Confession: the word does not bring forth cozy, comfortable feelings but instead elicits visions of dread and fear for many. We are afflicted with shame and regret, not wanting to see a priest. Because of this, some of us often prefer the traditional confessional and its privacy to the face-to-face option.
In any case, confession, also known the sacrament of penance or reconciliation, is not a sacrament of pain and horror. On the contrary, it is one of healing and forgiveness. We do not like to bare our soul and all its sins to anyone, let alone a priest. When we do, however, the joy and freedom we feel is moving.
Ask yourself: Why do I avoid the confessional? I too skipped confession for many years. However, when I did return, wow! What an awakening!! I did not feel the shame I thought I’d have, but instead felt a great sense of a burden lifted and a closeness with God that was missing before.
After a trip to a Marian shrine, I returned to confession. I had some pretty dark sins to confess so this was not going to be easy, but God gave me the grace to do it. Initially, I went infrequently, slowly and timidly, then, more confidently as a monthly practice.
The ahh-ha moment came when I read that Pope John Paul II himself went weekly to confession. Wow, again! If this holy pope went weekly then I certainly could go more often as I am a bigger sinner. Now I go quite often and almost weekly during Lent. I never knew what joy I’d experience.
If you have reasons not to go, please read on:
“I AM AFRAID”: I am ashamed and afraid to go or I forgot how to make a confession. It is natural to be afraid, but there is no fear in the heart of a Christian. “Fear not,” the angel told Mary. Repeat those words to yourself and ask God for the courage to go. Do an Examination of Conscience. Many pamphlets are found in the church or online. More great news! Most confessionals come complete with the prayers posted on the wall. However, any priest will happily guide you through the sacrament. No need for fear especially in this Year of Mercy — go!
“I DON’T BELIEVE IN CONFESSION. I CAN GO STRAIGHT TO GOD”: Yes, we can bypass the priest and go straight to God; however, the Lord set forth his desire for confession. “God had sent Jesus to forgive sins, but after his resurrection Jesus told the apostles, ‘As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’” (John 20:21–23) (Catholic Answers).
“THE PRIEST IS ONLY A MAN LIKE ME”: True, he is a sinner just like all of us. However, that does not mean that God does not work through him. This is God’s plan: confession to a priest. We can only follow and trust in his plan. Most people have good experiences in the confessional. If you had a bad experience, go to another priest, but please do not avoid this powerful sacrament of healing.
“I DON’T FEEL FORGIVEN FOR MY SINS”: The priest has no interest in scolding you or not forgiving you for even the worst sin. Remember he is acting “in persona Christi,” or in the person of Christ. We are really confessing to Christ himself. Priests do not want you to fear them, but to come and be healed.
In my prodigal daughter days, I committed some shameful sins, but God lured me back. I did not feel forgiven, even after several confessions. Actually, I did not forgive myself. Then the Lord gave me a gift. I went once more to confess this ‘unforgiveable’ sin. The priest from another country, whom I never met said, “Stop confessing this sin, God has already forgiven you.” It was true! I had been washed clean in the blood of the Lamb. Praise God!
“THE PRIEST WILL RECOGNIZE ME OR TELL OTHERS MY SINS”: If you feel uncomfortable, go to a different parish at first. After a while you will find that no priest will judge you for your sins. Most only want to help! Priests must honor the Seal of the Confessional; they cannot directly or indirectly discuss your sins with anyone! A great read is “The Seal of the Confessional” by Fr. William Saunders (catholiceducation.org).
“MY SINS AREN’T THAT BAD”: Don’t listen to Satan, the father of lies. Of course, Our Lord is deeply offended because he loves us so much. Our sins, venial or mortal, hurt us the most. They also harm our family, community, and the world. We all sin in thought, word, and deed (Mark 7:23). The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” specifically addresses all the ways we sin. I think it’s safe to say, we sin daily! Confession frees us from these sins and actually improves our life, increases our virtue, and makes us happier. We began to look at how we treat others and ourselves. Slowly go through the Ten Commandments and ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten you about your sins.
This is only a short list. However, please consider the light-hearted joy you’ll feel frequenting this beautiful sacrament.
Copyright 2016, Mary Mitchell