“But I’m a good person!” Or so goes one of a myriad of common excuses for why someone doesn’t need to go to confession.
Confessing our wrongdoings is antithetical to the human problem of pride; we like to keep our sins to ourselves, and we definitely don’t like to admit when we’re wrong. When a Catholic — lapsed or otherwise — is encouraged to go to confession, another common response like the aforementioned one may be, “But I didn’t kill anyone today! Why do I need to go to confession?” Or for a non-Catholic, there may be a hang-up on telling a priest one’s sins because “I can just go straight to God.” True as this may be, St. Paul tells us to confess our sins to one another, meaning they are not meant to be bottled up inside — they are meant to be expunged.
The biblical reasons for confession are many, but even on a practical level, it makes sense that we would need to tell our sins to another human being every once in a while (for practicing Catholics, the Church requires a good “expungement” at least once a year, but she recommends going once a month). After all, this is where the Sacrament of Reconciliation gets its namesake — we must be reconciled to God for our wrongdoings against him and against others.
Of course, the beautiful thing about confession is that when we confess our sins to a priest, we are really telling them directly to Jesus. The Catechism says this about confession: “Christ has willed that in her prayer and life and action his whole Church should be the sign and instrument of the forgiveness and reconciliation that he acquired for us at the price of his blood. But he entrusted the exercise of the power of absolution to the apostolic ministry which he charged with the ‘ministry of reconciliation.’ The apostle is sent out ‘on behalf of Christ’ with ‘God making his appeal’ through him and pleading: ‘Be reconciled to God’” (CCC 1442).
Think of the last time you got into an argument with a close friend or family member. Maybe you said something you didn’t mean. Perhaps you acted a bit irrationally. In doing so, maybe you caused a rift in the relationship. In order to repair that relationship, a conversation needs to happen; you need to admit your wrongdoings, the other party needs to admit theirs, and you need to forgive one another. Forgiveness, however, requires mercy. This is essentially what happens between us and God in the confessional: we make things right with God.
So while it’s true that you probably are a “good person” and that you, in fact, didn’t manage to kill anyone today, that’s not really the point of confession. Confession is how we tangibly receive forgiveness from the Lord for our transgressions, and trust me: we all need it. There is absolutely nothing we could do on our own to merit God’s mercy, and we need it even for the tiniest of trespasses.
And therein lies the ultimate purpose of confession: We don’t deserve God’s mercy, but he gives it to us anyways. No sin is too big or small for God. His grace is always there, ready to be freely given to us; what’s stopping you from receiving it?