Virtually a Confession
Electronic gadgets have infiltrated every aspect of our lives — they sit on our dashboard to tell us where to turn; they are embedded in our refrigerators and microwaves; and now, if you are Roman Catholic by confession, they can join you in the confessional. “Confession: A Roman Catholic App” is the first iPhone/iPad app to receive full “nihil obstat” and “imprimatur” approval. What does it do? Here is the description from the iTunes store:
Designed to be used in the confession, this app is the perfect aid for every penitent. With a personal examination of conscience for each user, password protected profiles, and a step-by-step guide to the sacrament, this app invites Catholics to prayerfully prepare and participate in the Rite of Penance. Individuals who have been away from the sacrament for some time will find Confession: A Roman Catholic App to be a useful and inviting tool.
I didn’t buy the app (I couldn’t justify the $1.99 price just for a blog post). But from the description and the screen shots it looks like this is not as ridiculous as it could have been. The goal is to help someone prepare for a confession. It is not a “virtual confession” — apparently you still need a live human being to forgive sins (this is good). And, in some ways, it is not all that different from Luther’s 20 Questions that are often included in service folders and hymnals in Lutheran congregations. Take a look at a custom-designed set of questions: These questions aren’t so bad. Although we wouldn’t phrase the fourth question on the screen “Do I not seek to surrender myself to God’s Word as taught by the Church?” (our consciences being bound to the Word of God. Here I stand, &c), it seems that in the LCMS we practically function this way — we don’t need to read the Scriptures any more, we have conventions, CTCR documents, and dogmatics texts to tell us what the Bible means (I’m being only slightly sarcastic here, and this is a digression, sorry). All of us could do with some pointed self-examination, especially with the second table of the Law held up in front of us.
Of course, there may be some concerns, both technical and theological. You can “add sins not listed in standard examination of conscience” — which is good, I’d doubt you could cram all of the possible sins into one app. But I hope the app doesn’t automatically feed to your Facebook page. And don’t give out your password. And, theologically, we certainly wouldn’t find helpful the “7 different acts of contrition” that you can choose from. There is likely more that we would put differently.
As we approach Ash Wednesday, preparation and confession and absolution will become even more significant to us. You don’t need an app, but you do need the Scriptures; a Small Catechism nearby is always helpful; and a living, breathing, speaking voice: “I forgive you.”
(Shameless plug: Concordia Seminary Press has just re-published Walter J. Koehler’s Counseling and Confession: The Role of Confession and Absolution in Pastoral Counseling, with a new foreword by Hal Senkbeil and a new introduction, with some updating, by Rick Marrs. Watch for more information very soon!)