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As a priest, one thing I fight against is the idea of Catholicism as nothing more than a set of rules or just a moral code. If you see anything I post in the Catholicism subreddit on Reddit as (RJC02134), for example, you will often read my words “God is not a computer.”
Most computers work using a simple yes and no binary logic code. So, it is a strict set of rules a computer cannot work around.
Many Catholics turn God into the same type of computer. They understand our faith as nothing more than a set of rules as if they were written in the same binary code represented by ones and zeros.
For example, the rule is if one commits a mortal sin, he or she must go to confession in order to receive communion. You will also hear people say if you die in the state of mortal sin, you go to Hell. Both of these are true, but they are almost computer language and, therefore, they are incomplete teachings. Others teach one must confess in order to be forgiven of such sins or they go to Hell. So what is confession in these teachings? A process we go through so that God can forgive our sins and we can go to Heaven. Notice the black and white thinking in it.
All of that is true but like the other examples, these are grossly incomplete teachings.
Confession — more powerful than exorcism
The Sacrament of Confession is more powerful than exorcism. Many people do not know this. Why? Because you cannot make movies of people who thwarted demonic power because they went to confession. There is nothing dramatic there; the power of the sacrament is just as real, nevertheless. Exorcism is a sacramental. Confession is a sacrament.
The devil has only as much power over us as we give to him. We can open ourselves to his power by opening ourselves to him. The best way to do this is by sinning. This does not mean sin leads to possession but sin does open us up to a weakness the demonic may exploit against us.
In an interview I did with Fr. Robert Spitzer, SJ, he spoke of the actual exorcism on which the movie The Exorcist was based. He explained the priest and his team had to do the Rite of Exorcism many times over weeks in order to ultimately be successful. This bothered me. If God is as powerful as he is, should not one exorcism be enough? The answer, however, is simple, he explained. Each exorcism freed the possessed from one of the bonds that sin opened in his life. (In the actual case, the possessed was a boy.) So with each praying of the rite, the demonic power lost a little bit more of the grip it had on the boy because another binding it maintained broke.
When we confess our sins in the sacrament, we destroy or if it is strong, weaken the power of those sins over us. This is the real reason why the Sacrament of Confession is so important. It is not about following a rule, it is actually about bringing to the Lord our weakness and letting Him bring His healing upon it. Exorcists explain to me that one confession is more powerful than one hundred exorcisms. This is why a sincere and honest confession is so important.
This is also one of the reasons why holding back sins in a confession is problematic. It is not because it is against the rules, it is, but rather, you deny yourself the ability to allow God to break the power of this sin over you when you choose not to confess it. Even if you fall again into the sin, the repeated confession each time you fall weakens that grip the addiction has on you because you name it every time. Eventually, you will see yourself overcome the addiction with the help of the other tools available against addiction as well.
Confession — a sacrament of healing
The Sacrament of Confession is a channel of grace so powerful that it frees you from spiritual oppression. The late Father Rufus Pereira, an internationally known exorcist from India, often talked about the power of a sincere confession not only spiritually but even in the miraculous healing of some physical diseases. It is a powerful force.
We make a great error when we reduce it to a set of rules. “I have to go to confession because that is the rule.” “I cannot go to communion because I committed a mortal sin and that is the rule.”
We understand the rules of the Sacrament more when we see the whole picture rather than just the rules.
For example, let us say that there is a mound of dirt in an abandoned area in your town. The rule is you cannot go near the mound of dirt and must not enter the abandoned area in your town. No one knows why but that is the rule. If you do go to the abandoned area in your town and step on the mound you need to tell the police chief immediately or if he finds out he will cast you out of your town.
So many people in the town know the rules and follow them. Others think the rules are stupid and others teach people to reject the rules anyway and do what they want.
The problem in that scenario is few know the point of the rules which weakens the weight of the authority of law.
Later your friend gets sick and tells no one why. No one can address his illness until someone asks if he broke the rules. He admits he did and learns the rules were there because the mound of dirt is radioactive. He has radioactive poisoning.
This is the problem with Confession. So many people know the rules and decide for themselves whether to follow them but they don’t know the why of them. If they understood the power of confession, they would not go just because it was the rule, they would go because they recognize there is great power in that sacrament.
The intensity of hard-heartedness
I heard a “Confession” several years ago. It actually was not a true confession. From the other side of the screen from which I could only hear his voice, he told me why he rejected every rule in the Catholic Church. It was painful to hear not because of what he said but what I could feel. Literally, his hardness of heart was so severe I could feel it. It was one of the most disturbing events in my priestly life even though he did not talk about anything dramatic. He just talked about how he lived his Catholicism his way and no one would stop him.
Remember, the saints taught that we experience Christ mostly through humility. When we humble ourselves and go to confession, we open ourselves to God’s power and mercy. The whole process is so mundane and undramatic, it rarely becomes the major plot in a movieؙ — horror or otherwise.
So, the next time you are in some online Catholic forum and someone starts spouting off the rules for one reason or the other without any understanding of them, you can say what I do: “God is not a computer.” The rules reveal a deeper spirituality teaching us the depth of God’s merciful love.