A reader asked about going to Confession after a long time, about an examination of conscience. We might first of all want to get it right about the dynamics, the infrastructure, the-way-it-all-works before we even begin. There are a number of points with that.
(1) Make sure that the Confession is about humbly asking God for forgiveness, not about congratulating ourselves. Here’s an important post on that: Making an examination of conscience. Just click on that. Just read it. Do it!
(2) And then we gotta understand why Jesus would have set things up this way, where we would go to Confession to one of His priests who we hope also goes to Confession. I mean, Jesus knew how sinful we priests can be, what with Judas betraying Him and then committing suicide, with Peter denying Him three times, with all of them running away when Jesus was apprehended in the Garden of Gethsemane. We gotta understand that, as Saint Paul says, Jesus is the Head of the Body and we are (to be) the members of this Mystical Body of Christ. When we love it is with one act of love that we love both God and neighbor, the Head of the Body and the members of the Body of Christ. When we sin, we sin against the whole Body of Christ, if you will, both Head and members. We don’t decapitate the Head and say that we only offended the members of the Body of Christ. Both Head and members are offended by any sin, however private or public or big or small. When we are to be reconciled, it must also be that this is done simultaneously, so that both Christ, the Head of the Body, and (a representative of) all the members of the Body of Christ forgive us. A priest by way of ordination to the Priesthood of Jesus acts in the person of Christ in granting the absolution in the first person singular (“I absolve you of your sin, in the Name of the…) but at the same time he represents all the members of the Body of Christ. This is why Jesus set up this sacrament this way. This completely reconciles us, forgives us, brings us back. This is why people are so very happy after a good Confession. This is not just some sort of psychological catharsis, but rather puts everything back as it should be, what with us now walking with God in all humble thanksgiving.
(3) After original sin, because of the just consequences of sin chosen with that sin, we remain in this world with weaknesses until we die, weakness of mind, weakness of will, emotions all the hell over the place (the devil’s plaything), sickness, death. The salvation Jesus came to bring us doesn’t involve an unjust action of delivering us from the just effects of sin while we are still in this world, that is, outside of forgiving us the worst of the effects of sin, the guilt. But we still have the weaknesses. Jesus said to carry these very things, outside of the guilt, as a cross. Don’t deny the weaknesses. Don’t suppress the weaknesses. Don’t think that progress in the spiritual life will somehow make you personally no longer subject to being weak in whatever way. Don’t think that you can grow out of needing Jesus as a Savior because, oooh!, you’ve self-helped yourself so very much in self-congratulation that Jesus is irrelevant to you. That would be the worst sin of all. AFTER a good confession, know that you’ll still have weaknesses and still be tempted. The point is that we can carry such crosses and, instead of falling into sin, we can use those things as occasions to turn to Jesus, to cry out to Him, to depend on His strength, to grow in virtue in Him, to walk in His presence ever more humbly, ever more thankfully. With Confession we grow more aware of how far our Lord had to reach to get us in this world, to each side of the Cross. The bond of love, the sanctifying grace, given with such reality, helps us to be joyful as we realize just how much Jesus loves us.
(4) A good Confession is an integral Confession, which means being sincere, honest, plain-speaking, not-obfuscating, not making excuses, but being complete, meaning including all serious sins in kind and number. “I was upset,” doesn’t cut it. What’s the Confessor supposed to think? Was that a passing emotion that you didn’t want and didn’t crank up and therefore was no sin at all? Did being upset mean that you threw your kid through the sheet rock wall and then through the window, doing the same with the wife? Did you run someone off the road once or do you do that every time you get in a vehicle? Kind and number, when asking forgiveness from Jesus, make a difference. “I stole cars for different times,” sounds better, but sometimes circumstances make a difference, so that violently carjacking using a weapon while people tried to make it to the hospital is more serious than mistakenly getting in the wrong Uber car in a parking lot full of the same vehicles. A young man killing an innocent old man is one thing, a young man killing his father who didn’t do anything to him is quite another, involving two commandments, thou shalt not murder and thou shalt honor that father and mother. But, having said that, don’t otherwise give any useless details at all.
(5) Confession is about us being forgiven. IT’S NOT ABOUT accusing everyone else in the world of sin except for yourself.
(6) Confession isn’t about talking about politics or parish council dramas or anything else except our own sin and asking for absolution from this sin of ours. Confession is about confessing our own sin. Confession is about getting absolution for our sin. “Everyone else is a horrible sinner and I’m a saint who never sinned, ever. Gimme absolution!” No.
