Friday, May 27, 2016

Why do I have to go to a human being to ask forgiveness from him? A reply to Mayor Duterte

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. My last confession was.... Photo credit: By Водник - Transferred from ru.wikipedia; (собственное фото), CC BY-SA 3.0.

QUESTION:
“Why do I have to go to a human being to whisper my sins and ask for forgiveness from him? Who are you to listen to my sinslex and give me absolution? You are not God.”--Mayor Rodrigo Duterte (Philippine Star)

RESPONSE

A. CONFESSING TO A LAY PERSON

1. Confessing in the Bible

Confessing one's sins to another human being is Biblical, even if that human being is not a priest, i.e. a laity. As Apostle James said:
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5:16)
2. Learning from Psychology
 
Psychologically, if you did something wrong and you tell it to your friend, don't you feel a bit lighter?
About 20 years ago, James Pennebaker, professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, began a series of studies that scientifically examined the effects of disclosing personal thoughts and feelings. Participants were randomly assigned to either: (a) talk or write about a difficult, traumatic, or upsetting event (disclosure); or (b) write or talk about a trivial topic (a comparison control group). While the disclosure process produced immediate feelings of distress, participants who engaged in this process experienced a number of benefits over time, including improved mood, reduced symptoms of psychological distress, fewer illnesses, and even improved immune functioning. Furthermore, Pennebaker and others found that the health effect is greater when people are less inhibited, disclose more deeply, and when their disclosure helps them form new meaning or insight on their experience. (Spirituality & Health)
That's why some psychologists earn money by just listening to people narrate their lives to uncover the underlying reasons behind their present emotional problems. Even a computer algorithm, such as ELIZA, which mimics a rephrasing technique of psychologists can already effect healing on many patients:
ELIZA is a computer program and an early example of primitive natural language processing. ELIZA operated by processing users' responses to scripts, the most famous of which was DOCTOR, a simulation of a Rogerian psychotherapist. Using almost no information about human thought or emotion, DOCTOR sometimes provided a startlingly human-like interaction. ELIZA was written at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory by Joseph Weizenbaum between 1964 and 1966. [1] When the "patient" exceeded the very small knowledge base, DOCTOR might provide a generic response, for example, responding to "My head hurts" with "Why do you say your head hurts?" A possible response to "My mother hates me" would be "Who else in your family hates you?" ELIZA was implemented using simple pattern matching techniques, but was taken seriously by several of its users, even after Weizenbaum explained to them how it worked. It was one of the first chatterbots.(Wikipedia: Eliza)
3. Asking forgiveness from the persons you hurt
 
If you sinned against a particular person, then it is also best to ask forgiveness to that person.

If you used your father's car and you crashed it on a tree because you were drunk while driving, your father may forgive you if you admit your fault. But he may also give you penance: the money spent for the car repair shall be taken from your allowance; meanwhile, you have to learn how to commute.

If you hurt your wife by having an affair with another woman, and you realized your mistake, you can go back to your wife and ask forgiveness, with a promise not to see the other woman anymore. Your wife may forgive you, but you also have to do certain things to assuage her anger. Well, you may need to court her again by providing proof of your your repentance: you become extra caring to her, you help her with the household chores which you normally don't do, you spend more time with her, etc.

That is why the story of the Prodigal Son is timeless: after squandering his inheritance on a life of dissipation, the son found himself tending the pigs and eating their food. And he realized that it is better to go back to his father and ask forgiveness:
So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. 21His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ 22But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, 24because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began. (Lk 15:20-24)

4. Asking forgiveness in Courts of Law

If you are accused of a crime, and you deny it even if you really did it, your penalty would be worse if you were convicted. But if you were sorry for the crime and asked pardon from complainants, they may forgive you, but you have to serve your sentence in court. And if you have a good conduct in prison, your sentence may be lighter and lighter, so that a 20-year imprisonment may be reduced to 10 years. If the judge acquits you, then it is the State which acquits you, because your crime is not just against another person, but against the State, against the people of the Republic of the Philippines.

