notice the bad - the things done wrong? Or do you notice the good - that God has completely and utterly forgiven you, full stop? Recognizing the latter is the key to transforming your life.