Let’s face it, there are plenty of us who could stand to go to confession more often. And we have a duty to receive the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.
According to the Church’s command, “after having attained the age of discretion, each of the faithful is bound by an obligation faithfully to confess serious sins at least once a year.” Anyone who is aware of having committed a mortal sin must not receive Holy Communion, even if he experiences deep contrition, without having first received sacramental absolution, unless he has a grave reason for receiving Communion and there is no possibility of going to confession. Children must go to the sacrament of Penance before receiving Holy Communion for the first time. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1457)
Confession is the means by which we acknowledge our own failures in living up to the commandments of the Lord.
The confession (or disclosure) of sins, even from a simply human point of view, frees us and facilitates our reconciliation with others. Through such an admission man looks squarely at the sins he is guilty of, takes responsibility for them, and thereby opens himself again to God and to the communion of the Church in order to make a new future possible. (CCC, 1455)
Here are some tips based on personal experience to receiving God’s mercy through the sacrament.
Confession does not operate around your personal schedule. It’s a fact of life that in many modern parishes, especially in rural or suburban communities, that parishes do not offer confession at times which may be best for everyone. Saturday afternoons for a half-hour before vigil Masses may be the only times available during the week. Much like Mass times, confessions times won’t bend to our personal preference. It may be tempting to use non-aligned schedules as an excuse to pass confession by for another week, but eventually you’ve just got to buck up and go.
You can be discrete, but don’t hold back. It’s good to feel awkward when in confession. That means you know that you’ve committed sin. That said, some of the things we’ve done can be rather embarrassing, both to ourselves and others. (I’ve certainly had my share.) If you find certain intimate details too embarrassing, it’s fine to spare the priest the nitty-gritty of things. Nonetheless, always be sure in some way to accurately convey your sin, so that the priest can readily understand what it is you are seeking absolution for.
You’re not the only one with sins to confess. With what limited time so many parishes have for confessions, it helps to be considerate to others who wish to partake of the sacrament in the same time period. Granted some might have a lot to confess at certain points or may need additional time, but in general your mindset should be to keep things concise. Be conscientious of others who are also in need of the sacrament. If you know that you have some serious sins to seek absolution for and that it will take time to confess them, it might be to everyone’s benefit to call the rectory and schedule a private meeting with the priest outside of the regularly allotted time.
Penance matters. Our Savior, when speaking to the adulterous woman, told her: “Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more” (John 8:11).
In confession, our priests acting in persona Christi, function in much the same way (see CCC, 1548).
Since Christ entrusted to his apostles the ministry of reconciliation, bishops who are their successors, and priests, the bishops’ collaborators, continue to exercise this ministry. Indeed bishops and priests, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, have the power to forgive all sins “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (CCC, 1461).
Again, our penance is not a trivial matter.
The penance the confessor imposes must take into account the penitent’s personal situation and must seek his spiritual good. It must correspond as far as possible with the gravity and nature of the sins committed. It can consist of prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service of neighbor, voluntary self-denial, sacrifices, and above all the patient acceptance of the cross we must bear. Such penances help configure us to Christ, who alone expiated our sins once for all. They allow us to become co-heirs with the risen Christ, “provided we suffer with him.” (CCC, 1460)
If you feel that your penance is not enough, by all means perform additional acts on your own. Your penance is merely the acknowledgement that you have committed wrongs, but in no way ensures that you are impervious to sin. Should some manner of struggle or undertaking come along, offer it up to God as continued penance for the sins you have committed, and those you may commit in the future.
Rededicate yourself to the sacrament. Most importantly just go. Going to confession becomes easier the more often you do it, but once you fall out of the practice, it can be increasingly difficult to get back into it. We should always pay heed to our conscious and be attentive that when we do wrong, we do everything in our power to make amends for it. This includes confessing our sins to the Lord and performing the appropriate penance.
Confession only seems like a great undertaking when you’re not in the habit of it. Now is the time in the holy sesason of Lent to begin considering how we have failed, and how we can do better by the Lord. Through our penance, we start down the road to self-improvement, however long it may take.