One of the greatest gifts that our merciful Savior gave to the world was the Sacrament of Confession. Jesus came to the Apostles and then breathed the Holy Spirit upon them saying: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive, shall be forgiven; whose sins you retain, shall be retained.” (Jn. 20: 22-23)
In this moment, with these words and with the breathing forth of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, Jesus instituted the Sacrament that we call the Sacrament of Confession, Penance, Reconciliation, Forgiveness, and the Sacrament of His Infinite Mercy.
In this brief essay we would like to encourage all to have great trust in God’s Mercy, and to approach with trust, confidence, humility and faith the Sacrament of Confession. We will offer ten short encouraging words and suggestions to help us to receive this great Sacrament.
TRUST IN GOD’S INFINITE MERCY
Jesus complained to Saint Faustina saying that the greatest sin that wounds His Sacred Heart most is lack of trust in His Infinite Mercy. Jesus said that if a sinner had as many sins as the grains of sand on the seashore, if they were to trust in Jesus’ Mercy, that would be enough to engulf and swallow all of those sins in the ocean of His Infinite Mercy. Saint Paul reminds us: “Where sin abounds, God’s mercy abounds all the more.” (Rom. 5:20) Indeed, the greatest sinners can become the greatest saints if they simply trust unreservedly in God’s Mercy. Examples abound: Mary Magdalene, the Good Thief, Saint Augustine, Saint Margaret of Cortona, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Saint Camillus de Lellis, Saint Mary of Egypt, and many more.
Prepare yourself well for the reception of the Sacraments. In fact, sacramental theology enunciates this important principle: one receives graces in proportion to the disposition of one’s heart and the prior preparation before receiving the Sacrament. Have a good Examination of Conscience booklet at hand. Give yourself time to prepare to encounter your loving and merciful Savior. Do your examination in silence so that you can see yourself honestly, with your merciful Savior at your side in your soul-searching. Write down your sins on a sheet of paper so that when you go to the priest, who represents Christ, you will not draw a blank due to nervousness. Usually, the better the preparation, the better the results—as is the case in any practice!
PERSONAL ENCOUNTER WITH CHRIST
Strive to understand that our religion is fundamentally a personal relationship and friendship with Jesus. Jesus indeed is the friend who will never fail us. If we can understand that the essence of sin is hurting the one who loves us, the one who desires a deep friendship with us, the one who died on the cross for us, then it will be much easier to avoid sin in the future. At the Last Supper Jesus called the Apostles His friends; we too are the friends of Jesus. Sin is not so much breaking a rule, but breaking the loving Heart of Jesus.
APPRECIATE THE SACRAMENT, THE GRACES, AND THE OPPORTUNITY
A constant danger for practicing Catholics is to take the Sacraments for granted. In a marriage, it is always possible to take one’s spouse for granted. Likewise, we can take Jesus and His Sacraments for granted. Our attitude should be such that every time we receive the Eucharist, as well as Confession, we receive it as if it were our last time and we will be judged upon the way we received the Sacrament. As a sign in many sacristies reminds the priest: “Say Mass as if it were your first Mass, your last Mass, and your only Mass.” So may we strive to receive Confession as if it were our first, last, and only Confession every time we approach this Sacrament of God’s Mercy.
FIRM PURPOSE OF AMENDMENT
There are five steps in making a good Confession:
- Examination of Conscience.
- Sorrow for sin.
- Firm Purpose of Amendment.
- Confession of sins to the priest.
- Carry out the penance given by the priest.
The third step, in many penitents, should be improved. By this we mean that to confess well there must be a firm commitment on our part to avoid any person, place, thing or circumstance that could lead us into the snares of sin. This demands self-examination, self-knowledge, humility, and fortitude. This also demands a rewinding of the film of our life to see the what, where, when, why, how, and with whom that led us to falling into sin. There are many sayings that spell this out: “He who does not know history is condemned to repeat the same errors.” And Socrates stated: “A life not examined is a life not worth living.”
A key proverb of the Desert Fathers says it in two succinct words: “Know thyself!” If you like, use an image from Superman: We have to know our own Kryptonite—that is, our own weak point, or our own Achilles heel!
PRAY FOR THE PRIEST CONFESSOR
On one occasion, Saint Faustina left the confessional and felt intranquil, lacking the peace that she usually experienced after making her sacramental Confession. Jesus appeared and told her that the reason for this lack of peace was because she did not pray for the priest Confessor before entering the confessional. A short prayer for the priest Confessor—a Hail Mary, a prayer to the Holy Spirit, or a prayer to his Guardian angel, as well as to your own—can drastically improve one’s Confession. Try it!
QUALITIES OF A GOOD CONFESSION
In the Diary of Saint Faustina, Jesus highlights three indispensable conditions for a good confession. They are: transparency, humility, and obedience. When we confess to the priest, who really represents Jesus, the Divine Physician, we should be as clear and transparent as possible. Then we should try to never justify, rationalize or blame others for our sins, and that means we should be humble. Finally, we should obey whatever advice or counsel the priest gives us, recognizing that the priest acts in the person of Christ.
It is of capital importance in the spiritual life to receive the sacraments well, but also with great frequency. The Church allows, as well as encourages, frequent Confession as a most efficacious means to grow in holiness. One is obliged to confess mortal sins in number and species (kind of sin). However, the saints and Popes strongly encourage us to confess even venial sins; this is called a “Confession of devotion.” One could also confess past mortal sins renewing sorrow for them as a devotional Confession. Many graces accrue to such confessions. All too often, our sins leave a deeply ingrained habit or stain in our soul. Frequent Confession serves to gradually expunge and eliminate the stain! The warning, however, is to avoid making mechanical, routine, or perfunctory confessions—to confess without any firm purpose to amend our ways!
If it is such that there is some confusion, doubt, or uncertainty about some moral matter or personal behavior, then you should be humble and forthright and ask a good Confessor to clarify the doubt. In other words, moral theology teaches us that we should never act on a doubtful conscience. On the contrary, we should clarify the moral question with our Confessor before acting. Having a well-formed conscience, having a pure and clear conscience, having interior peace of soul is one of the greatest gifts that one can experience this side of heaven!
After you have completed your Confession, make sure that you thank God abundantly for His Infinite Mercy, for His kindness, for His compassion, for the gift of the Sacrament of Confession. God rejoices in the hearts of those generous souls who render Him constant thanksgiving. May the prayer of the Psalmist be our prayer: “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; His mercy endures forever.” (Ps. 136:1)