If you are like most of us “Cradle Catholics” what you know about Confession, is what you were taught prior to making your First Holy Communion. The problem with our second-grade education is that we were taught how to confess like children (I broke the toy and blamed it on my brother, I pulled my sister’s hair, I disobeyed my parents), and I would dare to say that the majority of us have not received any instruction since.
After Mass, last week, I overheard a visitor to our church ask what days and times Confession was offered. One of our local parishioners responded,” I have no idea, I haven’t been to confession in years.” The visiting woman boldly asked her why. The local woman (who attends Mass nearly every Sunday), shot back “I haven’t broken any of the Ten Commandments, and I feel that I’m a good person, so I don’t really have anything to say, so why go?”
Wayne Dyer, a favorite author of mine, is credited with saying, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
We need to change how we thought about confession as a child to what it means to have a good confession as an adult. And that happens when we realize that being a good person in our own eyes is not enough. God has a different perspective and wants us all to grow in holiness so we can be saints.
Pope Benedict XVI once said, “Holiness does not consist in not making mistakes or never sinning. Holiness grows with the capacity for conversion, repentance, willingness to begin again, and above all with the capacity for reconciliation and forgiveness.”
Our God is a merciful God and He wants to forgive us for whatever sins we have committed. We need only to ask for His forgiveness with a contrite heart … and that’s exactly what the Sacrament of Reconciliation is for.
Confession helps us to better know thyself. St. Augustine and countless other saints and doctors of the Church talk about the importance of knowing ourselves well. Through coming to know ourselves better, we realize how fallen we are, and how badly we need God’s help and grace to get through life. Frequent Confession helps remind us to rely on God to help rid us of our sins.
So, where does one begin?
A good examination of conscience is necessary in order to make a good confession, and this goes beyond the “Laws” given to Moses by God. These Ten Commandments, (a list of “thou shall nots”), commanded negatively through a holy fear of God.
There is a New Law that calls us to aim much higher, to imitate the perfection of Jesus Christ. We are not called to simply stop sinning; we are called to be holy, and it was given to us by Jesus himself.
Known as the Beatitudes, this New Law (a list of “blessed are those’), comes from Jesus’s most famous teaching, the Sermon on the Mount. On the advice of a priest, as I was invited to consider using the Beatitudes for my examination of conscience, I extend the same invitation to you.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Do I strive – with my time, passion, and resources – to accumulate more temporal goods and honors, instead of seeking to obtain true spiritual goods? Do I recognize my spiritual poverty and humbly acknowledge my need to continually seek and be filled with the Spirit of Christ?
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Do I sorrow over the sins committed by myself and others, considering how much they offend God and how they bring more evil and disorder into the world? Do I do sufficient penance for my own sins, and reparation to God for the sins of others?
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Am I obstinate and quarrelsome, always trying to assert my will over others in regard to petty and unimportant things? Do I strive to overcome evils with good, by responding to offenses with gentleness and a good will, instead of retaliating in anger and spite?
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Am I trying to become more holy by conquering my habitual sins and diligently practicing acts of virtue? Do I love Jesus and strive to do His will above all things, instead of my own?
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Are my eyes and my heart open to the mental, physical, or emotional sufferings of others? Do I try to relieve their pain and misery through spiritual and corporal works of mercy?
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Do I try to keep my heart, mind, and soul untainted by the evil influences of this fallen world? Do I guard the purity of my senses by being cautious and discriminatory about what I allow myself to see, watch, and hear?
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Do I strive to keep my soul in the peace of Christ? Do I look for ways to bring greater order and harmony among persons in my family or place of work, or do I participate in perpetuating discord and strife?
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Do I count it a joy when I suffer wrongs for the sake of doing good? Do I offer up my trials to God for the salvation of souls?
Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Am I living my Catholic faith authentically so that others can see that I am a devout follower of Jesus Christ? Do I avoid living and proclaiming the truths taught by His Church for fear of being disliked, ridiculed, or persecuted?
The Sacrament of Reconciliation, also called Confession or the Sacrament of Penance, is one of the most unique and beautiful aspects of the Catholic Church. Jesus Christ, in His abundant love and mercy, established the Sacrament of Confession, so that we as sinners can obtain forgiveness for our sins and reconcile with God and the Church. The sacrament “washes us clean,” and renews us in Christ. Making a good confession is one of the best things for your soul and continued growth in virtue. Confession not only forgives our sins, but it also strengthens and renews us to help us stop sinning and become the person that God made us to be.
As Christians, we are not confessing just to get rid of our “Catholic guilt.” We’re confessing so that we will have a true conversion, a real change of thinking and change of lifestyle. Conversion is a process. St. Bernard once said that no matter how sinful one might have been in the past, he is stilled called to the heights of prayer—to the depths of the riches of the spiritual life.
Conversion is more than avoiding sins. It’s also about growing in the virtues of humility, temperance, zeal, love, and so on. For one to grow in holiness and be a saint, you don’t need to do extraordinary things. You need only to focus on continuous conversion, the on-going, everyday practice of avoiding sin, growing in virtue, being fervent in prayer, and growing in intimacy with the God who loves you. This isn’t a sprint, it is a marathon. Sometimes you may feel like you’ve taken one step forward and two steps backward. You may fall but you will get up because this is a race worth running!
John 8:32 “the truth will set you free” This verse is very applicable here because acknowledging the truth of your sinfulness before God and recognizing your need for His grace to help you become the person, He wants you to be will really, truly set you free.
The words of absolution in the Confessional are beautiful: “I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus is waiting to forgive you—all you have to do is ask!
Steps for making a Good Grown-Up Confession:
Examine your conscience. Acknowledge your sins. Be sorry for your sins. Resolve not to sin again. Confess your sins to a priest. Do the penance the priest gives you.
Repeat … often.