I’d like to continue to develop what I started in my last morceau about mistakes that can be made in celebrating the Sacrament of Penance. You probably recall my strong criticism of persons who deny that sin is sin! Sadly, in confession too many people try to rationalize away their human imperfections, instead of simply bringing these to the Lord for His pardon.
Some people’s desires to obtain approval for their wrongdoing even lead them, in confession, to try to obtain some kind of “permission” for them to continue to do the wrong thing. Strange, but true! The priest in confession will always treat the penitent with kindness and understanding, but he will never approve of continued wrongdoing.
Your confessor can help you clarify in your own understanding and conscience your moral obligations before God. He can help you evaluate your sin and its gravity (or not!). He can teach and explain. He will understand and sympathize in your struggle to overcome bad habits, and will join you in being realistic as you imperfectly face the future. He surely will pray for and with you for guidance and strength. But he won’t approve of any decision by you to act contrary to the laws of God or His Church. He won’t pretend that it’s okay to continue incorrect, immoral behavior.
Some people think that in the privacy of confession the priest might assist a person to make a so-called “conscience decision” to act in a way that cannot be approved-of publicly. No, he can’t. For example, people whose irregular marital situation or improper embrace of non-Catholic religious practices have made them ineligible to share in the Eucharist will find an understanding ear and sound advice, but they won’t get approval to receive Holy Communion. A confessor who would do such a thing would not only be wrong, but sinning gravely himself by leading others into sin. And Jesus had some particularly harsh words for people like that: “Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the person through whom they occur. It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin” (Luke 17:1-2).
In the end, what is confession for? Bringing our sins to God for forgiveness. The confessional or reconciliation room is the place where our sins begin to end, not where they might continue.