When I returned to the Church, I thought of Confession as an “extra” sacrament. It was one of those things super holy Catholics did, but not really necessary and certainly not the sort of thing for me.
I was wrong.
Then, I was of the mindset that I’d just confess my sins right before I died. And if the priest didn’t show up in time, it wouldn’t really be my fault for keeping all those sins to myself for all those years. In reality, though, I cringed at the idea of the discomfort, the vulnerability, and the plain truth of the fact that I can be very badly wrong. I can cause hurt. But I can also heal.
One of the biggest game changers for me in the way I examine my conscience was the day Jesus referred to my sins as “self-inflicted wounds” that needed healing. A part of me had known this reality was true well before He framed it that way in prayer. My pride, my vanity, my unforgiveness, every uncharitable thought or reluctance to do God’s will when He’s been abundantly clear with me…those actions wound my heart. And more than that, I am choosing, by my own free will, to inflict these wounds on myself.
These days, I go to Confession almost every week. I don’t want anything, not even the smallest sin, to stand between my heart and His.
1. It Gives Us the Clarity to See Truth
The Enemy does his best to ensure we don’t see things in the light of truth. I learned in the early days of studying for an MA in Theology that my head was so much clearer when I’d take a test immediately after Confession. Back then, I’d go to Confession about once a month. And as the weeks passed between confessing my sins, there was a feeling I can only describe as the buildup of a dense fog.
Living under the weight of sin, even venial sin, blinded me to truth, goodness, and beauty. And after every Confession, it was like the world had regained the vibrance of springtime once more. The fog cleared away to reveal brilliant truth that had been only inches in front of my face yet totally invisible. Hope more often conquered fear.
2. We Gain Knowledge of True Freedom
These days, I approach the sacrament of Confession on a weekly basis. Occasionally, though, when I’m sick or my schedule is abnormal, I might go two weeks between Confessions, and (if I’m aware of sins I’ve committed) that second week feels like agony. As I’ve grown more and more accustomed to the freedom that regular Confession allows, I feel much more acutely the weight of my sin, the burden of it heavy on my soul.
3. It Heals Our Relationships
One of the great things about sacramental Confession is that it can help us avoid future sin. Regularly confessing our sins doesn’t only heal our woundedness; it also helps to keep us from becoming wounded to begin with. And from a simply logical standpoint, this makes sense. The more work I put into maintaining my relationship with another person, the less often I have reason to apologize for the ways I’ve failed in that relationship. The same is true of our relationship with God.
Growing up, apologizing for my actions wasn’t really something I did. I often found ways to justify what I’d done wrong or assumed the other person should know I was sorry since I never intended to hurt them. But I noticed early on when I started going to Confession monthly, that recognizing when I’m wrong and apologizing for the ways I’d wounded my relationships with friends and family became much more common. And then, too, I began putting more effort into being a better friend, daughter, and sister.
I don’t want anything to stand in the way of my relationship with God. Nor do I want my own sins and failings to stand in the way of my other relationships.
4. The Final Battle Has Already Been Won
“Confession is a place of victory.” When I look up the quote, it’s most often attributed to Fr. Mike Schmitz. But I first heard it from a seminarian of my diocese one day when I was stalling stepping into the Confession line. Some days (especially when I’ve had coffee too close to Confession time), I’m so anxious beforehand that I have to pace around to keep myself from shaking. Sometimes I feel too terrified to do anything but stand completely still, as though awaiting a death sentence that somehow always ends up being mercy.
On the day that a little voice whispered, “Then just don’t go. Your sins aren’t that bad, and you know it,” I realized these were all just little attacks. Little ways of Satan trying to make me not throw myself at the foot of the Cross to ask (over and over and over again) for God’s mercy.
Because every time we humble ourselves enough to plainly, openly recognize our sins and ask forgiveness, we join in the triumph of Our Lord’s Resurrection. At that moment, we, with Him, trample over our own sin. The penalty of sin is death. And by crucifying our sins, we trample eternal death underfoot as well.
5. I’m More Honest
When I was four years old, I pretended to be sick so I could stay home and get a whole day with my mom. I remember the terrible guilt I felt when I realized my aunt knew I wasn’t really sick, that I’d lied about it. And I remember feeling physically ill over that guilt, even after I went to her to apologize.
I hated lying so much; I made a resolution that day never to lie again. So I don’t come to this point as someone with a regular habit of dishonesty.
But because I’m going to Confession every week, I’m in the habit of regularly examining my sins. Not just going through a list, but talking with Our Lord about whether a negative feeling is just a fleeting feeling or it’s the result of some sin committed. And when a sin is identified, I don’t leave it there. I examine it from all sides, asking God to shine His light in the darkness of that sin so that I can understand why it’s a sin in the first place (how did it wound my relationship with God?). I want to know where it went from being an external temptation to an interior act of my own will. I ask the Holy Spirit to give me the grace to avoid falling to that same sin in the future, and I ask the protection of my guardian angel, as well.
All of this forces me to be very vulnerable with God, and very honest with myself. And I can recognize much more quickly when I need to take a deep breath and step back from a situation, whether I’m responding like sinful Caitlyn or being Christ to a person who clearly doesn’t know His love and therefore needs Him even more than I do in that moment.
And if I’m not bearing witness to Him, most likely I’m bearing witness against Him.
6. I’m a Piece of Work
I’m not even close to being perfect. I won’t reach perfection in this life. And yet, to “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) is the end goal of this life.
It’s not a striving for perfectionism, though. The perfection of holiness entails an abandonment of those bonds of perfectionism. I throw my whole self at the feet of Our Crucified and Risen Lord. I throw all my weakness, all my wounds, into the furnace of His Heart, and I ask Him to be my strength. Because I’m not strong, I’m very, very weak. That is, after all, why I find myself in a Confessional every week.
I’ve also developed rules for myself to avoid scrupulosity. That is a spiritual sickness in which a person can become overly anxious, viewing non-sinful actions as though they were sins, or viewing venial sins (which wound our relationship with God) as though they’re mortal (which cut us off from that relationship entirely). Namely, I will only request Confession outside standard times for the sacrament if I’m certain I’ve committed a mortal sin.
7. That Work is a Masterpiece in Progress
When I went eight years between Confessions, the priest’s first words to me were, “Welcome home.” When it was another two years between that Confession and the next, the priest told me, “Don’t stay away so long next time.”
When I was sitting in the pew, a week after my last Confession, deliberating about whether I really wanted to become one of those Catholics who go every week, Jesus said, “Come. Run to this great sacrament of My Mercy, and throw yourself into My Heart so burning with love for you.”
It’s not about who has the most sins or the worst sins. It’s not about being sure to confess sins so I can be “better” than those sinners over there. It’s about being His, becoming His, and being more and more closely fashioned into His image. The sacrament of Confession exists not to accuse us of what we already know (that’s what Satan does). It exists to reforge, strengthen, and sustain our relationship with Love Incarnate.
It’s all about love. True love. Infinite love. A love bigger than any wound we can inflict or have inflicted upon us. Confession is a sacrament of healing.
If you’ve been away for a while and are feeling that call to come back, I urge you to come. Run to this great sacrament of His Mercy. Jesus longs for you to run back into His arms and receive His great love, holding nothing back.