I’ll admit it: Going to Confession isn’t exactly fun.
Honestly, for most of my Catholic life, I had a pretty shaky relationship with the Sacrament of Reconciliation. On the one hand, I knew I was supposed to go every now and then, and forgiveness of sins sounded nice in a sort of abstract way (although why that was, I didn’t really know). On the other hand, it also involved trying to think of the absolute worst things I’d done since the last time I’d shown up, and proceeding to tell all of them to a guy I barely knew!
Eventually, though, I got a pretty big wake-up call from God (more on that in a later post) and realized just how badly I needed to take advantage of the graces offered in this sacrament. As much as I kept telling myself I didn’t need to be there, and as much as I genuinely thought I was in great shape, the reality was that I was just as broken as everyone around me. Once I had admitted this to myself, and to God, Confession was where those wounds could finally start to heal.
Ever since then, I’ve really fallen in love with this sacrament – even though it’s not easy, it’s COMPLETELY worth it! Here’s why:
Many of the classic complaints and questions about Confession concern the fact that you have to tell them to a priest, physically, explicitly, and in person. “Why can’t we confess to God directly in prayer?” Well, you can, and you should! Contrition (a sincere sorrow and regret for your sins, as well as the intent not to sin again) is essential for the sacrament to be effective, and it’s immensely helpful to bring this pain to God in prayer when preparing for Confession itself.
However, there’s a really straightforward reason to go to a priest for Confession: the Bible says to!
Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. - James 5:16
The authority of the priest to give absolution for the sins is based in Scripture as well. The Church grounds this authority in Christ’s own words to his disciples:
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on then and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” – (John 20:22-23)
This is why we believe that the priest is acting in persona Christi (in the person of Christ) when he gives us absolution, why he can speak with the power not of his own finite being, but of the incarnate God who could say to a paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven. Stand up, take your mat and go to your home,” and likewise speak these words of healing to lift us out of the paralysis in our own broken souls.
We need it
It may come as a surprise to you, but we need Confession a lot more than we usually realize. Blessed Pope John Paul II went to Confession every week; that should probably tell us something. There’s a temptation in the spiritual life to succumb to pride and think we’re doing just fine – especially if we compare ourselves to people who are visibly struggling, like I caught myself doing – and assume that since we can only think of a couple “bad” things that we might need to confess, we don’t need to go anytime soon.
Sin is a sneaky, insidious thing – the worse off we are, the easier it can become to ignore how much we’re hurting. The greatest Saints, thanks to the depth of their holiness and their incredible love for God, were unusually and acutely aware of their own failings and incompleteness. This might sound depressing, but it’s quite the opposite – this meant that they realized just how deeply God loved them despite their weakness, and how much they needed to embrace the forgiveness He offers!
By the same token, we need to follow their example and take advantage of this sacrament, even when it seems like we’re doing pretty well. Think of it like cutting away a huge, thorny plant – Confession offers the graces to cut away the thorns in our soul, and allows us to cooperate with God in digging out the roots of the imperfections in our hearts. When the thorns start to grow back, as they eventually do, then it’s time to go back to Confession and weed them out once again! Otherwise, we won’t be able to reach the roots of our failings, and worse, their thorns will leave us hurting and bloody.
On the other hand, while a commitment to frequent Confession may seem like a hassle . . .
You’ll Be Happier
This was probably the part of Confession I appreciated the least when I was only going once or maybe twice a year. However, a couple years back, a powerful experience in Adoration convinced me that I needed the peace of forgiveness, and after gritting my teeth and finally making the choice to walk into Confession and lay everything out, painfully, honestly, and without pulling any punches. And, as clichéd as it sounds, I can honestly say that I have never felt as liberated as I did in the moment when the priest extended his hands in the prayers of absolution. When I left the confessional that day, it was like an immense weight had literally been lifted off of my shoulders.
The funny thing was, I wasn’t exactly happy about it – at least, not right away. Honestly, I was exhausted from how hard it had been to bare my soul so completely for the priest, and for God, but what I did realize was that for the first time in ages, I genuinely felt that I was at peace. Later, I would find that it was this peace that led to a deeper sense of joy and happiness in everyday life, a joy that went far beyond any fleeting sense of gratification I had found when I was avoiding God to follow my own whims.
Even though it can feel silly and embarrassing to keep messing up in the same ways with the same sins, over and over and over again, don’t give up. Keep going back. As Fr. Mike Schmitz writes, there’s no judgement for returning yet again to Christ’s mercy.
“Whenever someone comes to Confession, I see a person who is deeply loved by God and who is telling God that they love Him back. That’s it, and that’s all.”
And if you haven’t been to Confession in years, if you’re waiting on a sign from God to come back to His love and mercy, this is it!
Get in line – I’ll be right there with you.
- The Apprentice -