Confession can be intimidating, and for an overly shy and self-conscious guy like myself, that’s definitely true. After all, the sacrament involves, well, confessing one’s faults—even the most secret and embarrassing ones. The thought of another person knowing my most shameful flaws is distressing enough. But my own priest?! What will he think of me? Talk about humiliation! Confession sure doesn’t sound too appealing.
Such thoughts probably keep many from approaching the sacrament. For me, fear and anxiety would prevent me from going to confession for months—even when I knew it would have been better for me to go. Since going to confession more frequently, however, my mindset has changed.
For starters, I’ve realized my fears were way overblown. Contrary to my expectations, Confession has never been scary. Sure, I’ve gotten nervous—and still do. But it’s much more relaxed than I had expected. The priest’s usually always willing to accompany me in the process. (He doesn’t assume that I already know how to “do” Confession.) Unlike popular depictions on TV, Confession for me has never been behind a screen—although there is that option at my church. Instead, I usually talk face-to-face. While mindful of the sacred space, I’ve usually experienced Confession as a casual dialogue with the priest. He’s not there to simply grant absolution and assign a penance. As a spiritual father, he is also there to counsel the individual. For me, the sacrament has often gone beyond confession of individual sins to a discussion of deeper concerns. More than anything, I’ve found Confession to be uplifting experience as the priest offers his guidance and encourages me in my walk with Christ.
Since going to confession more often, I’ve come to realize that my fears of being judged were misplaced—even ridiculous. For I now better appreciate the purpose of Confession, in the first place. Christ instituted the sacrament as an encounter with Him—with His mercy and forgiveness. No matter what priest I confess to, it’s ultimately Christ who forgives me. Yes, Christ gave his ministers the authority to forgive sin (Jn. 20:21-23). But they only do so in his name. The prayer for absolution, in which the priest declares God’s forgiveness, beautifully expresses the nature of the sacrament of reconciliation:
God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
See, the priest represents Christ, who has given the Church the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18). Having taken this to heart, I no longer stress over what the priest thinks of me. Additionally, I don’t fret over the priest’s words. Say, for instance, he’s not very sympathetic—or worse, is harsh. Now, this hasn’t happened to me. But if it did, I’d know better than to feel down. Anything else the priest may think or say is only secondary to the words of absolution.
As for the confessing part, that’s gotten a lot easier, too. One of the first things a priest will assure you of is the fact that’s he’s heard everything. Literally. If you think you’ve committed some horrible sin, like I’ve often thought, then be relieved to know that it’s probably a dime a dozen as far as the priest is concerned. This doesn’t mean that he takes my sins lightly. Rather, the priest understands human nature. He’s a pastor. He’s trained for this. Hearing confessions, is, well, what he signed up for.
So far, I’ve only talked about how I’ve overcome my fears about Confession. But I’ve also changed in another key way. My spiritual life has undergone tremendous development. By frequenting confession, my soul is under constant construction. Of course, I’m still prone to the same sins and struggles. But Confession keeps me on track. I don’t let my spiritual life get out of hand. I know that if I fall really, really badly, I can stand right back up—knowing God’s mercy is always available.
By going to Confession more often, I’ve been able to keep tabs on my destructive habits and attitudes. For instance, I have a problem with envy. Or maybe it’s more of an ingratitude combined with self-pity. Whatever it is, I’ve noticed negative feelings towards others, meshed with a harmful view of self. But, thanks to Confession, I’ve been able to strive for change. The sacrament acts as a visible marker for a new beginning—essentially a restart. I can see how I’m improving day-to-day, especially as I (rather informally) examine my conscience.
Through this sacrament of reconciliation, I’ve also noticed a stronger connection with the Eucharist. St. Paul tells us to be properly disposed when we come forward to receive the Body and Blood of Christ (1 Cor. 11:28). Confession reconciles us with God, but it also gives us a boost in the life of grace—just like the Eucharist. One time, I was even able to receive the Eucharist immediately following Confession—outside of Mass! I thought that was pretty cool. Also very suggestive of the fact that the rest of the sacraments are ordered to the Eucharist, signaling the intense union we’re meant to have with Christ.
Overall, in these last three months, I’ve noticed new trends in my life of faith. Confession has moved my life in a more positive direction. Above all, I’ve benefited spiritually as my relationship with God has strengthened. But this has, in turn, impacted other areas of my life—from my relationships with others to even my understanding of self. It’s not always smooth sailing, and I sometimes still dread having to confess the same sins to the same priest. But I hope to continue making use of this awesome sacrament, and I encourage others who are able to avail themselves of it!