That's why Christ recommends that we be reconciled with our brothers before they accuse us in court. As Christ said:
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you,p 24leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him.q Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny. (Mt 5:23-26)

B. CONFESSING TO A PRIEST

1, Christ, the Son of Man, forgives sins

Christ is Man. But since He is also Son of God, He also has the power to forgive sins which are offenses against God. The story of the paralytic illustrates this:
Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying. 5* When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” 6* Now some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves, 7“Why does this man speak that way?* He is blaspheming. Who but God alone can forgive sins?”b 8Jesus immediately knew in his mind what they were thinking to themselves, so he said, “Why are you thinking such things in your hearts? 9Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk’? 10* But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth”— 11he said to the paralytic, “I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.” 12He rose, picked up his mat at once, and went away in the sight of everyone. They were all astounded and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.” (Mk 2:4-12)
As Christ said:
Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.v 35A slave does not remain in a household forever, but a son* always remains.w 36So if a son frees you, then you will truly be free.  (Jn 8:34-36)
2. How the priests got their power to forgive sins

After His Resurrection, Christ gave the apostles the power to forgive sins:
Receive the holy Spirit. 23* n Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”  (Jn 20:22-23
As the Apostles preached throughout the world, they converted many people to the Gospel. If the believers became large enough in a city, the apostles appointed bishops and gave them the fullness of the priesthood to celebrate the Sacraments and govern the City of God, the Church.

In turn, the Bishops appointed Elders or Presbyters to share in their ministry. Who are the Presbyters. They're the priests! The Apostle James mentioned the presbyters or the priests in his instruction in celebrating the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick:
Is anyone among you sick?* He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the Lord,j 15and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.*  (Jas 5:14-15)
The priests are also empowered by the Bishop to hear confessions, since they are the bishop's co-workers in the ministry of salvation:
1567 "The priests, prudent cooperators of the episcopal college and its support and instrument, called to the service of the People of God, constitute, together with their bishop, a unique sacerdotal college (presbyterium) dedicated, it is, true to a variety of distinct duties. In each local assembly of the faithful they represent, in a certain sense, the bishop, with whom they are associated in all trust and generosity; in part they take upon themselves his duties and solicitude and in their daily toils discharge them."51 priests can exercise their ministry only in dependence on the bishop and in communion with him. The promise of obedience they make to the bishop at the moment of ordination and the kiss of peace from him at the end of the ordination liturgy mean that the bishop considers them his co-workers, his sons, his brothers and his friends, and that they in return owe him love and obedience.  (Catechism of the Catholic Church)
Thus, when you go to a confession to a priest, he hears your confession and provides you the absolution through the power granted to him by the bishop. Since the bishops are the successors of the Apostles and the Apostles were granted by Christ the power to forgive sins, then the bishops have the power to forgive sins, and this power they share to the priests.

C. Conclusion

Confessing one's sins to another person in general is not only recommended by Apostle James in the Bible, but also by modern psychologists for our emotional healing. We need to confess our sins especially to the persons whom we hurt and do penance to repair the damage that our sin has brought. This is true whether we confess our sins to our parents, to our spouse, or to the courts of law. In all these cases, we have to perform penance as a sign of our repentance, e.g. getting the car repaired, loving your wife more, or be imprisoned for several years. And when the court acquits you or releases you from prison, it is the whole State which acquits you and releases you from prison. The humble judge of the city is just a mere instrument of the State and his judgements are ratified by the State.

In the case of confessing our sins to a priest, it is true as Duterte claimed that the priests are not God. But Christ is both Son of Man and Son of God. He can forgive sins. And He gave this power to the Apostles through the Holy Spirit. The Apostles gave the power of forgiving sins to the bishops who succeeded them, and the bishops delegated this power to the priests belonging to his diocese. Thus, if a priest forgive your sins and gives you an absolution provided you perform certain acts of penance, e.g. spiritual and corporal works of mercy, it is Christ who truly forgives you and your sins are forgiven by God.
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The Confessions: Saint Augustine of Hippo (Ignatius Critical Editions)
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Forgiveness: A Catholic Approach
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Tales from the Couch: A Clinical Psychologist's True Stories of Psychopathology
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After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful, 2nd Edition
Prodigals and Those Who Love Them: Words of Encouragement for Those Who Wait
Prodigals and Those Who Love Them: Words of Encouragement for Those Who Wait
Papillon
Papillon
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Analysis Without Paralysis: 12 Tools to Make Better Strategic Decisions (Paperback) (2nd Edition)
The City of God
The City of God