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A personal lesson in Evangelization

I didn't think it would be such shocking news! After all, I had expected it even before I signed up for the 10-week long Bible Study course. Nevertheless, as soon as the words came to my ears I knew I had to say something; I knew that if I didn't it would be a sin of omission.

Even after the facilitator asked what my opinion on the matter was, I still found it hard to find the right words. I decided to make my statement as non-condescending as I possibly could.

"Well," I began, "I agree."
"Really!" The facilitator exclaimed, obviously surprised that I could answer in such a way. She knew me better than the others sitting around the table, and she knew that I am a hard-headed Traditionalist. Her surprise was understandable.
I took the opportunity to continue and make my case. "Of course, the Church holds that Christ did give the Apostles the power to forgive sins in His name when He said, "Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them, and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained," but really the forgiveness is between the sinner and God."

I wanted to continue, but everyone else seemed to jump in at the same time, so I maintained a certain degree of silence while the others sitting around the table casually discussed how they hardly ever go to confession for this or that reason, and finally, as their comments surrounding this touchy issue came to a close, I let out heavy sigh. I'm sure that the facilitator heard it, because she decided to move on to some of the other questions that we were required to study in the Acts of the Apostles course. I was about to cut in and explain my comment more fully when the woman that began that particular discussion by saying how she doesn't feel that she needs to go to the Sacrament of Confession in order to be forgiven said that she needed to leave to go pick up her son.

I knew immediately that I needed to make a decision about whether I was going to speak up for the Church or just keep silent and let everything pass over somewhat smoothly. I quickly weighed each option. On the first hand, while I knew that the Church teaches that Confession is a necessary Sacrament, and that it is (or used to be, I don't know for sure anymore) Church law that every Catholic go to Confession at least once a year, I didn't know for sure if the Church has professed doctrinally that the Sacrament is necessary for salvation. On the other hand, if I were to not say anything else, I knew I would always have next Monday night to state my case, and the case of the Church. Besides, I didn't want to accuse anyone of being a heretic without being absolutely certain.

So, as hard as it was for me, I let her leave and the rest of the night go by without another comment on the subject. It was hard for two very big reasons: First, because I tend to get prideful about Church Teaching, and when I get started I can't shut myself up, and second, because I had basically let everyone there believe that Confession isn't necessary because if you ask God to forgive you, even outside the Sacrament of Penance, He will do so.

I've done some research now, purchased a book on the Council of Trent, studied online for a time, and I still can't find a definite answer to my question. Come Monday night, I will not be able to call anyone a heretic. But I can still assert what I know to be Church Teaching, that some sort of atonement is required for our sins, which we get in the Sacrament and the Penance that the priest gives through the Sacrament, and that Confession is the only sure way that we know for sure that we are forgiven, and that Confession is required for Mortal Sins. I completely expect to have to enumerate the "three things necessary for making a sin mortal," and it's easy enough to spout Baltimore Catechism answers to things like that, but I don't know how the others in the group will take it, and I don't know if the truth will have any impact on them.

The last thing I want to do is offend anyone. I've gotten into enough discussions like this to know that the second anyone is offended is the second that they decide they don't like the Catholic Church. The woman that made the comment seems to be a nice and level-headed woman, so I don't think that she would take the truth badly, but the entire group seemed to sympathize with her last time, and the argument coming up on Monday will be the group vs. Ethan.

I keep telling myself that fear of offending anyone shouldn't keep me from defending the Truth and the Church, but I know I will have a hard time finding the words that are just right, the words that will bring them to love the Church and not shun Her, and at the same time not hold any part of the truth back. We'll see how it goes, and I'll post it here under "A personal lesson in Evangelization: the Conclusion."


  1. Cardinal Newman commented “A gentleman is one who never offends”. He did not mean it as a compliment but to describe one who tries to avoid an issue.

  2. Nicely put – but don't be afraid to speak your mind about your beliefs – offending someone is often the best way to open people's eyes; it's a reminder to re-evaluate what and why you believe what you do.

    As I'm not catholic, I don't believe some of the same things. I don't believe that it is necessary to go to confession and tell a human my sins. It's none of their business – it's between me and God, right? I don't think God's too busy to hear me say "I'm sorry" – he doesn't need a mere mortal to filter out the chaff. Also, the atonment for everyone's sin has already been paid. In blood. It was about 2000 years ago on a cross. Having to repeat a chant or a prayer a few times won't drive the sin out of me.

