Because of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the gulf which resulted from the sin of Adam and Eve, was removed. Through the Church, we are given many opportunities to bring us in contact with the divine and the fundamental requirement is that we simply believe that God’s grace is waiting for us to respond to these opportunities.
One such opportunity is in the sacrament of Confession. After the events of September 11, 2001, it would be a strange person indeed who would discount the ugliness of evil. Confession gives us the opportunity to break the chains and heavy burden of sin and evil in our own lives. Are we prepared to grasp that chance?
Do We Need Confession?
Society entices us to care for our bodies in many ways: by dieting, exercising, playing sport, heeding our doctor’s advice, relaxing on a vacation or a cruise. In concerning ourselves with such things, we may be tempted to forget about our souls. Jesus asked: “What can we exchange for our soul?” On the other hand, we may realize that we need to go to Confession but keep putting it off. We must firmly resist this type of procrastination since our souls are too valuable.
You may ask: “How often should I go?” The ideal frequency is to go during each of the four fasts: before the Nativity of Christ (Christmas), before Pascha during Great Lent, before the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin (August 15) and before the feast of Sts. Peter & Paul (June 29). This helps in maintaining a continuity from one confession to the next. Using the fasting period effectively will also help us to prepare.
What is Confession?
Sometimes people like to come to confession to chat with the priest about their lives. This is fine, but the sacrament of Confession is a moment of confrontation of our sins, not a reflection on our spiritual life, which should be done at a different time. It is also important not to be tempted to change priests because we do not like what he says. Besides this, our Archdiocese has designated the pastor of each of the parishes as the proper confessor since it is his task to spiritually care for the members of the parish.
Confession is not just a talk about our faults. It is an act of fervent, heartfelt repentance which results in a yearning for purification. Such a person longs for it because they can see what is holy and want to die to that sin which keeps them from it. Our willingness to be contrite is a measure of our holiness. Those who are insensitive to this and do not believe in it are outside of holiness and therefore, God.
So, what do we need to do to prepare both physically and mentally for this sacrament? There are three main steps.
A Searching of the Heart
The first is a “searching of the heart”. It is easy to see that the September 11 attack was an evil act but we must recognize that any evil, including what is within us is hideous and ugly. Recognizing this is a gift from God. We must try to be specific about what we see as evil in ourselves. A useful tool in helping us to see our faults is to listen to what we are most often accused of, especially by those who love us: family and friends. These comments can be very telling.
While I will help people articulate their sinfulness by starting with the commandments, we must attempt to move beyond this. Look at such things as our pride, our refusal to suffer reproaches, our hardness of heart, our need for flattery or acknowledgement, our proneness to depression, our weakness of faith and love or, our spiritual slothfulness. Is our faith active and fervent? Do we love every person as our brother or sister in Christ? Are we humble and free from anger? If we have no inkling of these things then we are not truly looking at ourselves. In contrast, the more the light of Christ shines in us, the more we see these faults, wounds and ulcers. If we see nothing, then we are in darkness! It is important to remember that all sins on all levels come back to the same thing: our pride.
A Contrite Heart
Before we go to Confession, we should ask forgiveness of those we have offended, in order to come with a clear conscience. It is also helpful to fast, to reflect on our vulnerability during this short life and thus, our dependence on God, to read the scriptures or the lives of the saints. These efforts will help fight that deep down unbelief we have. Finally, in recognizing our sins, we should pray for the gift of weeping for them – yes, literally – because any really worthwhile confession will include this.
It is one thing to bring a detailed list of our thoughts when we come to the confessional. What is more important though is our effort to seriously concentrate and pray about these things so that these faults will become very clear and the response in our heart will be a contrite one. This is the second step in properly preparing for Confession.
Expressing Our Sins
The third stage is the verbal confession of our sins. If we have done what I have described above, we will not have any problem in verbalizing our sins. Be specific, not vague or euphemistic. Avoid the strong temptation of looking for excuses or “extenuating circumstances”. Giving in to this shows that we are too proud to admit them. Pleading forgetfulness with the phrase, “I can’t remember my sins” means that we do not take them seriously. Ask God to speak to yourself through the priest and listen to his direction. If he needs to put a person under a penance remember that in the Church’s wisdom it has realized that such penances are therapeutic, not destructive. You should see this direction as an opportunity to move away from the sin that is afflicting you.
We must then resolve in our innermost heart to move on and not to return to those things we have confessed. Often people will say that the problem with this is that we eventually find ourselves falling back into that sin and so, we are back to where we started. This is an easy temptation to fall into. We will never make progress on our own but with God’s help, we will. Thus, it may seem as if we are back to where we began but fortunately, if we genuinely desire to correct our faults, this is not the case. God will make the changes in His own way and on His own schedule. Remember, He is our judge, not us.
This sacrament provides us a wonderful yet vital opportunity to enter into the mystery of God and that journey which will make us more and more like Him. Do not be afraid of it and decide to move forward and away from evil which from the outside always shows its ugliness. Let us die to this and live instead in Christ who is truly our Savior from sin.
Father Terence Baz