Monday, December 22, 2008
So it was with a little bit of nervousness that this past Saturday I entered the confessional at church and finally pulled back the curtain for a face-to-face confession.
Penance is one of the seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church, instituted by Jesus Christ Himself "in which forgiveness of sins committed after Baptism is granted through the priest's absolution to those who with true sorrow confess their sins and promise to satisfy for the same."
We are all sinners, we all commit sins, some of us more frequently and heinously than others. We need to seek forgiveness in order to restore our full relationship with God, and He has provided us the means through the intervention of His Son.
When you enter into the Sacrament of Penance, what is known commonly in the Church as 'confession', the misconception is that you are telling your sins to a man, the priest, and that he forgives you. That is simply not the case.
The power to forgive sins rests with God alone. However, he utlizes his blessed priests to act as ministers or confessors in humanizing the process. It is wholly necessary that we come to confession prepared to honestly evaluate our thoughts and actions, and to confess those that have broken our relationship with the Lord.
If you haven't been to a confession in a while, one helpful tool would be to list the Ten Commandments, then evaluate how you have behaved against each of them. If you've been away from the Church or missed Mass, there is something to confess.
You don't need to be exact. Simply saying that "it's been years since my last confession" or "I haven't been to church regularly for years" will suffice. If you've been away, you've obviously put some things ahead of the Lord, so you have that to confess.
I had to do it myself a while back, so I can tell you exactly how to approach that first return to the confessional.
First, prepare yourself by getting to church a little early, maybe just ten minutes, and take time to sit in a pew and meditate on the things that you may wish to confess. You can't hold back the worst sins.
If you have had or been a part of an abortion, you are going to have to confess it. Obviously the same goes for any crime that you may have committed. Instances of extra-marital sexual relations, blatant disrespect of your parents (no matter age or their role), and extreme covetousness of others goods.
If you have turned your life over to another faith system and turned away from God for a time, you may want to confess that. The point is that your confession will be of no use to you if you willingly hold back confessing the most obvious and heinous of your sins.
Next, think about the little things. Do you take time away from your family in order to satisfy some bad habit, something like drinking? That is something that should be bothering you, and something you may confess.
I would contemplate these things for ten minutes, and then get into the confession booth.
Unless you are completely prepared, don't make this first time back a 'face-to-face' effort. But do make it a sincere effort.
You begin by kneeling and saying "Bless me father for I have sinned, it has been years since my last confession, and these are my sins." Then let the priest know the things most on your mind. Make sure that you include being away from the Church and the Sacraments, especially from Mass and Communion.
The priest will guide you and my bet is that he will be extremely supportive. Even if you get one who seems a bit harsh, take it, because you certainly have it coming to you. Again, that is not likely. God wants you back as an active part of his Church. He wants you to come to Him in this way. Tell it all, lay it on the line, don't be afraid. Getting into the booth is more than half the battle.
As you begin, if you remain completely honest, it will become easier by the moment. Before you know it, you will be done, and the priest will give you a Penance to perform. This will likely take the form of saying a certain number of prayers.
He will then ask you to make an honest 'Act of Contrition' before leaving the confessional. In case you forgot: "Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee, and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of hell. But most of all, because I have offended Thee my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy Grace, to confess my sins, to do Penance, and to amend my life. Amen."
As you say this, he will pray over you, and absolution, the forgiveness of your sins, will occur.
When he is finished, I would thank him before leaving.
When you leave the confessional, get into a pew and do your prayerful Penance, thinking as you pray about how lucky you are to have had Christ die so that this forgiveness would be possible.
If you have been away for awhile, you should feel a 'weight of the world' lifted as you leave the church.
Make sure that you don't stay away this time. And then sometime down the road, as you gain more confidence in your faith, and as your sins perhaps become less and less embarrassing, you will have the courage to pull back the curtain and meet with the priest in face to face confession.