Baha’u’llah condemned the Catholic practice of confessing one’s sins to a priest:
When the sinner findeth himself wholly detached and freed from all save God, he should beg forgiveness and pardon from Him. Confession of sins and transgressions before human beings is not permissible, as it hath never been nor will ever be conducive to divine forgiveness. Moreover such confession before people results in one’s humiliation and abasement, and God—exalted be His glory—wisheth not the humiliation of His servants. Verily He is the Compassionate, the Merciful. (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, page 24)
Of course, when I was a Baha’i I believed this. You shouldn’t confess your sins to a priest. That’s unnecessary and embarrassing.
When I made the decision to join the Catholic Church, I had to go to confession for the first time and say every wrong thing I had ever done up to that point. And you know what? I didn’t feel embarrassed or humiliated. On the contrary, it felt good to get it off my chest, and know that the slate was wiped clean. I didn’t feel like I was getting away with it anymore.
When I was Baha’i, I did feel like I was getting away with it. Whenever I did something wrong, I said “sorry” to God alone. I said it silently, under my breath, when no one could hear me. And it was so easy to do that I never really improved my behaviour. It was easy for me to do that same thing over again, because all I had to do was tell God “sorry”.
Knowing that I would have to bring it up at confession made it far more real to me, and spurred me to change my bad habits. If I had had this during the years I was a Baha’i, my character would have improved earlier. I regret not having had that opportunity.
So my experience has been the opposite of Baha’u’llah’s claim. What I find humiliating is the memory of my youth when I acted like a cad, and kept doing so even when I knew it was wrong and even though I kept telling God I was sorry. I feel humiliated before God that I took his mercy for granted. Baha’u’llah’s teachings made it easy for me to do that. Far from finding confession humiliating, I am grateful for it because it helps me feel accountable for my actions.
There’s no reason to be embarrassed about confession. There’s nothing someone can tell a priest that he hasn’t already heard.
Besides, if Baha’u’llah is right and confession is humiliating, then how does he explain the fact that it is taught in the New Testament?
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5:16)
Christ himself directly taught it:
[Jesus] said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (John 20:21-23)
This quote from Christ directly contradicts Baha’u’llah’s claim above, “…as it hath never been nor will ever be conducive to divine forgiveness”. Obviously there was a time when it was conducive, or else Christ wouldn’t have said so.
God gave us confession as a gift, so that we can have assurance that he forgives us. When you go to confession, after you have stated your sins the priest says, “I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” It is comforting to hear that with your own ears. When we pray directly to God, though we can still ask for forgiveness, we can’t hear God’s reply.
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