08/02/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

A Cyber Confession

What's the one thing you've done no one else can ever know?

The mere thought of dredging up some dark and hidden sin, inspires a hard gulping swallow, a pounding heart and perhaps a blush on the cheeks.

Unconfessed sin left festering deep in our psyche can cause psychosomatic illness. It gnaws on our conscience and robs us of inner peace and tranquility. Sin simply means missing the mark or misusing the full potential of the gifts God has given us.

The Epistle of James chapter 5:16 tells us: "Confess your trespasses to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective fervent prayer of the righteous man avails much."

The early Christian church believers practiced something that today would be considered radical. They practiced public confession...confessing sins publicly in the context of community. The practice become over time unworkable, causing division, scandal and rancor in the church. The church community representative, the priest, was eventually charged with listening to confessions and the sacrament of confession developed to fulfill the healing and restorative benefits of confession.

Our western society has difficulty with the concept of confession and sin. Admitting that we have sinned to a person or group somehow negatively impacts us in a culture artificially propped up with issues of self image and self esteem. It's not my fault; it is someone else's, etc., etc. Yet as the saying goes, we need to sometimes "get something off our chests". We now can do that easily without exposure or repentance. There are now quick convenient and anonymous ways to deal with those nagging indiscretions of ours: cyberspace confessions. It is the internet confessional. It's trendy and catching on.

Have some slip-ups to shake loose and can't or won't make it down to the parish priest? No problem. Just have them absolved and dealt with by posting them online at an e-confessional. You're just a few keystrokes away from artificially deleting a guilty conscience. These sites offer other the chance to see what you've posted and see if your sins are comparable or as grievous as theirs.

What a voyeuristic bonus! The rest of the world can get online and identify with the transgressions of others. And consider the therapeutic benefits in this system. We can delude ourselves into thinking how very good we are in comparison to others. Who needs a priest or time of prayer and self reflection anymore? We can fool ourselves by thinking we can hide from God. We get trapped into a false reality which accommodates itself to our comfort level of anonymous silence.

Yet, divorced from God's love, mercy and forgiveness, turning our backs on the light who is Christ, the shadows grow dark and deep. We still flirt and are secretly confused by dark thoughts; dark words; dark emotions; dark actions; dark omissions. Yes, we are hiding from the living God, and we are overwhelmed by the shadowy monsters we create by our own sin.

True confession before God, whether in the solitude of a repentant heart or before a priest in the sacrament of confession, leads to healing. The confession of a contrite heart restores a right relationship with a relational God. Confession isn't an information transfer; it is a relational healing.

That is why "share-a-sin" on an e-confessional site is such a tawdry distortion of the true spiritual rhythm of confession. Cyber-confession is anonymous. Christian sacramental confession is personal. Cyber-confession is the announcement of wrongs to an impersonal Web site. Christian sacramental confession is ownership of wrongs to a personal and caring God. Cyber-confession results in entertainment for others. Christian sacramental confession results in re-connection of damaged relationships with others.

Whether you go to confession or not. Whether you are a believer or not. Whether you believe that all of this is medieval superstitions and dead and brittle fairytales, at least let the words of this confessional prayer, penetrate beneath any cynicism, anger, and personal bitterness. May these words soften your heart.

"Most merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what I have done and by what I left undone. I have not loved you with my whole heart. I have not loved my neighbor as myself. I am truly sorry and I humbly repent. Have mercy upon me and forgive me; that I may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to glory of your name. Amen"