A Daunting Sacrament
Many of us are scared of Confession. Especially those of us who weren’t brought up as Catholics.
The idea of Confession was a rather terrifying thing for me. I dreaded my first Confession, and doing it was one of the hardest things I have ever done.
But actually, Confession need not be so scary.
Sure, it’s not necessarily comfortable. We are confessing the things we have done wrong, and sometimes, we own up to things that we are very ashamed of. None of this is fun or comfortable.
Still, Confession need not be so daunting. Don’t build it up: just pray for God to reveal your sins, do a quick examination of conscience with the Holy Spirit, and then go.
This is a great Sacrament of MERCY! It is not a sacrament of judgment. We judge ourselves in this sacrament, but God doesn’t judge us; God wants to show us MERCY!
God shows us mercy because in humility we condemn ourselves for the bad things we have done.
How do I examine my conscience?
The Church recommends we examine our conscience before attending Confession. This prepares us for confessing things that God has enlightened in our memories.
To make a good examination of conscience, we should use a list of sins or virtues. The Church recommends using the Beatitudes or Ten Commandments as a guide, to see how we compare with these lists.
There are also a multitude of Catholic examination of conscience guides on the internet, such as this one.
Making use of these helps train our consciences as to what is right and what is wrong. It helps keep us on the straight and narrow, and also helps us know where we’ve screwed up.
The Importance of Sincerity
When we come to the Sacrament of Confession, it is so important to be sincere and real with God. This is not a performance, or something we just do. It is a real meeting of mercy and love with the living God.
When we step into Confession, we are stepping into the presence of Jesus himself in the person of the priest.
Jesus is on the other end of the Confessional, waiting patiently to hear us accuse ourselves.
We must be sincere. We must not put on an act. We must bring humility, even if we bring nothing else:
‘The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit. A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.’ (Psalm 51:17).
God wants our hearts:
‘You have desired mercy, not sacrifice’ – Jesus in the Gospels.
God wants us to be real and natural with him. Don’t just say things for the sake of it. Say things you mean. Confess what you are genuinely sorry about.
How to Confess Simply
There are different ways to Confess one’s sins, and different Catholics do it differently.
However, you can’t go wrong with keeping it simple. After the introduction (‘Forgive me father, etc.), you can simply say:
‘These are my sins: I did this, I did that, I thought this, I thought that, I said this, I said that.’
You simply list what comes to mind and especially what’s on your heart, what’s burdening you.
It really is a mystery this sacrament, and you may be surprised what comes to the surface and what comes out of your mouth.
It’s a very good idea to always confess to having broken the two greatest commandments:
‘I have not always loved God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. And I have not always loved my neighbour as myself.’
It’s hard to give any rules here because we are expected to come to God naturally and be real with God.
Just be yourself.
If you bring your sorrow and yourself, with the intention of improving, you will make a good confession.
Very often before Confession I pray:
‘Holy Spirit, give me the words to say and the grace to say them.’
But there are things I’ve done that I’m so embarassed about. I can’t possibly tell these things to a priest.
Why not? Priests have heard it all before, and are trained to hear even the worst things imaginable.
In any case, just be natural in your confession. There is no need to go into sordid details. Just confess the kind of sin you committed and how often you did it. Keep it simple.
‘Here are my sins: I did this, I did that.’
For particularly bad or memorable things, especially if you know it was a mortal sin, you say: ‘I did this so many times [try to list a specific number].’
Of course, if it helps you and if it is natural for you to go into more detail and describe certain things you feel bad about, then I suppose do it.
A wonderful conclusion
My priest taught me a wonderful prayer that apparently they all learn in Nigeria. It goes something like this:
‘And for all my sins, both venial and mortal, those which I have confessed and those which I do not now remember, I ask God’s mercy and your absolution father.’
The Orthodox tradition has a similar prayer, which goes something like:
‘God forgive me all my sins: sins of the body and of the spirit, sins known and unknown, sins I didn’t mean to do and sins I meant to do.’
These sorts of phrases cover everything. Of course, you don’t have to use them, but they can be useful if we struggle after Confession with thinking: ‘O no, I forgot to confess this or that.’
It doesn’t matter if we forgot to confess anything. When you receive the absolution from the priest, you are forgiven ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING, even all those sins you forgot to confess.
There is no perfect Confession!
None of us makes a perfect Confession. This is why we attend Confession in the first place: because we aren’t perfect! If we were, we wouldn’t need Confession.
So don’t turn this glorious sacrament into a great big target of perfection to attain. You won’t attain it. You will mess up, even in Confession. You may even unintentionally sin in Confession, by perhaps swearing or not being truly sincere about some of the things you confess.
We are human. We are imperfect. And the sooner we realise this, the better.
God is not looking for a perfect confession, but simply a ‘good’ or ‘acceptable’ confession.
A good confession is when someone has examined their conscience, knows their sins, and confesses them plainly, simply and naturally, with true sorrow and repentance. They leave the confessional not wanting to commit sin again against God.
Pray an Act of Perfect Contrition Often
A very good idea is to pray an Act of Perfect Contrition regularly.
This one is a traditional prayer:
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because of thy just punishments, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin. Amen.
Try to pray this prayer and truly mean it. This is good preparation for going to Confession.
Other prayers to prepare for Confession
There are also these excellent prayers you can pray to prepare you for Confession. Such as this one:
O my God, help me to make a good confession. Mary, my dearest Mother, pray to Jesus for me. Help me to examine my conscience, enable me to obtain true sorrow for my sins, and beg for me the grace rather to die than to offend God again. Lord Jesus, light of our souls, who enlightens every man coming into this world, enlighten my conscience and my heart by Thy Holy Spirit, so that I may perceive all that is displeasing to Thy divine majesty and may expiate it by humble confession, true contrition, and sincere repentance.
I hope you have found this post useful and if you have any questions, please get in touch via email or in the comments below.