>Pardon me

>How do we hear confession these days?
The answer is that we increasingly hear them with banners of publicity (tabloid headlines) and humiliation. Everything seems to be so terribly public these days with the interesting excuse for broadcasting our sins being “it’s in the reader’s/hearer’s interest”. I don’t call it confession when someone has been hounded and a “confession” wrung out of them. That’s like a someone being wrestled to the canvas to find out who ate the last Rolo. That’s not confession but submission. The person confessing has to be in control of the conversation – not the other way round.
Confessions are normally heard by friends (including our confessions of not being a good friend for them). They are people we can confide in. We choose the confessor/friend to fit the confession and it’s someone whose judgement we can trust and whose love we can trust will not be shaken by the disclosure that “here’s a bit of myself you may or may not know that I don’t like and find difficult to live with” – or “here’s something I’ve done (or do) of which I am greatly ashamed. The confidence is that the confessor and the confession is going to help me to reshape how I view myself and amend what I do, and is going to keep the confession to the privacy of the confessional.
Sometimes a confession is out of the reach of friends – beyond their power to comprehend when they have to honestly say they cannot help us on this one. They might need the help of a counsellor – someone with the knowledge and the experience that is needed. I wonder whether something similar was going on in the story from the gospels of the those who bring their friend to Jesus and lower him through the roof so that he can hear Jesus’s good news that his sins are forgiven.
When we hear confession we normally hear something with which we are very familiar that all sorts of bells ring in our own hearts. Sometimes though we hear of something which is so beyond our own experience and understanding that we don’t know what to make of it. We have to cope with our shock, nausea and sometimes even revulsion. Thinking this through I have come to realise how important what we (in the trade) call theological reflection. Theological reflection is a process we can go through involving exploration and reflection to help us to the best possible response. We have to remember that the person confessing has also gone through that process of theological reflection to be at the point of confession. S/he will have had countless replays and sleepless nights weighing offences and options before coming to the conclusion that the best way forward on this or that is to confide in another.
Confessors should love them for that moral courage alone. They should be sure that God does. Then a smile, a touch, an “it’s OK” (genuinely, not cheaply, given)is sometimes all that is needed for someone to know that their sins are forgiven.
As Christians we need to celebrate these sacramental moments of reconciliation and healing. Perhaps we need to confess to our monopolising and over-institutionalising confession. We tend to focus in our worship on confessing our sins to God. Perhaps at the back of our minds is the question posed by the Pharisees – “Who can forgive sins – surely only God can forgive sins?” But Jesus did teach us to forgive one another, so let’s hope we respond well when someone has the confidence in us to say “pardon me”.

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