This post is inspired by a conversation I had with my family concerning sin. They asked me “If someone went to confession and immediately died, would they go straight to heaven?” I told them no, you would still have to go to purgatory. They didn’t like that answer and followed up with “but doesn’t confession and baptism take away all sin?” Yes, I answered, but then I was stumped. As often happens when I’m questioned about my faith, I know WHAT I believe, but I sometimes forget WHY. Or at least I forget how to eloquently state why. So hence this post.
I think the problem with understanding that question is rooted in the consequences of sin. Many people see life as a monopoly game, and if you go to confession you pull the ‘Go directly to Heaven. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200’ card. All the stops are pulled out for you and you skip purgatory do not collect the purification there and dance right through the golden gates. Unfortunately sin is a little more serious than monopoly.
If we take a few steps back, past the Reading Railroad and even Mediterranean Avenue and we start at the first roll of the game, we might be able to understand more clearly the consequence of sin and the effects of confession. Adam and Eve go first and they royally mess up the game. “Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness” (CCC 397).
Before this Adam and Eve were full of original holiness, however now they have lost that grace. Along with them the whole human race has been marked by this first sin. The Human soul “is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin – an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence” (CCC 405).
That is why human beings need the Sacrament of Baptism for salvation. “Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God.” This concept is also difficult to comprehend. If Baptism erases original sin, why do we need confession? Even though original sin is erased, “the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle” (CCC 405). Have you sinned after your baptism? Then you know why you must continue to go to confession.
Sin has three effects on the human soul: guilt, stain, and punishment. All of these are washed away through Baptism and each time you go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. God, in all his mercy forgives you for any sin you may commit. No sin is bigger than the love of God. However, through the Sacrament of Confession only the eternal punishment is taken away, not the temporal punishment.
Think of it this way, a boy is playing baseball and hits the ball into the neighbor’s window and shatters the glass. The boy goes to apologize to the neighbor who forgives him for breaking the window (eternal punishment). Hopefully, if the neighbor is Christ like, she will forgive the boy and not hold it against him for the rest of his life. Just as when we sin and go to confession, God forgives our sins and does not hold it against us. However, the boy still has to deal with the temporal punishment of his mistake. Even though the neighbor forgives him, the boy still must pay for the broken window. We too must pay for our sins through temporal punishment and if we do not do so in this life time, we finish the purification process in purgatory.