“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been . . . [how long?] . . . since my last confession.”
Confession is something I’ve never quite gotten used to, even after more than twenty years of being Catholic. I still feel I have to tell the priest, going in, that I’m not used to this, I’m a convert; bear with me, please, Father. I’m afraid I won’t “do it right.” And I still haven’t memorized an act of contrition. I used to carry a little card around with me that I could read, but then I figured out that I could pray my own prayer in my own words and decided to just do that. Somehow it feels more heartfelt and legit that way, although I know both ways are valid. That’s a holdover from my life as a Protestant, when I said all my own prayers and went straight to God with my sins instead of going to a priest.
Not that going straight to God with one’s sins is a bad thing. It’s good! God is the source of all forgiveness, after all. But he reconciles us to himself through the work of Christ, the gift of the Spirit, and through the prayer and ministry of the Church (CCC 1449). And I’ve found that there are some things you get when you go to a priest, that you wouldn’t get otherwise. Here are some that make a difference to me:
Five reasons I go to a priest for Confession
1. When I confess to a priest, I have to consciously think about my sins and then name them out loud to him—which helps bring hidden things into the light. Sometimes the priest sees my sins for what they are when I do not, and he can help me recognize faults that plague me over time.
2. The priest gives me God’s forgiveness in a voice that I can hear, absolving me in a very concrete, tangible way.
3. When I confess my sins to a priest, he represents the Church my sins have wounded — not just God whom I have sinned against.
4. From the priest, I receive a penance that helps heal the wounds my sin has caused. (Forgiveness takes away the sin but not the damage sin does to you, to the one you sinned against, or to the Church.)
5. The Church continues to pray with me.
I also find that when I’m left alone to confess my sins direct to God, I tend to do so only when my conscience pricks me. In the Sacrament, though, God calls out to me constantly to reconcile and offers his mercy—which makes me want to go to him regardless. That prompts me to pray, to allow God to shine his light in the corners of my heart and root up things I’ve forgotten or passed over. In this way, confession becomes a step in the process of growth in my relationship with God.
So looking at Confession, especially during Lent which calls us to penitence: as awkward as the practice still can feel to me, there’s something very beautiful about the Sacrament that calls me out of my normal reticence and into the confessional. I’m grateful for that, and for the grace and mercy of God who forgives.
© 2017 Sarah Christmyer
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This post is part of a monthly series on various topics that I’m doing with the Catholic Women Bloggers Network. To see other posts on this topic, “my true feelings about confession,” visit the CWMN Blog Hop page here.
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I have found praying the seven Penitential Psalms to be a deep well of inspiration and healing. Prayed separately or together, they help me get in a right position before God; they remind me of his great mercy; and they help me articulate the pain sin and sorrow cause and give me words to cry out for help and forgiveness. I’ve written a guided journal to encourage and help people to pray with these psalms: “Create in Me a Clean Heart: Ten Minutes a Day in the Penitential Psalms” – available here from Amazon.com.
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Read more about confession and forgiveness: