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Finding Forgiveness: A Guide to Confession

Like many Catholics I know, I had not gone to the Sacrament of Confession for a number of years. The Catholic Church recommends we go at least once a year and I was far, far below that. The thought of Confession literally gave me heart palpitations. I am not fond of talking about myself and confession would be all about me and not the me I like; the me that I prefer stays hidden.

I was participating in a small faith sharing group in the spring of 2014 focusing on the habits of discipleship. An important habit of a disciple is regular participation in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and I was getting this nagging feeling that I should go. I tried to push it aside. I can apologize directly to God on my own in the privacy of my heart and that will do. Right? Why do I need to tell a priest what I did?

The nagging feeling returned. I was thinking I would just head over to Cor Jesu and go to Confession, but there was always some (reasonably) good reason why I couldn’t make it.

Facing the fear of Confession

Then I got mad at God. Being mad at the One who created me was scary. God is really big—who am I to get mad at Him? But I was and it was frightening. The next time I went to my small group, I told them I was going to go to Confession that very night and I asked them to ask me about it the following week. I knew that if I was held accountable I would do it.

That evening I showed up to Cor Jesu at 7pm. The church was dimly lit, the music was relaxing, and there was an overall sense of peace and rightness with the world. It was a sanctuary. And I was terrified. As I waited in line, my hands were shaking and if it wasn’t for my desire to not admit failure to my fellow group members, I would have left. Not only was I going to confess my sin; my sin was being mad at God.

It was finally my turn and I slunk over to the pew where the priest sat. I admitted that I did not know what to say and that it had been a long time since I had been to Confession. The priest was gracious and welcoming. He listened carefully and I did not feel uncomfortable or judged. He assured me that God can handle me being mad at Him. I felt cared about.

After being absolved, while doing my penance and a feeling of relief washed over me. I suddenly knew not just in my head, but in my heart, that it was okay. I was forgiven. The tears started slowly and then they were gushing out. I was forgiven. If I hadn’t taken that to Confession I would have walked around not knowing that being mad at God is not a sin in and of itself. It is a feeling.

Being certain of forgiveness and mercy was amazing. I felt clean and free and light. I was no longer mad at God.  Instead I knew that He was with me in that challenging time. The situation that had created so much disquiet in my soul was suddenly manageable.

Since that evening I have begun to go to Confession more often. It has helped me be more mindful of my actions.  By going regularly and praying about my sins, I have identified the patterns that I slip into.

We are like children

Fast forward to spring 2017 and a different small group. We plan to go to Cor Jesu together for Confession and Adoration. Some of us are more comfortable with this plan than others. As some of us struggle with it, we talked about a good way to look at it: thinking of how we relate to children.

When mine were toddlers I felt such tender love. I desired happiness for them and a good and healthy relationship with them. They were also irrational at times and unable to fully communicate their wants and needs. Temper tantrums ensued. There was at least one instance where out of frustration, I was whacked by an angry two-year-old and it hurt. There was wailing and gnashing of teeth—sometimes by both of us.

After the emotions subsided and tears dried, I would find myself with a bundle of sweaty toddler on my lap.  I would hold her and rub her back. I would feel her breathing begin to calm. I would forgive her because I am her mother and I love her more than life itself. Did I yell, lecture, criticize? I may have wanted to and being a flawed mother I probably did.

But here’s what so cool about God. Our heavenly Father’s love for each of us is boundless. His love is so big that in our human weakness and frailty, we cannot understand it. When we sin, we hurt Him, but like a mother with a two year old, He readily and happily forgives us over and over—without the feeling frustrated with us part. To God, we are nutty toddlers—yet He always forgives us. As Pope Francis said, “The Lord never tires of forgiving.  It is we who tire of asking for forgiveness.

So before going to Confession I remind myself that God is happy to forgive me. He is glad I came to Him and in His limitless generosity, He reconciles me to Himself and all is right again.

Praying before Confession

I have found that prayer helps with pre-confession jitters. This is really hard Jesus. Please help me. I’m scared. Recite the Memorare, because never was it known that anyone who fled to Mary’s protection, implored her help or sought her intercession was left unaided. Mary is our spiritual mother and she takes her role seriously.

Trusting your priest

Priests are confession experts and we can go to them with our nervousness as well. A good priest will help you feel at ease even if it has been decades since your last Confession. Priests are given the grace to forget what we tell them so we do not need to be worried that next time we see him at Mass, he will know our secrets. He won’t.  We can be assured that he will never tell anyone what we confess. Priests will endure jail, torture, or even death before breaking the seal of Confession. That, my friends, is love.

The priest does not forgive my sins. He acts as a conduit through which Christ’s amazing mercy and love flow. I asked a priest once to lay his hands on the top of my head while he prayed instead of just holding them above me and in that moment I felt the love of Jesus and the certainty of forgiveness.

The diocese of Dallas offers this tremendous resource for answering questions about Confession. It covers everything from types of sins to preparing if we have been away for a while.

Why we go

Yes, I can bring my sins to Jesus in personal prayer and it is good. But there is something holy about speaking them aloud to another human being that makes the mercy real. It is fairly easy to offer up a quick I’m sorry or even a silent prayer of contrition, but it is not so easy to say out loud what I did wrong.

And being penitent and forgiven shouldn’t be easy. How else will we begin to understand how much our sin hurts Jesus if we do not share some of that burden ourselves? Jesus hung on a cross for my sin. I can drag my sorry self to the confessional and speak what I have done. Because when I do that, I am more likely to think twice the next time.

I still get nervous before going to Confession, but it is a good kind of nervous. It reminds me that what I am doing is a good thing. The day I do not get nervous about telling Jesus what I have done wrong is the day I get worried.

Written by Merridith Frediani. Find out more about her here

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