I have a confession to make. If there is one word that used to strike fear into me it was the word, confession. Even calling it the Sacrament of Penance or Sacrament of Reconciliation never made it any easier. (For reasons of brevity, I will call it confession here). No matter what, it got my heart thumping and body trembling. Avoidance was easier, but that became something I can now see had a sinister snowball effect.
Sin gets bigger. The mind and heart grow heavier. Nothing can truly be enjoyed and God’s silence seems louder. Life feels dull. Someone turns off the lights in your soul and you are fumbling in the dark to find the switch. Something is just not right inside and you live in a fog. The devil himself smiles when we continue to hide from God’s presence in the ‘Tribunal of Divine Mercy’.
Confession is something that many Catholics grapple with and, while I am heartened by the number of people I see waiting in the queue with me, I would not be at all surprised if this sacrament, of all the sacraments, had the lowest participation rates.
Sometimes this may be because we had a bad experience while in the confessional before, or we were embarrassed to fully admit to our worst sins, or we did not adequately prepare our souls, or we have fallen away from practicing our faith, or do not feel confident in confessing to a priest (“I can just confess straight to God”), etc. Whatever the reason, it is worth not giving up on pursuing this sacrament or ignoring the reality of possibly losing our souls forever. God won’t want that and deep, deep down, you know that you do not want that either. So then, we need the positive testimonies of those who experience and practice this amazing sacrament.
Our world shares and exposes everything, everywhere, all the time. If you want to reveal what you had for breakfast or what your puppy did to your favourite pillow, you can pop it online and wait for the likes or comments. You can get advice for psychological issues or other personal dilemmas. You can divulge your worst mistakes or ask for advice about finding true contentment. All done from the comfort of being behind that computer screen or other device of yours. There are personal life coaches, happiness experts, self-help gurus, psychologists, counsellors, advisors – whoever you want to tap into to navigate the issues of life.
All of this is wonderful – people helping other people, as long as what you get back is professional, wise, and trustworthy advice. But that is what it is – just advice. It may help you immensely and clear the weeds from your life on the surface, but like a garden, you sometimes need to get right in there and down to the root of your problems – deep, deep down in the mud. It is dark down there, and the devil wants you to stay in the darkness. But God wants you to know that there is something better that can heal your soul, and I mean truly heal your soul, for eternity.
You see, confession has a powerful secret ingredient. Absolution, straight from Heaven. It is God’s balm through the priest, and it is free! Many have likened confession to going to the doctor. When we have a physical ailment we visit the doctor, they do a scan if necessary, if you need to remove something or take medication to alleviate a pain, you do it without question because you want to be healed. You may need repeat visits for check-ups, or to adjust your medication, or to undergo further treatment, etc. It may all be very unpleasant and require great courage, but you do it anyway because you want to get better.
The confessional is just the same, except that God is the doctor and he heals your spiritual maladies (sin) through absolution as your medicine or corrective surgery. You go there so that your sins are removed, forgiven, released, and you are set free. You ensure frequent visits to obliterate recurring issues (repeated sins). Who wouldn’t want that? You are worth that. God is offering it to you through this sacrament.
A priest I encountered used the analogy of sin being like a stain on your best clothing – you would need (and want) to wash it out again and again for it to disappear. If you had sullied a favourite dress or suit you wouldn’t leave it there would you? If you did leave it the stain would spread, deepen, darken and ultimately be almost impossible to remove. You would be determined again and again to keep washing and applying various solutions on it until it was gone.
It is the same with confession. Your soul is God’s favourite possession and He wants you to come to the confessional, admit your sins, and He will wash you free via the priest’s absolution. Again, and again, and again. As much as it takes and as long as it takes. Keep applying prayer too.
Every time I go to confession it still feels scary and the heart still thumps, but I always emerge feeling lighter – every single time, without fail. Something happens. Sometimes it is more profound than at other times, but I am not there to critique a mystical experience. All I know is that if I stop, or fear sets in, satan is there waiting for me to fail.
So if you struggle with going to confession, have had a bad experience once and not returned for a long time, have never been, or are still not convinced about this sacrament, don’t give up. Perhaps these tips may help you:
- Pray! Ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand this sacrament and find a good confessor;
- Ask for Our Lady’s intercession through the Rosary;
- Confession’s benefits are manifold but you first need to start trusting in God’s mercy – learn more about the Divine Mercy of Jesus;
- Pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, especially at 3pm;
- Pray to St Gerard Majella who is also the patron saint of good confessions;
- Speak with a priest or sister about this sacrament and how to prepare for it;
- Meditate on helpful analogies (like the doctor and clothing stain ones above);
- Read some books or articles on the internet about the benefits of confession – some good search terms are “Guide to confession”; “Making a good confession”; “Sacrament of reconciliation resources” – looking for Catholic Church resources;
- Consider making a commitment to attending confession as part of a broader devotion, for example, once a month as part of the First Five Saturdays devotion to Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart. You can partake in this devotion individually or with others.
- Talk to God honestly about your struggles with this sacrament and ask for His help.
Above all, remember that confession is an ongoing process of humility, reflection, and relationship with God. You are not alone – we must all keep taking baby steps forward and, though you may stumble sometimes, God wants you to keep getting up and meeting Him through this sacrament.
Why not start now in this fresh New Year? Trust Him. He is waiting for you.