Madonna House

Confession: The Kiss of Christ

by Catherine Doherty

When I was a young girl, my mother said, “Catherine, it’s time for you to go to confession and be kissed by Christ.” Isn’t that a nice introduction for a child? So I would go to church, kneel before a priest, and tell him my sins.

But in my imagination it was much more than that. My mother very gently and simply explained it.

I had committed a fault and knew that God wouldn’t like it. So I sort of ran towards him and, sitting on his lap and putting my arms around his neck, I would kiss him—like I did my father—and tell him how sorry I was for having done something he didn’t like.

In my imagination, Christ hugged me and said something like, “That’s all right, little girl. I know it’s not easy to always do the right thing.” Then, he would kiss me and bless me and say, “Now go and play.”

It was a simple thing, not very complicated. Perhaps the way my mother taught me stayed with me, because I was never afraid to go to confession. Always before my eyes were the love and forgiveness of God and his immense mercy.

But these days, many people have rejected confession. They are not interested; they don’t go there very often. What they miss! I always feel a little sad when people don’t go to confession often, because they miss so much. Mostly, they miss being kissed by God.

Unfortunately, we are all sinners. But God loved to be with sinners, and that’s a consolation. Let us simply, in a childlike way, allow our hearts to kneel (hearts kneel, you know) and ask forgiveness of God. For God said, unless you are a child, you don’t go into heaven (cf. Mk 10:15).

Then, we also need to ask forgiveness of everybody we’ve hurt, even if they are not here. Even if they’re dead. We can simply say, “Please, forgive me.”

So what is all this talk about not going to confession? Didn’t Christ say, “I have come not for the healthy, but for the sick, and not for the just, but for sinners” (Lk 5:31–32)? He spoke of himself as a physician, a healer.

As a sick person goes to a doctor; so a childlike soul goes to Christ to be consoled, to be healed, to be forgiven. It is like a lover running into the arms of the Beloved.

Who of us would not mind standing in line before a doctor’s office if he or she were sick? Do we really mind standing in line to be kissed by Christ?

Jesus Christ instituted this beautiful sacrament. He said so clearly to the apostles, I give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven (Mt 16:19).

Receive the Holy Spirit, for those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained (Jn 20:22–23).

It is a terrible, awesome power that those men have, these successors of the apostles. A man just like us, a very ordinary man with humble hands of clay, has a power beyond our understanding, the power to loose and the power to bind. The mystery of the priesthood is immense.

But bending our knees and going to confession is one of our great difficulties. We do not want to go. Why? If we have sinned, all we need to do is walk into the confessional and say clearly and simply, “Father, I have sinned. Here are my sins. Absolve me, please.”

And a man, an ordinary man, fat or thin, young or old, handsome or ugly, says, “I absolve you.”

What happens? A miracle happens. God said, “Which of these is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Get up, pick up your bed and walk’” (Mk 2:9), thereby making those proud people understand that he had powers beyond all other powers. He had the power to forgive sin.

In that confessional, a voice in many accents, but the same voice of Jesus Christ says, “Take up your bed and walk,” meaning your sins are forgiven. That is what the priest says.

Well, that is joy, isn’t it?

So we are sinners. Obviously, we are sinners. God knows that, and he consorted with sinners, so he has given us a sacrament that I call “the kiss of Christ.” The Russians call confession “the kiss of Christ,” because it says in the Song of Songs, Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth (Sg 1:2).

So what happens when you walk out of the confessional? A joy transforms you from your head to your feet for you have been forgiven.

When I was training in psychiatry, we had a professor who was an atheist, but he respected every religion. When he lectured, he used to say to the nurses, “The greatest therapy in the world is the Roman Catholic confession.”

Confession is such a wonderful thing that everybody should be rushing there. I love confession. Absolution falls on your ears like oil on your wounds. The forgiveness of God envelops you like a mantle. The confessional is the altar of mercy.

And it is always waiting for us. At any hour, our souls can be washed clean and whiter than snow. At any hour, we can become little children again, newly baptized children.

As I come out of the confessional, a little baby and I are equal. Only love could devise such a thing.

Think of it, dearly beloved. Think of what this most holy sacrament of confession means. Spendthrift of love, Our Lord, gives it to us to bathe our souls and make them alive again, resurrecting them from sin in a mercy that knows no end until we die.


—Excerpted and adapted from Beginning Again, (2004), pp. 13-15, 19, 23-26, available from MH Publications