Last week’s blog was about the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Specifically, how it changes us, sets us free and thus changes the world and influences our neighbors and families. Making the journey to the confessional, to seek Jesus in this beautiful and intimate sacrament is often scary and can be a bit intimidating. Today, I’m going to share some resources and ideas for helping to prepare our hearts, minds and souls to jump back into Confession.
Whether it has been 2 weeks of 20 years, Jesus desires for us to come back to Him and He delights so greatly in your yes to His call of repentance and conversion. Here are a couple of steps that I have seen myself think about when seeking out the confessional:
Step 1: Find a Confession Time
Depending on how long it has been since your last confession, what the current situation of COVID-19 is in your area, or how frequently you have been attending a certain parish, finding a confession time can feel like a challenging task. Take time to look at the local parishes around you for confession times. Websites like MassTimes.org have a wealth of information that can be used to find a convenient time or location. For individuals who haven’t been in a while, finding a priest you trust and are comfortable with is always helpful. Making an appointment ahead of time, outside of the regular confession hours and telling the priest that you haven’t been in a while allows them support you fully while you return to confession. Setting a date and time that you are planning to go often helps when committing yourself to take action. It may seem easy to say that you will go sometime next week or sometime soon, but setting a specific date and time can help challenge you to continue you pursuit of Jesus, even when it seems scary.
Step 2: Prayer and Examination of Conscience
Preparing for confession is vital when working to make a good confession. There are many places where you can find an examination of conscience, which helps you look at the areas of your life that you have struggled, places you need to grow and areas of consistent sin. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a great list of different examination of consciences that apply to the stage of your life you’re currently in; including one for married couples, one for children and young adults. You can access it here. Taking the time to look at one of these documents can help you to think through all areas of your life. Keeping a journal and writing down notes to take into confession with you can help you to remember the most important things you’d like to talk about. You can also write down the steps to a good confession and the prayers that you will saying during your confession in this notebook.
Step 3: Go to Confession
To make a good confession, there are a few steps that the Church requires of us. An examination of conscience, being sincerely sorry for your sins, confessing your sins, resolve to amend your life and to do the penance that the priest prescribes after your confession are all essential components. Taking the time to think on and pray about the sins you are confessing helps in being sorrowful for your sins. Making sure to confess all sins and have true resolve to sin no more is important when seeking out the Sacrament of confession. If you have questions about this or need to talk through something, such as a teaching of the Church you do not understand or other areas of your Faith, reach out to your priest or a person at your parish that you trust. Finding the answers to our questions and learning more about the teachings of the Church is essential to making a good confession.
Step 4: Prayer and Penance
During your confession, the priest with give you a penance to complete after you leave the confessional. Often times, this may be a few prayers, something to think about actively for a few minutes, or even an action they would like you to pursue. These penances help us to continue to be active in seeking out forgiveness and to forgive those around us. It helps to unite us with God, to accept His forgiveness and to forgive ourselves. Penance helps us to be continuously united to God even outside of the confessional. If you are confused or unsure about what the priest asks you to do in your penance, make sure to ask for clarification. Your Penance after confession is still part of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, so make sure to follow through in what the priest asks you to do.
Step 5: “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.” John 8:11.
One of the key areas of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is to be truly sorry for your sins and to resolve to go forth and sin no more. In John Chapter 8, Verse 11, Jesus encounters the woman caught in adultery. In this moment, He asks her to go on and sin no more. In each confession, Jesus asks the same of us. While we, as humans, inevitably fall into sin, we are called to do our best and to actively seek out grace from Jesus. It is important to remember that we cannot do it alone and that we must constantly go back to God to make us holier, to call us back to confession, and to make our hearts like His. We can resolve to do better in the future, to consistently go to mass if you haven’t, to pray, to remove gossip from our lives, whatever ways we are falling short. In all of this resolve, we must seek God and we must ask him to change our hearts, minds and souls because we can do nothing without him.
Psalm 51:12 says “A clean heart create for me, God; renew within me a steadfast spirit.” The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a sacrament of healing, where God tangibly answers our cries for a clean and contrite heart. It heals our souls, creates a new heart within us, teaches forgiveness and brings us closer into the arms of the Father. Our faith is not a step by step process, but a process of radical trust, deep dependence and pursuing the heart of the Lord… all while he perfectly loves us within His plan of sheer goodness. The Sacrament of Reconciliation allows us to surrender to the arms of the Father, to pour our hearts out to Him and trust that He will be there to accept and forgive.