Let me tell you a story about Bishop Fulton Sheen. It well illustrates how delicately God, through this sacrament of confession , takes away from us the terrible burden of sins. Really it’s like having a tooth out with anaesthetic. Jesus took all the pain in his Passion. We just feel the relief.
Bishop Fulton Sheen was on a plane journey, and after a time the man next to him, seeing he was a priest, said, ‘You know, Father, I’ve got all sorts of troubles.’ Fulton Sheen said, ‘What are they now?’
The man started telling him all his woes, and after a time the Bishop said, ‘You know, from the way you’re talking you might be a lapsed Catholic.’ And the man said, ‘Well Father, I suppose you could call me that.’
Fulton Sheen said, ‘How long is it since you went to confession?’
‘About twenty years.’
‘Are you married?’
‘Are you living with your wife?’
‘Are you having an affair with another woman?’
‘Well, fasten your seat belt, and I’ll hear your confession.’
When he had been to confession the man said,
‘You know, Father, I reckon God wanted me to sit here, because I had a seat reserved on a previous plane but I missed my connection, and I had to ring my wife and say I was coming on the next plane. This seat I’m sitting on was the only empty seat left on the plane.’
Fulton Sheen said, ‘Does your wife go to the sacraments?’ and the man said, ‘No.’ ‘Is it long since she went?’ ‘About the same as me.’
So Fulton Sheen said, ‘When we get there you must introduce me.’
At LA Guardia airport, the man introduced Fulton Sheen to his wife and they found a secluded part of the airport and he heard her confession too.
Now that incident shows how confession defuses what could be an explosive emotional situation, the return of the prodigal son.
Confession makes the return of the sinner to God easier, because it concentrates the sinner’s attention and energy on the one essential element in the whole process of reconciliation: the movement of the will away from sin and towards God, in other words, a change of heart. This sacrament cuts out the frills. It keeps emotion in a duly subordinate place and enables the sinner to come straight to the point.
God respects our free will
God respects our free will. He does not force anyone. He does not force the sinner to come back. But confession makes it all relatively easy and unembarrassing.
It took God’s wisdom and love to invent this sacrament, which frees us so gently from our sins. I once knew a nurse who worked in a maternity hospital. She was a very gentle soul, and she once told me that women who’d had surgery would ask for her to take their stitches out. They knew no one could be more gentle. That’s how Jesus is with our souls when he comes to us in this sacrament. No one could be more gentle.
But he does more than just take away our sins. He also strengthens us against further temptation. For there are other graces we receive in this sacrament besides the forgiveness of sins…”
– Fr Hugh S. Thwaites, S.J.