I have been embroiled in a bunch of drama recently – some has been of my creation, and other drama has reached its boiling point with me because of people outside my circle of friends. The more I go through the motions during the day, the more I feel the need to participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (a.k.a. Confession).
There are many reasons people shy away from, are skeptical of, or resistant to the idea of, Confession. This post is just to give my personal insight as to the benefits I have received from going to Confession.
The Catholic Church encourages (I prefer that word over mandates or requires) its members to attend Confession at least once a year. It is a place where you go and admit your sins to the priest presiding over the confessional. The Church says there are two types of sins – venial and mortal. For a sin to rise to the level of a mortal sin, the sin must meet three criteria: it must be of grave matter (i.e. murdering someone), you have to know that it is wrong, and you still choose to do it anyway.
I spent well over a decade of my life having not gone to Confession (that, in and of itself was, apparently, a sin). I remember when I did go to Confession as a child, it was more in response to having done something wrong in the house, and my mom informing me, “you need to go to Confession.” As a young adult, having left home, I then equated Confession with being a punishment. However, having just returned to that sacrament, and reading more about it, I am finding I am beginning to crave going to Confession, and really yearn for confessing my sins.
The quick and simple reasons for going to Confession are biblically based. In the Bible, Jesus states that we are to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16). So, instead of holding our sins internally, we are supposed to go to one another and speak them aloud. In Matthew 9:22-23, Jesus tells his disciples to receive the Holy Spirit. And, “if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” The lineage of today’s priests can be traced to the disciples, given the teachings of the Catholic Church. So, whatever sins today’s priests forgive, God will forgive, and whatever sins are retained, are retained by God.
For me, Confession has done several things:
When we do something wrong to someone, it is very enticing to avoid seeing the person to tell them you have done something that has wronged them. However, we typically push our pride to the side, and apologize whole-heartedly for our transgression, and many times, we do it in person. It is a way to eat a slice of humble pie – there is nothing more sobering than to admit, out loud, to the person acting in persona Christi, that I have done something to wrong (or harm) my relationship with God. It allows me to reflect on the gravity of my actions, and reminds me that all actions (whether they be good or bad) have intended (and sometimes unintended) consequences.
I have a colleague who, when she went back to her first Confession in years, was greeted by the priest at the end with a resounding “welcome home.” I didn’t quite have that experience, but what I did have was a person who was willing to offer me a non-judgmental presence, and who assured me that God loves me and He forgives me. It was comforting to sit with someone who didn’t have a stake in listening to my transgressions, who was willing to hear me out without automatically judging me. Pope Francis has been very vocal about how even in the confessional that is not a place to condemn, but rather accept we are all sinners, and offer ways to ensure the person making a confession knows that God will forgive them.
Finally, returning to Confession has made me stop and think twice before I do something that will have an impact on others. Let me take the topic of gossip as an example – when I am tempted to gossip, I think long and hard about what I want to say, and really contemplate whether or not the gossip will hurt another person, or hinder another person. I’m not always the best at stopping from speaking my mind, but I have gotten into the habit of really considering whether or not it is a sin that I want to repeatedly confess, each time I go to Confession.
I last went to Confession about a month ago. I went during the regularly weekly scheduled Confession time, thinking I would be waiting in line the way I had when I was a small child. However, I was the only person to see the priest for Confession that day. While it made it convenient for me, since I was really able to go in-depth, it also surprised me, and saddened me. In the days of not too long ago, Confession lines were long, and Communion lines were short. That is the reverse of how it appears to be trending in the Catholic Church today.
In closing, I once had a therapist who encouraged me to try yoga. She said if I were anything like her (and, she guessed I was), I would have difficulty with centering myself and really getting the benefit of yoga in the first session. So, she made me promise to give yoga a try 3-5 times before I decided yoga was not for me. And, I had to really commit to those 3-5 times! I ended up deciding, after my 5 attempts, that while it is not my first choice of relaxing, it is something I could tolerate.
I would give the same recommendation to someone who is considering going (back) to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Give Confession a shot 3-5 times. And, really give it a chance.
If you don’t want the priest to know it is you, try out a Catholic church where you don’t regularly attend. If you are afraid you will shock the priest – trust me, from the sources I’ve heard from, nothing you confess will shock them. If you are afraid the penance they will give you at the end will be 10 Hail Mary’s and a Glory Be, and you won’t have time for that – they’ve kind of gotten away from the routine penances of old. If you don’t know where to begin – the priest can guide you; and, in today’s advancement in technology with smart phones, there are even apps (I like Laudate for a beginner, and Mea Culpa for more in-depth and advanced) that will guide you in an “Examination of Conscience” and helping you determine what your sins are, and will walk you through the whole process, to include the closing prayer (Act of Contrition). If you don’t think anyone will watch your kids – go with another Catholic friend, and take turns watching each other’s children; or, do what I have done, and take your small child into the confessional with you. If you are afraid the priest will judge you and hold your sins against you later – they aren’t allowed to do it… that would be tantamount to a mortal sin on their part, if they did.
Give Confession a true chance to help you rebuild your relationship with God, or to make your relationship with God stronger. It can be so spiritually healing, and really make you feel good to get things off your chest, and to leave your transgressions with God, who has forgiven you at the end of the Confession. You get out of it what you put into it, so why not make the most of it, and give it your all!
“Forgive Me, Father” contributed by Anni Harry.