The restorative quality of confession // L’Observateur
Professor Samuel Bray teaches an absolutely exceptional top-level course in remedies. I am taking it this semester, and it is a true honor to learn the law of remedies (including the distinction between law and equity) from a renowned national expert in the field. One of the things I noticed about the remedies (the course, not the concept) is how comprehensive it is. This course has basically taken everything we did throughout the first year of law school, ties it to a bow, and asks us to go deeper. I leave this class every Monday and Thursday thankful for the opportunity to think deeply about what happens after a court decides who should be responsible for what in a case.
Just before the autumn holidays, I went to confess at the Basilica. Now I’m a regular at the confessional, which has its pros and cons. Pros: Frequent use of the graces of the Sacrament of Confession is good for me, and the post-confession high is unbeatable. Disadvantages: between each confession, we sin (that’s why we go back), and sin is bad. In addition, I have too often fallen into the trap of making the beginning of a confession by heart: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen. Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. My last confession was about a week ago. In the passage of time … “
I have gone to confession once or twice since, but this confession in early October marked me for an analogy that the priest gave me. After I finished my confession he said that sometimes it is quite easy to associate the sacrament of confession with something like a car wash. When our cars are dirty, we take them to the car wash to be cleaned and then hit the road again, only to get our car to get dirty again so we go back to the car wash. But confession isn’t meant to be like a car wash, the priest said. Because, if we let Him, God does much more than just blot out the stain of sin. If we let it happen, God seeks to change our hearts and minds (metanoia in Greek)
You might be thinking, “Interesting thought on the Sacrament of Confession, Devin, but how does this relate to your medicine class?” Confession is like my medicine course in many ways, but most importantly, the analogy of the “car wash” the priest gave me in the confessional before the fall break drove my mind on. a spiritually (and legally) edifying tangent. I thrive most when I am able to relate the parts of my life that are unrelated to my legal studies to my legal studies, and the confessional is no exception. When the priest gave the “car wash” analogy, I had a eureka moment: the confessional is like an injunction, not damages.
Remedies as a course tries to describe the different things that a person can ask for in the event that they win a lawsuit that they have brought against someone else. In many cases, people sue because they want money to right a wrong. But sometimes people want something else. If the sale of a home goes wrong, people will often sue for a particular property, for example (this is called a “specific performance”). And most importantly for this column, sometimes people sue for Stop other people to do things. When you bring an action with this in mind, you are asking for an “injunction” or a court “ordering” another person or group. The injunctions are in the news right now because issues surrounding who the courts can order and when are at the center of the Texas abortion bill case, the Supreme Court has just decided to hear, but In short, if a court tells you to do something and you do it anyway, you can be put out for contempt. In addition, courts can “modify” an injunction to reflect changing circumstances, such as when an injunction is ambiguous and the parties do not know how to comply with it. Most importantly, unlike pecuniary damages, injunctions require ongoing mediation between a court and the parties to the dispute, because an injunction always asks you to stop doing something for an extended period of time rather than just doing one thing (paying back). money) and move on. your life.
So it is with our spiritual life and the way we should approach the confessional. Confessing is not like paying damages, as if you can pay a penalty (whether it’s money or doing a good job) and then spend the rest of your life like nothing has happened. God calls us to a deeper relationship than that. In the first place, he placed the natural law on our hearts so that we are able to discern right from wrong. It is akin to an initial court injunction. But sometimes we don’t listen and obey, just as injunctions are not always clear. In cases where I fall, it is the confessional that “modifies the injunction”, so to speak, setting me on the path to a genuine “change of life”, to quote an older form of the Act of contrition. But what about the notion of penance? It also fits that analogy, but simply as a sentence served for contempt of court. For sin is the misunderstanding (not a typo) of God, and our penance, given in the confessional, is how we correct it.
The next time you go to confession (and really, dear reader, you should go to confession), keep this in mind. God does not call us to do this to pay for our wrongs. His Son has already done it on the cross. We should not approach confession as if it will allow us to move forward in our life as if nothing had happened. The sacrament of confession must cash us, leading us to an ongoing and closer relationship with our Heavenly Father, and healing (pardon the pun) our hurt souls.
Devin is a member of the 2023 class of Notre Dame Law School. A native of Farwell, Michigan, he graduated in 2020 from James Madison College at Michigan State University. In addition to being a teaching assistant at law school, in his spare time he sings with the Notre Dame Folk Choir and discusses current legal developments with anyone willing to listen. He can be contacted at [email protected] or @DevinJHumphreys on Twitter.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.