“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:
Praying the Penitential Psalms: Psalm 51
Forgiveness: What it is and how to do it
Casting out the Roots of Bitterness: Luke 17
Here’s what the Catechism says about the Sacraments of Healing (Penance and Reconciliation)
I am a cradle Catholic, and still don’t have the Act of Contrition memorized! That said, I don’t think I ever considered not reading off the prayer, and instead, saying a heartfelt prayer myself… ?
This is such a beautiful post – I’ve enjoyed the bullet-pointed reasons you go to a priest. Thank you for sharing your insight!
Karen Sheehy says
Sarah, converts don’t have the market on these feelings of awkwardness in the Confessional. As a cradle Catholic, I can identify with much of what you said in your blog post. I am a physical therapist by trade and I always think of my wound care days, you must clean and debride any wound in order for it to heal. This is how I approach, in need of healing. But I leave with new hope, aware that more work still lies ahead. I too, appreciate the added aspects of having a priest (Christ inpersona) accompanying me along the way, for Christ is the true physician.
Heidi Saxton says
As one convert to another, I find that sometimes a priest is often far more merciful on me than I am on myself. At “Extraordinary Moms Network” I shared the story of my first confession … I got into an argument with the priest, who insisted that I was NOT a bad person, but a beloved daughter of God. It was a revelation. Blessings!
Kristi from Hail Marry says
Your number five is ridiculously thought-provoking. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on confession! <3
Nina Gallacher says
Sarah, as you know, this past weekend, I was resolved in not going to Confession on a retreat as I prefer one particular Confessor, besides ‘the direct connect’ method you spoke of, talking to Him myself. As you also know , completely a surprise to me, that particular priest, low and behold happened to be at that retreat, unbenownsted to me, and I did go to him, and I truly felt the Grace of His forgiveness, and I do love the concept that we can use our own prayer, I hadn’t thought of that, thank you. That said , isn’t it funny we can memorize, two Creeds, including one that has changed, and we can’t seem to memorize the Act of Contrition, I like you am a Convert, and agree with all your reasons to go, except maybe one….I find the use of the word…’The Church'(ok, two words), difficult to understand sometime. ‘WE’ are the church, in some cases and in some cases, I believe when we say that we mean, it’s ‘rules and regulations’, and as that is concerned, I tend to lean more ‘Christian’ then Catholic, in that , I don’t feel I always agree with ‘the church’, so I am not reconciling for ‘the church’, but for what brings me closer to Jesus Christ. If you mean the definition, ‘we are the church’,even then, unless I have through sinning have directly hurt someone particularly , I am not only in forgiveness by God, but too hopefully by that person. Again, I do thank you for your post and your reasoning, coming from being a convert much as yourself, I still like you feel, ‘not good at this’ and can relate, though as Karen has said, I have heard that ‘cradle Catholics’ speak our language. God bless, Nina
Sarah Christmyer says
Thank you, Nina. I should have been more clear that by “the Church” I wasn’t referring to rules and regulations but to the Body of Christ. We are not alone, we are part of a larger body. When we sin, we don’t just hurt the individual we may have sinned against. Sin also damages our communion with God and with the Body of Christ as a whole – even if it’s in an intangible way. The Sacrament heals both.
Emily Davis says
Great post Sarah.
First, thank you for not having it memorized. I feel better already.
Secondly – what a great idea to say your own prayers.
Thirdly -I love all your reasons.
Thank you for this.
I’m a cradle Catholic, so this was really helpful for me to understand what it feels like to approach something you didn’t grow up with. Thanks for such a beautiful, thorough explanation of the reasons behind the sacrament!
Kalley C says
This post was truly heartfelt. I am a convert, and the way I grew up, just saying sorry was good enough (even when you didn’t mean it!). Over the years, my feelings of confession has changed, and eventually I fell in love with the Sacrament.
Sarah Damm says
As much as I think the Sacrament of Reconciliation is beautiful and healing and oh-so needed, I still get nervous about it. Perhaps it is bringing those dark corners of my heart into the light. But I am so grateful for this grace, and the peace that flows from His mercy. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and I always appreciate your concise and clear writing, Sarah.
Stephanie Engelman says
Thank you for an absolutely beautiful post. I’m a convert, too, and I, too, always feel like I’m “doing it wrong.” I suspect, though, that a large percentage of people feel it that way – cradle and non-cradle Catholics alike.
When I was a Protestant, talking directly to God, I felt the need to apologize again and again, and was never sure that I was REALLY forgiven. In contrast, I love the sense of finality after I’ve confessed my sins and received absolution. Those sins are done, behind me, I’m forgiven, and I can go forth, lilly white (for the moment, at least). THAT is mercy as God intended it.
Mitch Carroll says
As the only guy to respond and a cradle catholic I greatly appreciate ur post. Very helpful. Thanks
My husband is a convert and yet he has gone to Confession more regularly than I have in the past several years. I grew up going in the Confessional and found the transition to face to face awkward, while that was all he had ever experienced and so he is more comfortable with it. I do know the Act of Contrition by heart though, but when we need a prayer said we usually call on my husband to do it as his Protestant upbringing makes him WAY more comfortable with that kind of thing! Great post!
Strahlen Grace says
This is a beautiful post. I didn’t even know making up your own ACT of Contrition was a possibility! I guess I’ll have to think on and pray about that! Also, I love your viewing the priest as “the Church who (your) sins have wounded.” That is beautifully put, and I hadn’t thought of that before.
I’m a cradle Catholic and am so uncomfortable with confession that sometimes I go to a distant Church just so I don’t have to confess to anyone who will see me ever again! 🙂