Zechariah 13:1, "On that day there shall be open to the house of David
and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, a fountain to purify from sin and uncleanness."
It was while serving out in a field exercise in Germany Winter 1987 that I was on guard duty with another Soldier holding fast near a burning log as the weather was very cold. We were at the front gate near midnight when the other person on duty with me asked me about the Catholic teaching on the Ministry of Reconciliation.
Being a Baptist, the other Soldier was questioning why a Catholic had to go to a Catholic priest to confess sin? I responded with a biblical response quoted up at the top of this article, Zechariah 13:1. We are given this fountain that would cleanse sinners from sin. It identifies what Jesus would establish in His Catholic Church, "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." John 20:23
Through this most wondrous Sacrament, the faithful receive the mercy seat of Christ that liberates the soul from death and destruction. The Lord takes those sins confessed in the Confessional and throws them into the sea of forgetfulness and remembers them no more (Jeremiah 31:34).
A wayward traveler lost in their sin, who have lost there way, the Prodigal Son, can be fully restored through this great mercy of God, "My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins." James 5:19-20)
As the Lord will leave the ninety-nine who are found and living the faith, Jesus will go after the ones who have gone astray (Matthew 18:12, Luke 15:4) to bring them back to the fold, the Church.
When I think of a fountain as depicted in Zechariah, it presents a picture of water that quenches our thirst. Jesus calls sinners to come to the well that will never run dry (Isaiah 58:11, John 4:14).
St. Paul addresses this great Sacrament identifying it as the "Ministry of Reconciliation":
“So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this IS fromGod, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us THE MINISTRYOF RECONCILIATION, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ,not counting their trespasses against them and entrustingTO US the message of reconciliation. So WE ARE AMBASSADORS FOR CHRIST, as if GOD WERE APPEALINGTROUGH US. We implore you on BEHALF OF CHRIST, BE RECONCILED TO GOD ( 2 COR 5Vs 17-20).
St. Paul then invites us, “Working together, then, WE APPEAL TO YOU NOT TO RECEIVE THE GRACE OF GOD IN VAIN”. Some thoughts; from the Webster’s New World Dictionary, AMBASSADOR is:
1. The highest-ranking diplomatic representative appointed by one country or government…(when you recognize the Church as the Kingdom of God on earth, this definition easily fits the mark).
2. A special representative, is one on a special diplomatic mission.
3. An official agent with a special mission ( Christ appointed his Apostles to carryout this “special mission”). BEHALF is defined as, “ME, in phrase on (mi)behalf, on (my side). I speak in his behalf, on behalf of speaking for;representing (This is exactly what the priest does)!
This Sacramental authority Jesus gives his Apostles should not be confused with the moral obligation to forgive seventy times seven. In the great sacrament, Jesus chooses to forgive in the action of his Ministers. Just as God may heal someone through a minister, he established the priesthood for the purpose of spiritual healing.The Council of Constantinople (553) declared that John 20:22 meant that the spirit was truly given and the breathing on the disciples was not merely symbolic. This action recalls Genesis 2:7 where God breathed life into Adam and gave him the natural spirit of life force. St. John announces that the life-source for supernatural life is given, which is the seal of the Holy Spirit.The Confessional, then, is not of man-made origin, but is a God-breathed action of the Holy Spirit.
The Council of Trent (1556) defined the power to forgive sins in verse 23 as the same power exercised in the Sacrament of Penance. This power could have only reached our present age through Apostolic Succession where the Apostles ordained successors and broadened the faith throughout the world.
What was promised to the people of God in the Old Testament as a shadow (Colossians 2:17) that was coming, we have received from Jesus this great gift because Jesus is the Light of the world (John 8:12).
1 John 1:8 states, "If we say, 'We are without sin,' we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."
1 John 1:10 states, "If we say, 'We have not sinned,' we make him a liar, and his word is not in us."
Giving this understanding, the burning log really seemed much warmer as I kind of got fired up, or rather, excited about the question. In answering these countless questions coming from so many people, some curious, some with an agenda, my purpose was always to serve Christ.
Some have converted to the Catholic faith, that is an action of the Holy Spirit, but as a minimum, if I could foster dialog, respect and understanding, at least a person can walk away better informed. Plus, we are called to be seed planters and that is always the goal no matter how and where it presents itself. It certainly helped made this duty very enjoyable!
Let us approach this great Mercy Seat of God regularly that we will be "purified from sin and uncleanness."