(7) Confession isn’t about saying stuff that you want the priest to know but you don’t want him to be able to say that you said it because you know that he’s forbidden to do this by the Seal of Confession. You know that he knows that if he breaks the Seal of Confession, he will take on all the guilt of your sins and be pointed straight to hell for mocking the Blood of the Lamb, our Salvation. You know that he knows that he will be automatically excommunicated if he breaks the Seal of Confession. But, here’s the deal, the priest also can’t know or use anything he has learned in Confession regardless of whether it was a sin you confessed or just some juicy bit of gossip, however serious, like murders or whatever. He can’t say anything, ever. He can’t know it. Can’t use it. And if you say things like this expecting him to do something about it outside of Confession, you’re completely mistaken. HE CAN’T DO IT. Not for anything, ever. Period. If you want the priest to know something for use outside of Confession, tell him whatever it is OUTSIDE of Confession. All of this holds, by the way, regarding that for which the priest, as everyone else, is a mandatory reporter.
(8) Don’t even come to Confession, confessing all sorts of things, and THEN say that you are in freely chosen circumstances of sin (say, for example, adultery, or being a Mafia enforcer, or whatever). You have to have a firm purpose of amendment to receive absolution, for not to have a firm purpose of amendment while presenting oneself for absolution is the very definition of the mockery of God. So, first of all, change the circumstances. Then come to Confession. You might think that the Mafia hit-man example is extreme, but, years ago, I was actually asked to be a Confessor by the liaison between the Italian Military and the Holy See in a parish that they would arrange for me to be Confessor so that they could record confessions of such hit-men. Of course, I said NO.
(9) Getting the vocabulary right, individual confession is one on one, penitent and Confessor. A “General Confession” refers to someone who wishes to confess one’s sins for whatever period of time – kind of as a renewed thanksgiving to Jesus by renewing one’s sorrow for those sins even if already confessed and already forgiven. This is sometimes a good idea for some people, say, before a huge change in life, such as marriage, such as taking religious vows, such as being ordained a deacon, priest or bishop. This is not required nor is it a good idea for some people, such as those who are scrupulous. But see: Yesterday was really cool. I made a “General Confession.” Yikes! A “General Absolution” is when people do not confess their sins to a priest, but who, as a group, receive absolution as a group. There are circumstances for this, such as soldiers going into battle right then. The priest leads them in a brief examination of conscience, an act of contrition, instructs them that they have to have the intention of going to individual confession when they can, if they survive, as soon as they can. If you’ve gone to a “General Absolution” event, such as in peace time in a filthy liberal parish with a filthy liberal priest, with that event NOT being sanctioned by the bishop, know that such a General Absolution is INVALID. And I bet that the priest in that circumstance did NOT instruct people to have the intention of going to individual confession as soon as possible. Just sayin’… When was your last good Confession. That would go back to a time before any invalid General Absolution or any sacrilegious Confession, such as a Confession which leaves out the number of sins (inasmuch as we can remember, with Jesus knowing we’re not computers) or the the kind of sin, that is, having been purposely ambiguous, purposely non-specific. We can always fool a priest. We can’t fool God. Mocking God with a sacrilegious Confession is not a good idea.
(10) How to go to Confession: When you enter the Confessional, kneel or sit and say: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned, my last good Confession was [… last week, a month ago, or whatever the time is, like fifty years, whatever…]. Here are my sins: [… and you do your best to recite those sins in the frankest, simplest, clearest, briefest way you can…] The priest may say some words of encouragement, give some words of advice. He may ask a question if he doesn’t understand what you’re talking about: “What does you did something wrong refer to?” Don’t be offended. This is Confession, not a game. Again, don’t go into useless details. Then the priest will give you a penance, perhaps some prayers. Then he will invite you to make an act of contrition. If you don’t know one, the priest will help you. Then, the priest will recite the absolution, which is really beautiful. Then the priest will dismiss you with a few words about the mercy of the Lord. I always ask people to pray for me as well.
(11) An act of imperfect contrition is when we are sorry for our sins because we fear the loss of heaven and we fear the pains of hell. An act of perfect contrition is when we are sorry for our sins also because we have offended God’s love. Here are a couple of variations from what I learned as a kid in the mid-1960s (there are a zillion variations). The first of these below quite clearly includes both kinds of contrition:
- O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishments, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin.
- My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart. In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things. I firmly intend, with your help, to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin. Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us. In his name, my God, have mercy.
(12) After having been Concise, Clear, Contrite, Complete (the four Cs of Confession) in an individual Confession, prepare to be ever so happy, humbly thanking Jesus, pointed to heaven, walking in His presence in our daily lives. It is because of that increase of God’s love within us that we are more capable of staying away from our love to sin. The love of God is greater than our sin. We can still choose to sin, but Jesus gives us the Way to Heaven. He gives us His friendship. :-)
Now about an examination of Conscience. The following link is for an examination of conscience for adults and teens, not for kids.
There are a zillion examples of examinations of conscience on the internet. But remember, we’re good at rationalizing. So, to make a good exam of conscience, first put yourself before Jesus humbly, prayerfully, sincerely, with sorrow for sin. Give yourself a minute or two for this. Don’t be afraid. Then start.
Lastly, one of the most important things about going to Confession is to…
GO TO CONFESSION!