Each day this week I’ve offered related posts about sin, Spiritual Atrophy that brings about heightened opportunities to sin during these stressful times of self-isolation, and ways to recognize the sins you’ve committed (or omitted): the “Checklist”, CPR, and Analytical methods of examining one’s conscience.
So, what is the next step? You’ve utilized one of these methods and identified particular actions or attitudes that have damaged your relationship with either God, other people, or both. You’ve analyzed the seriousness of your sins, determined if they are mortal or venial, and now you feel remorse, embarrassment, or, even worse, shame for having committed them. If you’ve made it this far and genuinely have a contrite heart, you’re good to go on to the next step. If you don’t feel a real sense of remorse, then you probably ought to go back to step one and start over again.
The next step for the repentant soul is to let God love you! This means accepting that God loves you even when you are wounded and stained. It means turning back to God and loving Him in return by telling Him that you’re sorry for choosing an inferior good over Him. And, it means asking for God’s mercy, His forgiveness, and to be cleansed of your sins. Asking is necessary, for as St. Augustine said, the Lord who created you without your permission, cannot save you without your permission. We take this step by going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, confessing our sins, and receiving His mercy even though we don’t deserve it.
I have heard many and various reasons why people don’t want to go to confession: embarrassment, shame, fear of what God will think, fear of what the priest will think, etc. It’s important to remember that God is not scandalized by our sins – He already knows what they are! We may try to justify our sins in an attempt to lessen their severity, but God can’t be fooled. He wants humility and honesty and to see that our view matches up with His. God is like a father who is not scandalized when his teenaged new driver has his or her first fender bender.
Neither will the priest be scandalized. Every priest I’ve ever talked to about reconciliation has said they rejoice when a person confesses their sins. They see it as a win/win: a victory for the Lord that we have returned, and a victory for us that our sins have been erased. A common excuse many give for not going to confession is that the priest will be surprised with your sin. This time, you’re fooling yourself. There are very few sins he hasn’t heard. The devil is not that creative! Neither will the priest remember your sins. He hears so many there’s no way he can remember them all, and he doesn’t want to. Finally, the priest is bound by a sacred seal to never repeat anything that you mention in the confessional.
Another common excuse for not going to confession is that it’s easier to just talk to God and give Him your apology. The Protestants might think that works for them but it doesn’t work for us Catholics. Sorry. We go to confession because Jesus himself invented the Sacrament of Reconciliation, not the Apostles, not any one particular pope, not the Church in general, but Jesus. (Jn 20:19-23). Also, we are human, a combination of body and soul. We need to hear with our ears that we are forgiven and we hear Jesus forgive us through the priest just as we would have two thousand years ago if it was Jesus himself. (CCC 1441-1442)
Once you’ve moved past your fears and rationale for not going to confession and decided to show up at the confessional, it’s best to know how to make a good confession. First, one needs to be completely open and honest and be frank in saying their sins. There’s no need to explain or try to justify what you’ve done. If the priest thinks it’s necessary to know, he’ll ask. Perhaps even more importantly, one needs to truly repent and demonstrate a desire to not commit that sin again by reciting an act of contrition. Then, one needs to demonstrate a desire to change and be healed by carrying out the penance assigned by the priest, and give consideration to what will be done differently to avoid that sin in the future.
A good confession is rounded out by a prayer of thanksgiving and a feeling of love shared between God the Father and you, His beloved son or daughter. This reconciliation with God and the whole Church is truly a moving experience! God gives us His own life in the form of grace that restores and heals us. It gives us the strength to do good, resist evil, and begin again. And, it remits the eternal consequences of our sin (Hell).
Another way to show gratitude for the absolution of our sins is to encourage friends and family to visit this Spring of Living Water just as the Samaritan woman did when she invited the people of her town to meet Jesus. (Jn4:28) Is there any better act of charity than to help others who are stained with sin to be cleansed and reconciled to God?
I am late getting this posted so you will not be reading it until Saturday at least. Many parishes typically offer the Sacrament on Saturdays, and still do even with the pandemic, but follow the mandated social distancing guidelines. I pray that these posts this week will have encouraged you to examine your conscience; identify those particular areas where you’ve been less virtuous than you should; and, by better understanding the Sacrament, give you the fortitude to visit Jesus and receive the Living Water that He offers. Remember, He can’t fill your cup if it’s turned upside down.
I hope you have a truly faith-filled Holy Week in spite of not being able to participate in the celebration at your church. God bless you all!
(Reconciliation: A Grace-Filled Turning Back to God was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
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