Questions on Confession I

My dear friends,

From time to time, I get questions about the Sacrament of Reconciliation. During this year of Mercy, I’d like to answer some of these questions in the bulletins this summer.

Question: Some of the prayers I learned as a child are now different, like the Act of Contrition. Does it matter which version I pray?

Answer: The Prayer of Contrition is our way of expressing sorrow for the sins we have confessed and to stir up in our souls a firm resolve to amend our life and avoid sin. As long as these sentiments are expressed, it doesn’t matter how we express them. We can use the traditional prayers we learned as a child, any of the new versions, or express our sorrow spontaneously in our own words. Some people have told me they have difficulty remembering the Act of Contrition at the time of confession and feel embarrassed. Given human weakness, this is understandable. I never mind helping someone through a “junior moment” as I have many myself. This is why I keep copies of the Prayer of Contrition in the confessional. I have been so moved by certain confessions, that I have forgotten the Prayer of Absolution, and so I too have a “cheat-sheet” that I keep close by. The important thing in all of this is not to worry, to follow the way that is most familiar and comfortable to us and to be at peace.

Question: If I don’t remember if I have confessed all the sins of the past, is it good to make a general confession?

Answer: Each time we come to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we do our best to be honest with ourselves and with God and confess all the sins that we remember. If our conscience is properly formed and working well, we usually know when we have committed a serious sin that needs to be confessed. However, there can be areas of ignorance and blindness in our lives, and we may not realize the seriousness of certain choices we have made. It may happen that years later we receive greater insight through a book, a homily or a retreat, and we realize we have sinned. Our previous confessions were good if we did our best, for we are not held accountable for what we did not know or were unable to know. But when we become aware of past sins, though the Mercy of God takes care of what is forgotten, a person may bring such sins to their next confession in order to receive further grace and healing. This can also help a person to completely let go of the sin and be more at peace with their conscience. We can also do this for sins we are unsure about, unless the problem is doubting God’s forgiveness and struggling to trust His Mercy. The priest and the person confessing can discern together what is best. The important thing in all of this is to do our best, to entrust whatever may be hidden from us to God’s mercy and to be at peace. So, a general confession of one’s whole life is not necessary when this happens.

Question: What happens when a person knows they have gravely sinned, and yet they do not mention it in confession?

Answer: Those who hide any serious sins in confession out of fear or shame are doing themselves a great disservice, depriving themselves of many graces of healing, freedom and peace that God yearns to lavish upon all who entrust themselves to His mercy in this sacrament. We have an enemy that does not want us to experience this freedom and peace, and so he tries to keep us in fear and shame. We must ask God for courage and for the humility to overcome the pride that makes it hard for us to admit to ourselves, and to another, that we have sinned.

Confessing our sins will always have an uncomfortable side to it. It was never meant to be a picnic, and God help those who skip into the confessional. Going to the doctor with our aches and pains is never something we look forward to, especially if we know that embarrassing procedures, painful tests or even major surgery await us. But we are willing to endure all this for the outcome: the relief from pain and the restoration to full health. Confession is very similar. We submit to the discomfort of confessing our sins because of the outcome: the tangible experience of being loved in our weakness, to know again the embrace of God’s tremendous Mercy, the peace of being completely free and cleansed of sin and the joy of making a new beginning. I am always grateful and deeply moved in the confessional when I see this peace and joy appear on the faces of those confessing.

I hope this is helpful. Stay tuned. There will be more questions and answers in the future.

God bless you and keep you,

Fr. Steven

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