Confession is a little-understood practice, and I’m not here to say that I understand it very well.
It seems related to this: Once, in a group prayer, the leader asked us to imagine an encounter with Jesus Christ. Then, we were asked to choose our expected response from the following: Would you fall to your knees in worship? Would you run to Him and embrace Him? Would you approach and simply begin speaking to Him? Or what?
I was among the minority who said that they would first fall to their knees, while the greatest percentage said they would first seek to embrace Him.
I was tempted, at the time, to feel a little superior about this. Fools! Don’t you know Who this is? You will be stopped dead (read: dead) in your tracks.
Yet I tried not to feel superior, and reflected on the variation in responses. To me, it remained an almost scientific fact: This is God. If you came within 10 feet of a lightning bolt, you would hit the deck. How much faster will you fall before the Almighty, and never even look up unless you are invited to? My answer was based in psychology, and perhaps physics. Certainly not sentimentality.
There is something to say for God’s tendency to veil His glory, and therefore allow a human to look upon Him and still live. Even the embrace – I have little doubt that there is something like a hug in Heaven, or better still, something more complete which hugs (and even sex) can only point to, but never approach.
Now here is a question for you: Have you ever experienced unmitigated shame? Shame so severe that your ego could not stand up against it? Shame that taught you to understand, “I am heartily sorry for having offended you”? Shame – and this comes from my too-limited experience – that shook your whole body with sobbing, scattering unending tears about your anguished face…
My suspicion is that, first of all, we will be no more capable of approaching God than we would a lightning bolt. Furthermore, I suspect that the very presence of God will, among other things, be an immersion in shame, and each soul will understand precisely how he or she fell short of holiness.
Confession teaches us that this shame, total though it is, should not cause us to despair. It’s more like the waters of baptism, from which we emerge washed and prepared. Then, as the Sacrament shows us, there is a magnificent reconciliation, and probably something much better than a hug.