Whose sins you forgive, are forgiven them

Chain Letter by Christopher Pike was written in 1986.

Chain LetterAmazon Link

Recently my youngest daughter asked me for my favorite books when I was her age.  I spent middle school reading mainly Christopher Pike, so I got her a few of my favorites.  I have already blogged about one of his books here. It is interesting to re-read books that I loved ~30 years ago.

Synopsis and Discussion (with spoilers):

The plot of this book is about seven high schoolers who run over and kill a stranger.  Only two want to go to the police. The others want to bury the man and forget the whole thing happened, which is what they do.  A few months later, a chain letter is sent threatening to reveal their crime unless they do a specific deed, which will end their goals.  As the book continues, each demand escalates, and when they refuse, they are harmed in various ways.  The reveal is the one sending the letters was part of the group, and this person could not live with what they did.

As a Catholic, this book had me thinking a lot about the importance of the Sacrament of  Reconciliation.  While I do believe they should have gone to the police, justice through crime enforcement doesn’t necessarily change hardened hearts.  Only two of the seven had remorse.  The one sending the letter did not solely want justice for the crime but wanted to be cleansed from the offense as well.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a three-step process: 1) Contrition, 2) Confession, and 3) Reparation (CCC 1491).  Step one is an interior conversion, while steps 2 and 3 require an outward expression (CCC 1430 and 1434).

We need to confess our sins regardless of how private.  Sins are always a community affair as they harm the body of Christ. We all suffer when someone sins.  In the confessional, the priest represents Christ (the high priest) and the community (the church).

One objection of this sacrament is the confessing to a priest.  Many argue that we can go directly to God as He doesn’t need priests to forgive sins.  This is true for venial sins as Catholics are not required to confess venial sins (but recommended), yet mortal sins do need to be confessed (CCC 1458).

Why are priests necessary to administer the sacrament of confession?

God invites humans to participate in His work. There are many examples, where God asked humans to participate in His saving work, and this participation was necessary for His plan of salvation. Here are a few examples:

  1. God tells Adam and Eve to be fertile and multiply.
  2. God tells Noah to build an ark and to bring the animals.
  3. God tells Moses to lead His people to the promised land.
  4. God sent His angel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary and invited her to participate in our salvation by being the mother of the incarnation.
  5. Jesus calls 12 Apostles to preach the good news, to heal the sick, and to baptize people. Jesus gave the Apostles the essential role of evangelizing the world to bring disciples in all nations.
  6.  God used human participation in writing the scriptures.  The bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit but written by humans.

God has always asked humans to be mediators for Him. In each of these cases, God gave all the graces necessary for the work to be done, yet He worked through humans. He continues to do this via the sacraments.  I have never heard anyone argue that we can baptize ourselves, nor do people claim that it is the human doing the baptism.  All agree this is done by the Holy Spirit working through a human to administer baptism.  The same is true for the sacrament of confession.

Only God can forgive sins (CCC 1441). 

Priests are MINISTERS of God’s forgiveness

John 20:21-23 [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.

God gives Catholic priests this necessary role, and God forgives sins through the ministry of priests. God has always worked through human participation. He calls us to participate, not from a need, but from love.  God loves us and has asked each of us to participate in His saving work.  To priests, this work is administering the sacraments.

Bible Meme John 20 21

The character in this book had a contrite heart.  He confessed privately, yet longed for an outward sign.  He wanted to move onto steps 2 and 3 of reconciliation.  He had a desire to confess his sin publicly and then desired reparation for his sin. We all have this need.

Luckily, as a Catholic, I have the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

For more information on this sacrament see:

Catechism of the Catholic Church 1420-1498.

Is Confession in Scripture? From Catholic Answers.


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