We all walk by those ominous wooden boxes in the back of the parish and we all secretly think they look like outhouses.  It's dark in there, and cramped. We don't usually like to go in.  And when we do, we know it's time to spill the beans.  Yes, I'm talking about confession.

By definition, confession is a Sacrament of the Church and a requirement for faithful Catholics.  But in reality, most of us don't like to make frequent use of it.  Who doesn't feel like a kid in trouble when they walk into those boxes? It's a sure way for us to experience unpleasant feelings that we prefer to avoid, like shame, guilt, and embarrassment. We don't like to be in the hot seat sharing with another person our selfishness, our lusts, our hatefulness, our negligence . . . all the worst things about us.  Making a good confession usually starts as butterflies in the stomach, then as a lump in the throat, and then finally emerges as a pile of stinky stuff.  Unpleasant, right?

To make things worse, confession also takes major effort.  It requires a lot of navel-gazing and an examination of conscience.  It takes guts to admit our faults.  It forces us to put our relationships under the microscope.  We can't think of our sin in a vague and fuzzy way anymore, we have to focus in and stare it in the face. And usually what we see is not pretty.

But are these good reasons for infrequent confession, or skipping confession altogether?  Actually, not really.  Here are three objections to making a frequent confession and reasons why these objections are lame.

#1: “The Church only requires confession once a year.” True.  However, once yearly confession is the bare minimum requirement of the faithful. We should "at least" go once a year. In other words, if you want to barely live the Christian life, then once-yearly confession is a great way to do that.

#2: “Examinations of Conscience are hard and take too much time.”  True.  An examination of conscience is definitely work.  But why should we put less effort into meeting our spiritual needs than we do our physical needs?  We make an effort to eat well and exercise regularly, but we are only partly physical. We are also partly spiritual, and we need to meet our spiritual needs as well.

#3: “I don't need to go to confession, and besides, I make regular use of the other sacraments.”  This is actually the best objection of the three, because it seems like we can receive enough grace from the other sacraments to compensate for our lack in this one, especially if we have no mortal sin on our souls.  However, this is misleading. Reconciliation is unique in that it's the only sacrament that restores us to right relationship with God and His Church that our sins have negatively affected.  This is true whether these relationships have been harmed by our venial sins, or so damaged by our serious sins that confession is actually required for restored union.

All of these objections skirt around the real reason why most of us don't like going to confession: We just don't like the way it makes us feel.  But, the bottom line is that sin needs confession.  If we are missing regular use of the sacrament of reconciliation, then we are trying to get by with less than what Jesus said we need to live in right relationship with God.  Jesus told us of our need for confession and He gave his Apostles the authority to forgive sins in His name, thus instituting it as a sacrament of His Church.

So how do we give ourselves the kick in the pants we need to walk into that scary box?  The answer is simple . . . just change how we think about confession and soon we will look forward to going. We can remove our apprehension by focusing on the great spiritual benefits we receive when we go. For example, the feeling of weightlessness and freedom we experience when we know that our relationship with God has just been given a clean slate. The fruits of forgiveness are less worry and anxiety, improved relationships, and a decrease in the shame and guilt our sins load on us. The sacrament of reconciliation brings us into the light of God's love.  At the end of this process we are truly changed—conformed to the image of Christ.

So how can we start to make better use of the sacrament of confession? Here are a couple of ways:

  • First, there are many helpful Catholic confession books.  If we don't know exactly what we ought to confess or how to make an examination of conscience, these guides will walk us through it.
  • Second, we can pray that the Holy Spirit will help us to see our sins clearly. It's not always easy to pick them out. Mary is also a great help, we can pray the rosary or Marian novenas for her intercession to help us overcome sin.
  • Third, finding a priest that we feel comfortable with and who gives insightful spiritual direction will encourage us to go to confession regularly.
  • Finally, we can keep a prayer journal of our progress.  How exciting will it be to look back and find that the sins you struggled with last year are distant memories?

"My children, we cannot comprehend the goodness of God towards us in instituting this great Sacrament of Penance. If we had a favour to ask of Our Lord, we should never have thought of asking Him that. But He foresaw our frailty and our inconstancy in well-doing, and His love induced Him to do what we should not have dared to ask." ~ St. John Vianney

Do you have a loved one who needs encouragement to go to confession? If so, please pass along this blog to them. What are some ways that reconciliation has benefited you?

Copyright 2012 Kathleen Wellman