Many Catholics are still ambivalent about confession. In conversing with some Catholic adults, I was astonished to hear how people were reluctant to go to confession because they do not remember the words used in the confessional. These adults are embarassed to ask the priest confessor for help in making a good confession.
Many adults were also hesitant to go to confession because they do not have a clear understanding about what is sin.
Finally, numerous adult Catholics no longer believe in the necessity of confession — due in part to their conviction that they can confess their sins directly to God.
First of all, if you are troubled by the fact that you do not remember the sequence of confession, that is, the way to confess sins and the wording used, such as “Bless me Father for I have sinned…” it’s okay. Simply ask the confessor to guide you and the priest will be happy to accommodate your request. In this high tech world in which we live, with a bastion of passwords to visit websites, is it any wonder that adults forget the words used in the rite of reconciliation? The priest serves the sacrament much like a tool on a workbench, if you will. The workbench is the confessional or reconciliation room. The priest is the tool or vehicle through which you are confessing your sins. He is meant to assist you, the penitent. But it is Jesus to whom you are confessing and it is the Lord who, through the instrument of the priest, offers sacramental forgiveness.
For those who are unsure about what they should confess, think about the Gospel where we hear Luke’s account of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount which contains the Beatitudes. These underscore the potential that God sees in each of us. As fodder for refl ection be-
fore going to confession, we should ask ourselves: “Have I realized my `Beatitude potential’ or have I fallen short of the mark?”
Since we are all called to become images of Christ, we should ask ourselves, “What do I have to change about myself to be more like Jesus?” Whatever we conclude is what we should confess. For example: “Do I need to be more compassionate to those who are poor, homeless, imprisoned, diseased, inmourning?” “Do I need to be more forgiving of people who offend me?” “Do I need to be less judgmental of others and thereby more tolerant of peoples’ differences?”
Confession is not just taking an inventory ofwhere we violated the Ten Commandments. Confession also entails admitting where we have failed God’s expectations for us; where we have failed to realize our “Beatitude
potential.” Confession should be the place, then, where we can admit to God and to the Church that there is room for improvement in our lives. Moreover, we need the grace of the sacrament of reconciliation because left to ourselves, we can and often do commit the same sins over and over again. As for those who feel that confession is not necessary since they can confess their sins directly to God; this is true if one could ascertain that he or she is in perfect contrition. The problem is, according to the Council of Trent, we can never know if we are in a state of perfect contrition. We can only know if we are in a state of sin. Even at Mass, we open the liturgy with the Penitential Rite wherein we acknowledge our sinfulness. Nevertheless, the Penitential Rite of the Mass is not a substitute for the sacrament of confession because it ismerely an acknoweledgement of our sinfulness and does not bestow sacramental absolution.
“Have we not received the forgiveness of our sins in Baptism?” Absolutely! While the initial forgiveness of sins, both original and personal, is experienced by us in Baptism, afterwards, we can and do fall from grace. This is human nature and the result of poor choices. Cognizant of our human condition, then, Jesus chose to institute the sacrament of confession, to support us and to encourage us as we meet with frustration in our attempts to live out the Gospel in a world where it’s not easy to be Christian. He institutes the sacrament of reconciliation (aka ‘Confession”) because, in the words of Paul, “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it,” [1 Cor. 12:26] In other words, when we sin, we offend not only God but the Church as well. So, while we can confess our sins to God whenever we wish — we can only be sure of receiving God’s forgiveness, as well as that of the Church, if we confess our sins to a priest, which is tantamount to confessing our sins to Jesus himself.
Confession is a gift from Christ, which bestows the grace of forgiveness and strengthens us to avoid sin in the future. It is the best way to prepare ourselves for Easter and to actualize our “Beatitude potential”!