I confess, I don’t enjoy going to Confession. I get nervous just thinking about it and even feel a little petulant whining — “Do I have to?”
So why do I go to Confession and painfully acknowledge my sins out loud in the presence of a priest?
Why Not Directly to God?
We do confess our sins directly to God — to God alone do we owe our obedience and from God alone do we ask and receive forgiveness. The priest is God’s holy ordained minister, acting in persona Christi — in the person of Christ.
For myself, I will say that there’s something about confessing our sins out loud to God with another human being listening…
I can look up a lot of theological reasons for the Sacrament of Reconciliation to share with you, but so can also look them up yourself. Instead, in the Christian spirit of bearing witness, let me share a little of my personal experience.
Okay, so I don’t want to actually confess to you, so I’m not going to tell you about my sins. I will tell you a little about one particular sin of mine, which I didn’t think of as a sin when I began committing it. I was about 16, not religious, and like many people of this age, full of myself. The sin eventually became part of my everyday life, my own self image and worldview being totally affected by it.
When I chose Christ at the age of 27, I still didn’t think much about sin. But I did think a lot about love. Real love. This thing that I was doing didn’t bring love to anyone. I started to see my actions as self-centered and empty of anything truly good or beautiful.
I expressed sorrow to God quietly in my heart, but without really wanting to reform. I tried to be more aware of the people around me and of every present situation, focusing my time and energies on being a more loving person and, yes, writing. (Wasting time was something that I did consider sinful.) Growing more in faith, I halfheartedly and very vaguely confessed it sacramentally to a priest that visited our house. But I didn’t stop.
Then, something beautiful happened. (Read about the epiphany in my book.) I received the gift of recognizing Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist. I could no longer receive Holy Communion in a casual or ignorant way. Having learned that one had to be in a state of grace in order to receive (St. Paul talks about the grave need to examine ourselves so that we will not receive unworthily, 1 Corinthians 11:27), I wanted to make sure that I was not guilty of any kind of mortal sin. A state of grace is like … hmm … looking for a good analogy…. Really difficult, but let’s try these: you wouldn’t want to enter an MRI machine with a bunch of metal in your body, would you? Or enjoy swimming in the ocean with a bunch of shark bait stuck all over you? Or climb up a cliff while dragging a bunch of useless baggage? Not great analogies, but all of these things would dangerously take away from the intent of the actions. Holding on to mortal sin while professing to believe in the saving sacrifice of Jesus, re-presented in the Holy Eucharist, puts you in danger of sinning against the Body and Blood of the Lord.
True, I hadn’t murdered anyone, but was my sin serious enough to make my reception of Communion unworthy? Surprisingly, I couldn’t find a clear, concise list of mortal sins. That’s because the Catholic Church is concerned with the person committing the sin more than the sin itself, so takes into account what the person’s state of mind and heart was when the sin was committed, what the surrounding circumstances were, etc. Long story short, I did see something like a loophole that could get me out of having to specifically name and confess my sin to a priest.
But I love truth too much to mess around with it.
Like it or not, I needed to contritely confess the sin and be rid of it. With the profound reality of the Eucharist in my mind and heart, I confessed the sin outright, out loud, naming it precisely.
There are some sins that are so embarrassing to say out loud that we never want to commit them again, just so we don’t have to repeat the ordeal. After receiving absolution, temptation comes at us again (we all experience this). If I have enough presence of mind to remember that committing the sin again will mean needing to confess it out loud again in order to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, then I am much more likely to remain strong and resist.
Embarrassment is not a divine motive to get sin out of a person’s life, of course, but it was a good beginning for me. If I hadn’t had to make my confession with a priest in the confessional, it would’ve taken me much longer to truly seek God’s help in shaking that particular sin of mine. This aspect of Confession is still a great motivator for me to avoid serious sin. God knows me. God knows you. And God amazingly uses our foibles to strengthen us.
A Taste of Death
Recently, a good priest told me that going to Confession is going to the tomb with Christ. That clicked: it’s like dying. I’m frightened of what my dying process might be. We know that dying can be a real struggle and painful. Going to Confession can be a real struggle too, even painful. But there’s no Easter Sunday without Good Friday, no Resurrection to new life without death. Confession and Penance bring us low, feeling all the misery of sin and self-centeredness. But this is good. Because then God raises us up to new heights in His merciful love.
© 2023 Christina Chase
Feature Photo by Shalone Cason on Unsplash
Christina Chase View All
Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog and have written a book: It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.
Hi Christina, I too “dread” confession, but I never heard it described as going in the tomb with Jesus and seeing it as dying (and the fear associated with dying). That’s very poignant. I certainly will look at confessing differently going forward! Thanks for the insights on confession. Truly appreciate them.