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."
He lives with his lovely wife and eleven kids in northern Colorado.