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Emmanuel, Jesus and the Sacrament of Confession

The two names assigned by the angel to Mary’s child are Immanuel and Jesus. They are both verbs, not nouns. Immanuel means “God-is-with-us” and Jesus means “God saves.”


As Immanuel, God is with us in his divine compassion, which embraces and permeates us completely. As Jesus, God saves us, from sin and death. His compassion leads to his salvation. Immanuel becomes Jesus. God the compassionate becomes Jesus the saviour from sin. His compassion does not stop at just feeling the pain caused by our sins, but in removing them at the cost of his own blood.


Here is the connection between the crib and the Cross, between the humility and obedience which brought the Son of God to earth and the humiliation in obedience which lifted him up on the Cross. To save us from sin he had to become one of us. Pope St. Leo the Great says that “the Conqueror’s victory would have profited us nothing if the battle had been fought outside our human condition.” “The whole human race would still be held captive under the dominion of Satan.”


Just as Christ’s humble obedience to the Father destroyed our sin and death, so for us to share in his victory, we need the humble obedience to repent and confess our sins. Just as the lance pierced the heart of Jesus to unleash the blood and water that would cleanse our sins, so we need to let the laser beam of the Holy Spirit to pierce our hearts to pour out our sins and be cleansed by the death of Jesus. Which is the same thing as saying sacramental absolution.


Christ made himself the sacrifice that takes our sins away. We need to make the sacrifice of letting him take them away. Just as he did not save us from a distant heaven without coming in the flesh, so we who believe in Him must come to receive that salvation in the flesh. Just as he spoke the words which explained the meaning of his act of salvation, so we must speak in words the sins which express our need for that salvation.


It is true that sin can be forgiven in different ways, but the most apt and ordinary way which Jesus himself gave us, expert knower as he is of our human condition, is through the sacrament of confession which brings forgiveness and reconciliation.


To confess sacramentally is an act of humility, of obedience, of faith and of trust. It is an act of loving gratitude to the Crucified. It is also an act of profound compassion towards ourselves. It is likewise a powerful act of compassion towards others since it frees us to love them more – indeed, to love with the very power of Christ’s own supreme love given to us in the grace of absolution. The social consequences of the practice of sacramental confession are potentially enormous. For the more we are each reconciled with God, the more a culture of reconciliation can influence our relationships at home and beyond.


Of course, we need to be honest in admitting and confessing our sins. We need to ask the help of divine grace to see them. The very things we may be inclined to deny or hide are the very things which most need confessing and the power of Christ’s saving love. Absolution is the solution. It restores true inner freedom, a renewed fulness of self-respect, the deep joy of being completely at peace with God and with others. It is an immense – immense! – gift of spiritual renewal and salvation which the One who is with us in compassion ardently desires to give us. I suspect there would be fewer bad moods and pettiness, fewer family feuds and bickering and a lot less self-medicating of whatever kind if the Sacrament of Confession, which we can easily call the Sacrament of Spiritual Freedom, were practiced.


And with what greater joy will Jesus in the Eucharist enter a heart which His absolution has liberated and restored to its original baptismal beauty!


I invite everyone who has not already done so to approach the cleansing and healing Sacrament of Confession before Christmas. Through it, may God-with-us become a personal experience of God-with-me. May the experience of the name of Jesus also become a profound encounter with the One who saves me from my sins. O come, o come, Immanuel! O come, o come, Lord Jesus!