Through confession, we receive spiritual direction. Most priests offer at least a few words of encouragement, of advice, of clarification of conscience about what the penitent has just confessed. It is only a brief encounter but it can be very helpful in the spiritual life. And for many, the occasion of confession is their regular opportunity to receive a deeper spiritual direction. In this regard, Pope As Pope St John Paul II said in his general audience on the 11th of April 1984: “Certainly, ‘spiritual direction’ (or ‘spiritual counsel’, or ‘spiritual dialogue’, as some prefer to express it at times) can be carried out even outside the context of the Sacrament of Penance and even by someone who is not endowed with Holy Orders. However, it cannot be denied that this function –insufficient, if it is done only within a group, without a personal relationship–is in fact frequently and happily linked to the sacrament of Reconciliation and is done by the priest, who is made suitable for special duties ‘in the Church’ by a ‘singular gift of grace’ (ibid., q. 35, a. 1). Thus the penitent overcomes the danger of arbitrariness and is helped to decide his vocation in the light of God.”
It is not easy to admit to another human being what we have done, especially when the priest knows us. However, I believe it is something to be desired? When we go to a doctor, do we go to a different one each time so that he can perhaps discover something new? Rather, we go to a doctor who knows us, precisely because they do know us. Then, if we are consistent, we should not act any differently in what refers to the wellbeing of our soul, which is far more important than our bodily health, especially if through that act we can receive valuable spiritual direction. Another benefit offered by confession is the penance which the priest asks the penitent to undertake. As we know, every sin harms the mystical body of Christ and the sinner must make up in some measure for the harm caused. This is known as temporal punishment, and it must be undergone either here on earth through good deeds, penances or indulgences, or in Purgatory. Left to our own devices we might be inclined to do too little penance, but the penance which the priest imposes makes up at least in some measure or the temporal punishment owing for our sins. Related to the penance which helps to make up for some of the temporal punishment is the reconciliation with the Church brought about through the sacrament. As all members of the Church are one in the body of Christ, every sin harms the mystical body, just as every good deed contributes to the spiritual welfare of the Church.
Through confession, we are reconciled with the whole Church and forgiven for the harm we have caused. This is more obviously the case when we are forgiven for mortal sins, which prevents the working of God’s grace within us. The priest, acting on behalf of the Church, brings about this reconciliation. This communal dimension of sin and its forgiveness is obviously another reason why Christ instituted a
Confession invariably gives great joy and peace of soul, on knowing that the burden of sin that was weighing on us has been lifted. The experience of many penitents is that this is one of the greatest joys they have had, especially when the sins were mortal and thus would have prevented them from going to heaven. To illustrate this joy, Christ gives us the example of the prodigal son, who is kissed and embraced by his father when he humbly confesses his sinfulness.