If you’re Catholic, you’ve heard this before, right? Your Protestant friend says, “Why should I confess my sins to a priest?” Chances are he’s going to offer one of two arguments:

  • I have a personal relationship with Jesus. I can talk to God directly.
  • Jesus is the only mediator between God and man.

Well, that’s easy! Your first counter-argument can be an explanation: We’re simply doing what Jesus told us to do.

Catholics don’t just confess their sins to a priest. The priest is an “alter Christus”; that is, he stands in for Christ. When a Catholic confesses his sins in the presence of a priest, it’s Christ he’s talking to through the priest, and Christ who is offering forgiveness.

Why would I believe such a thing? The Bible tells me so! 

In Matthew 16:18-19, Jesus gives the power to forgive sins to Peter and to his successors. “And so I say to you,” says Christ,

“…you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Of course, even if Jesus said something only once, we are obligated to believe it. In this case, though, he chose to really emphasize the importance of the teaching. Again in Matthew 18:18, the Savior says:

“Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”

Still not convinced? Read His words in John 20:21-22 with an open mind, and see if you can come up with another explanation. Jesus said:

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

As he walked along the roads near Jerusalem, teaching the people, Christ forgave sins. But he was leaving: He would soon suffer death on the cross, would rise and would return to heaven at the Ascension. How would his followers know that they were forgiven, when they couldn’t hear those words from Christ in person?

Christ promised to be with his Church until the end of time; but he wouldn’t be here on earth physically and visibly. He delegated the power to forgive sins to other men, the Apostles who would lead his Church, so that future generations could feel confident that they were forgiven. He gave the power to forgive sins to the Apostles, who in turn passed it along to their successors, the bishops and priests.

So plan this week, as Lent is getting underway, to take advantage of this sacrament of healing, this great gift which Christ left for you.

If you’re uncertain what to say, how to go to Confession, you’ll appreciate this helpful guide from Busted Halo. Go ahead: Print it out and take it with you.