    Sorry, not trying to preach… I listed the above because I believe that you should stand up for what you believe in. If it's not a popular thing to hear, that doesn't mean you shouldn't say it. If you have something to back you up, then more power to you! Generally, religious organizations would have you believe what they tell you, no questions asked. I think that while a good background is essential, we should all strive to find out is meant by the teachings we receive. Some things were open to interpretation, some not.

    Do your research, read your Bible, and pray about it. You believe with your heart, maybe you should follow your heart as well. Don't be offended – say what you believe, and say *WHY* you believe it.

  3. The Catechism does say that confession to priest is required. ” 1456 Confession to a priest is an essential part of the sacrament of Penance: “All mortal sins of which penitents after a diligent self-examination are conscious must be recounted by them in confession, even if they are most secret and have been committed against the last two precepts of the Decalogue; for these sins sometimes wound the soul more grievously and are more dangerous than those which are committed openly.”[54]
    When Christ’s faithful strive to confess all the sins that they can remember, they undoubtedly place all of them before the divine mercy for pardon. But those who fail to do so and knowingly withhold some, place nothing before the divine goodness for remission through the mediation of the priest, “for if the sick person is too ashamed to show his wound to the doctor, the medicine cannot heal what it does not know.”[55]”

    If you want the actual Sacrament, that is. In my experience, it does make a difference. After Confession I feel cleansed. After a private talk with God, I don’t, even if I’ve listed my wrong-doings, and said (emotionally even) “I’m really sorry” and so forth.

    You might ask why Jesus insituted the Sacrament if all you needed to do was tell God you’re sorry and ask forgiveness.

    I had my own “what shall I say?” experience in Bible Study, but mine wasn’t on Church teachings . It was another person quoting a priest’s homily which completely mis-interpreted one of the parables. I shut my mouth before exlaiming “that’s completely wrong!” and instead flipped through the Bible, found the passage, *and* the following bit where Jesus explaines exactly what He meant (exactly the opposite of the interpretation quoted by the other student), read it aloud, and let the thing speak for itself.

  4. Thanks for the advice, Elaine. After one of my co-workers read the blog, we had a short philisophical discussion. While I understand that the actual confessing of sins is required for the sacrament of Penance, we discovered that my question is really more about whether the sacrament itself is required for Salvation. The obvious question that comes to mind from this is that of what happens to those people from other faiths who do not have the sacrament of Penance.

    Since only Mortal Sin places a person in a state that requires Penance to cleanse, and since committing a Mortal Sin is dependant on the person knowing that it is a Mortal Sin, can we say with certainty that the Church teaches that the Sacrament of Penance is necessary for salvation? At this point I’m hoping that just going over what I know for sure that the Church teaches is enough to get my point across. The Catechism and the Decrees of the Council of Trent should be sufficient for this.

    Thanks also to Gabril Austin and to watercooler! WC, while this isn’t really the appropriate blog for arguing over Scripture, I appreciate that you know and understand what you believe and that you stand up for that. That shall be a source of inspiration for me on Monday evening.

  5. Hi Ethan. Just looking through your blog after finding you through Amy Welborn. I look forward to returning…very nice job thus far. This particular post caught my attention because as a former Protestant who joined the Church in 1993 the lone sacrament I’ve had the largest challenge embracing has been this particular one. Although I have now fully integrated it into my formation and my prayer life, it is still the one that has the most question surrounding it among friends, fellow Catholics, and even family (and yes, myself). Like you, looked at a few books on the subject and recently have been reading one that has helped a lot. Not only in the “whys” about confession, but the “hows” as well. It was originally published in the 1940s and is called “Pardon And Peace”, written by Fr. Alfred Wilson.

  6. Okay, Ethan, I have one for you to think about. The Bible says that “the Truth is written on all men’s hearts”. I believe that this was an argument against staying pagan because everyone knows what is morally good and evil in the natural law sense.

    If you look at different cultures throughout history, you will find common threads of morality in most that I believe proves the point. Because of this, I believe that people naturally know what is a mortal sin and therefore still need the sacrament of Confession or to muster perfect contrition on their own. Yikes!

    If it were true that you can only know what is a mortal sin by knowing and believing Catholic teaching, then there really wouldn’t be any rational argument you could make for evangelization because non-Catholics would basically have a free pass.

  7. Jeff, it’s about 13 years late, but welcome to the Catholic Church! We carry a similar book: http://www.aquinasandmore.com/index.cfm/FuseAction/store.ItemDetails/SKU/2172/category/83/

    This one has the same title a subject matter, but it was written by Fr. Francis Randolph.

    That’s an interesting point, Ian. It is indeed something that I will have to think about.

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