You’ll remember from reading this that I struggled with confession. I used to see it as a good tool, but just couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that it was necessary. That was back when I was making my own rules and had made myself my own god. Anyway, there came a time when I fell in love with confession (what a weird thing to say, right?) and I was hoping I could share that particular story here.
I know that confession, or the Sacrament of Reconciliation, is something that Protestants don’t get. I know that a lot of Catholics don’t get it because I was a Catholic for 26 years before I really got it. I will address (quickly and incompletely) a few of the main objections.
1. Confession isn’t in the bible: “21 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.
22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:
23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.” (John 20:21-23 –that’s also the King James Version which I know that alot of Protestants use)
2. Confession is something the Catholic Church made up along the way: Some of the earliest Christian writings (dating back to the first century) make it clear that the sacrament goes back to the beginning of the Church. In 1215, Confession was reaffirmed and emphazised in the Fourth Lateran Council and maybe that’s why people think it was “created” later.
3. I can go straight to God with my sins.: “When it is ‘just me and God’ it is all too easy to project my own qualities and biases upon God. Then, rather than being created in the image of God, we begin to create God in our fallen image.” “Catholics who use this argument tend to not be in the habit of confessing directly to God either. Too often it is used not to justify a different form of confession, but as an excuse to avoid confession altogether.” (Rediscover Catholicism by Matthew Kelly)
These points are incomplete, but I wanted to give a little rather than nothing at all in case someone reading this just doesn’t understand confession at all. You can use the above as a jump start to learn more if you’re interested! It’s not my intention to change your mind about confession or to say that I’m right and you’re wrong. I only to hope to address some serious questions and misunderstandings that maybe you’ve only ever had the question to, but were never presented an answer.
So, we all know I struggled with the concept of confession. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just go straight to God (which -like said above- I never actually DID). Remember how I read and read and read and read? Well, I read about confession, and I learned something frightening. I had never made a good confession in my life. Not ever. Not once. I’d been to confession. I’d confessed my sins, sometimes completely, but without an ounce of sorrow, sometimes withholding the ones that I was too embarrassed to say to an old dude, sometimes I didn’t confess things that I didn’t deem sinful (but that clearly were). Anyway, never. Not once. That’s scary. So, after I freaked out for a hot minute, I decided to do one, big, all encompassing confession for the 26 years I’d never taken it seriously.
I decided the next day would be devoted to prayer and fasting and my first real confession. I set apart some serious time to examine my conscience, and, when the next day came, I was ready. It was a weekday, and there were no scheduled confession times at my church this day.
I couldn’t get to confession fast enough. Really. Imagine finding out that you have been exposed to a deadly strain of the flu. How quickly would you run to the sink to scrub your hands clean? You might even hop in a hot shower. Anyway, that’s how I felt. So, I called my church office asked if Father would be able to hear my confession. The secretary told me she would ask him and get back with me. Pure agony. I had to wait and wait and wait. She called back. Father was very sorry, but he was leaving to go on vacation and wouldn’t have enough time before he left town. My pride yelled from inside “Wow, some priest he is! This is his JOB. Here I am chilling with mortal sins on my soul and he’s going on VACATION? How badly would he feel if I died today!! This is serious!”
I caught myself. “Wait. Maybe God has a purpose for this! I don’t know what’s going on in Father’s life or day. Calm down.”
I took a chill pill and told Marvin. He suggested I go to confession before 5:30 mass at a different church that afternoon, and I could even go to mass after. Perfect. I would be able to receive Him. It would be the first time I did so with an understanding of what that really meant. It would be the first time I did so while in a state of grace. I couldn’t wait. I wanted to make sure this counted. I continued fasting and praying and really preparing.
The time came for me to make it to confession and my heart was pounding. I walked into the chapel, and sitting on the altar was the Blessed Sacrament. My heart dropped into my toes and my stomach did a flip. I got in line. I prayed that I would feel sorrow for my sins and that I would make a good confession. I prayed and prayed and prayed and waited for my turn. It was my turn. I walked towards the confessional and an old dude walked out. “Hey, can I catch you after mass? I don’t want to be late starting mass!” My eyes looked panicked. I looked at him as if to say “WAIT! NO! I reaaaaaaally need this!” I said nothing. “Would that be ok,” he asked. I said sure. I turned around and walked back to the pew and sat down and tears streamed down my cheeks.
And then, out of nowhere it hit me like a 50 pound weight. How I felt in that moment was a small, small piece of how I made Jesus feel the majority of my life. This is how it felt to Him knowing that I was walking around with all of these sins and therefore separating myself from Him. This sorrow that I felt. This terrible feeling of being separated from Him and this longing to be near Him and open to His graces. I’ve been aware of this for only 48 hours and it was killing me. He’s felt this way most of my life. This deep desire to be connected with Him is something He’s felt and I’ve ignored. I’ve never even given it thought. Wow. How awesome is God? Had all the things worked out perfectly (according to my plan), had I been to confession when I wanted to go, I would have never had this epiphany. That was totally the Holy Spirit. I sat through mass with an ache in my body. I didn’t want to be separated from Him for one more minute. This sucks.
Mass ended and the priest came to me and asked if I was ready. As an extra stab at my pride I had decided (before arriving to the chapel) that I would make this big, fat, ugly confession face-to-face.
I walk in to the confessional and sit down across from the priest. He starts chatting about how he’s sorry that he had to make me wait, but blah blah blah one time when he was hearing confession before mass he kept letting people come and he missed the entire mass and blah blah blah funny story that’s taking a long time. I tried to pretend like I was listening. JUST LET ME SAY MY CONFESSION. Ok, his story is done. It’s time.
“Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been two weeks since my last confession, but I have really been learning about our faith and praying and I learned that I have never in my entire life made a good confession, so, I would like to make a big, all encompassing confession now.”
“Ok, but you’re not going to remember…” I cut him off.
I pulled out my five pages of paper full of all of my sins (front and back on composition paper). “Ummmm. I wrote them down.”
His eyes get big. “Uh. Ok. Go ahead.”
I go through my sins. I cry. I finish. I look up at him. He’s smiling.
“Wow. Ok. It sounds like God sent you a wake up call, and you got it.”
We talked for a bit. I said my penance in front of the Blessed Sacrament and I prayed in thanksgiving for a while.
That’s how I fell in love with confession. I go pretty often now. I wish I didn’t have to go, but for some darn reason I make the same mistakes OVER and OVER. It’s exhausting. Thank goodness we have a loving and merciful God!
Similarily, recently I walked into confession with my chest puffed out. I was all proud of my itty bitty venial sins. I mean, I’m a mom and a wife. My sins aren’t all that crazy. I thought I would be in and out. Nope. This priest was awesome. He really knocked my off my high horse. He spent a good deal of time talking to me about how damaging and sinful gossip was. He chastised me. It was great. My penance was spending FIVE DAYS off of Facebook. I wish I could confess to this priest every time. My pride could use some stabbing at, and this priest is the man for the job. Make sure you confess to a priest who challenges you! You could stand to be pushed every now and then.
God’s plan is so much better than mine or yours. When I needed to go to confession so bad that it hurt, I was forced to wait so that I could learn something. When I walked into confession feeling like I wasn’t that bad, I was scolded. We get what we need at the time. Had the two situations been flipped (the tough priest for the big confession and the other one for the “little” confession), who knows what would have happened. It’s good to be uncomfortable! Get uncomfortable!