A South Carolina priest recently confessed that he gets bored at confessional. I do, too. I’ve never liked going. But it teaches me something valuable every time.
|Confession is an act of honesty and courage—an act of entrusting ourselves, beyond sin, to the mercy of a loving and forgiving God”—Saint Pope John Paul II|
I’m not a regular to the confession lines at my church. If you want my honest opinion, I’ll admit it … I hate going.
It isn’t that I don’t appreciate the sacramental value and beauty of the forgiveness of sins—I do. If you’re struggling with going to confession, I’ll be the first person to tell you about the incredible sacramental benefits and graces waiting to flood into your soul after you make a good confession. I believe in its power. But I also know how hard it is to go. Because if there is one sacrament that I have to prepare the most for, it’s the sacrament of reconciliation. Nothing worth doing comes easy, of course, but it makes me uncomfortable for a variety of reasons:
1. Confession means admitting I messed up & that I don’t have it all together
I’m a perfectionist, so confession, which asks us to admit when we’ve stumbled and been less than perfect, rips into my heart. For the most part outside of church, I’m able to keep up a pretty good mask even when things are falling apart. I’ll say “it’s fine” or “I’m good” when people ask how I’m doing, even when something is troubling me. So to go to confession and list areas of my life where I’ve fallen down means having to be vulnerable. It forces me to admit that I’m not okay, and it’s not all good.
My hesitancy often reminds me of something Saint Faustina said: “The soul neither knows how, nor is willing, to probe with precision the depths of its own mercy. It puts on a mask and avoids everything that might bring it to recovery.”
2. It’s not easy saying my sins out loud to the person they hurt the most
When I confess my sins in the confessional, the priest stands In Persona Christi, in the person of Christ. Most Catholics will know that this means that the priest does not represent himself, or give the words of absolution as Father so-and-so, but he speaks as the Other—as Christ. This is beautiful. But it is also intimidating. Because it means that I whisper through the screen (or face to face) to the one who I hurt the most: the man who was nailed to the cross with sins. It’s humbling and difficult for me to do, but I also know that it creates an incredible dialogue for reparation and repair.
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3. By confessing, I realize that I haven’t improved much since the last time
This week Father Dwight Longenecker wrote about how, as a priest, he gets bored in the confessional. But it’s not the people that bore him, it’s the sins. He wrote: “To be honest, there really aren’t that many sins. Satan can’t create anything. All he can do is destroy or distort all that God has made that is beautiful, good and true.”
For the majority of my confession, I spend time repeating the same sins that I said in confession the last time. Pride. Envy. Pride. Selfishness. Pride. Pride. Pride. It feels like I transform into a broken record the minute I walk into the confessional. When I really start to think about it, I discover that the reason I’m being repetitive is because I haven’t made a good effort to change. I haven’t avoided occasions of sin; in fact, sometimes I’ve even encouraged them.
4. It requires asking for help
I don’t ask for help often. When I get to the point of vocalizing stress or worries, the levels of stress and worry have hit pretty high levels. So to have to ask for help from Christ vocally is rough for me. I know He knows about my imperfection, but vocalizing and actually asking for advice and help is a large step. It is delving into humility, which given my top vice, is never easy.
5. Confession means I need to change
After a confession, I need to resolve that I’m going to change for the better. Resolutions aren’t easy for any of us, whether it comes in the form of going to the gym more often, or the promise to be less proud, or more kind. That’s because making a resolution often points out that something needed fixing in the first place.
But I have found that praying an examination of conscience on a nightly basis allows me to make change possible. Regularly going through my day and recognizing points of weakness allows me to see where I’m tempted and correct my path more quickly than I would if I was just examining my conscience as I stand in line for confession.
There is a line in the Act of Contrition that yanks at me every time I say it. “I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, do penance and amend my life.” It’s those three words at the end: Amend my life. Amend means to “alter by a formal procedure.” The word itself is French, amender, from around the early thirteenth century. It meant “to free from faults, to rectify.” To me, that means that I shouldn’t desire to go chain myself again to the same sins. I have to change my daily life and run away from those occasions of sin. I have to change.
And maybe if I can do that my confessions will change, too. Maybe they’ll become a little less repetitive and boring.
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