I know that most of you who read this blog are good Catholics and don’t need to read this
But perhaps you know some one who does. If so, print the PDF of this Column and slip it under the door, or over the transom, of a lukewarm or fallen away Catholic. Jesus will be glad you did.
It’s Holy Week and Lent is drawing to a close. Have you made a good confession? It just doesn’t seem possible that any Lent can be complete or even proper without going to confession. In many diocese there is a “Light is On for You” outreach wherein confession is available in all the parishes of that diocese every Wednesday night from 6:30 pm – 8:00pm. That is surely the case here in the Washington Area. I’ll be in the box waiting for people this Wednesday! So will all the other priests in the Washington and Arlington Dioceses. I am aware that Boston and other dioceses are doing something similar. But wherever you are it’s not too late to get to confession.
There are a number of reasons people postpone or even refuse to go to confession. Here are a few, plus a helps and suggestions.
1. I don’t need to go to the priest to confess my sins. Really? I wonder where you might have heard that? Is there some Bible verse that says that? Or is it, perhaps, just an unproven opinion? For scripture nowhere says, that you should only tell your sins privately to God. To the contrary, it says, Declare your sins, one to another (James 5:16). This same text goes on to specify that the priest is the one to do this and declares: The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Hence the Scriptures do not affirm a merely private notion in terms of confession. Quite the opposite. I have written more on the thoroughly Biblical origin of the Sacrament of Confession HERE. Please consider reading it if you have doubts that confession is an integral part of the life of a Christian.
2. I’m anxious because it’s been a long time and I have forgotten the ritual. Be of good cheer, you are not alone. Priests are well aware that many people need a little help with the format and things like the Act of Contrition. And don’t be too quick to think of Confession merely in terms of ritual. Fundamentally, Confession is a discussion. Feel free to ask the priest questions and to request help. If you’d like to review some of the aspects of Confession, how to prepare, and how the rite is celebrated here is a good site: How to Make a Good Confession.
3. I don’t have a lot of time and am not available to go at the usual time. Consider calling your parish or a nearby parish and asking for an appointment with the priest when you ARE available. Most priests are quite willing to make time to hear confessions at other than usual times. This is one of the essential reasons we were ordained. In larger cities there are often monasteries and Religious houses that make confession available all through the week at frequent hours. Here in DC both the Basilica and the Franciscan Monastery are legendary as places to go daily at all the major hours to celebrate Confession.
4. I don’t have to go if I don’t have mortal sin. Well, perhaps a lawyer will agree with you. But two things come to mind. First even little things have a way of piling up. Before long a room can look pretty cluttered, one little thing at a time. Secondly, mortal sin isn’t as rare as some people think. There is not the time to develop a whole theology of sin here, but simply realize that it is possible for all of us to do some pretty harsh and mean-spirited things, to say things that harm the reputation of others, to indulge in highly inappropriate sexual thoughts, to look a pornography, engage in masturbation, skip miss on Sunday, be prideful, thin-skinned and egotistical, misuse God’s name and refuse charity to the poor. And many of these things can become mortal sin, or are, by nature mortal sin. There is an old saying: Nemo judex in sua causa (no one is a judge in his own case). Simply making declarations that “I don’t have mortal sin” might not be a judgment you should be making. Regular confession is a more humble approach, it is less legalistic and also brings forth the grace to avoid sin in the future.
4. I don’t know what to confess. This is a common problem today where moral formation in our culture and even among Catholics is poor and generally vague. But there is help available. The sight already mentioned How to Make a Good Confession has a pretty good examination of conscience. I have also posted before what I consider one of the best helps I have discovered in preparing for confession. It is called the Litany of Penance and Reparation and is available by simply clicking on the title. If you prefer a more biblical preparation trying reading this passage:
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col 3:5-17)
It’s pretty hard to read a passage like this and come away thinking we have little to confess.
The bottom line is this: Go to Confession. Make the time. We find time for everything else. Remember how Lent began with this plea on Ash Wednesday: We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God!…Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor 5:20, 6:2).
Enjoy this effective video: