When I was in 2nd grade at St. Peter's Catholic School in Riverside, NJ, I made my first Confession. I can specifically remember the pastor of the church, Father Giles, coming into my classroom to speak to us about how to confess our sins. He made it pretty simple for us. He said to us, "Perhaps you said a bad word. Perhaps you fought with your brother or sister. Perhaps you told a lie. These are all things that you must tell the priest."
On the day of my first Confession, I stepped into the dark confessional, said, "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. This is my first confession." The priest then said, "What would you like to confess?" Remembering what Father Giles taught us earlier that week, and figuring that I couldn't go wrong if I just repeated what he said, I said, "I cursed, I lied, and I fought with my brothers and sisters. For these and all of my other sins, I am heartily sorry." I was just a child back then. What did I know?
But even as I grew older, I still didn't understand what it meant to make a good confession. I can remember even as a teenager stepping into the confessional and saying, "I cursed, I lied, and I fought with my brothers and sisters.” This was my standard confession. If there were other sins to confess, I hoped that they would be covered by the "for these and all of my other sins, I am heartily sorry" clause.
When I was 21 years old, I left the Catholic Church and joined a Protestant evangelical church. Because I was so young and knew so little of the Catholic Faith myself, it was easy for me to be deceived by certain evangelical coworkers who erroneously taught me that if I wanted to be "saved," I had to flee from the "darkness and bondage of the Roman Catholic Church." Catholics were going to Hell, I was told. Petrified of Hell's flames, which I was taught surely awaited me if I didn't grasp the opportunity I was being given for salvation, I fled and stayed away from our Holy Mother Church for 20 long years. For the next 20 years I lived as a Protestant evangelical Christian, and a flaming one at that.
But then, through a series of dreams, etc., the Lord drew me back to the Catholic Church. My husband and children also became Catholic. (More of this story is told in another article published here at Catholic.net entitled Are Catholics Antichrist?)
I was so happy to be back "home!" But I found that some of the Protestant teachings had been so ingrained into my heart that it was difficult for me to let go of them even after I had been back in the Catholic Church for many years. Going to Confession was one of them. The Protestants had seared into my heart that confession of sins to a priest was no longer necessary. It was religious bondage. One could go directly to God. Even after I had been back in the Catholic Church for five years, I still could not go to Confession. Neither could my husband.
Then, one Saturday afternoon, my husband walked into the kitchen and said, "I’m going to go to Confession this afternoon." I was surprised that this was something that he wanted to do, but I supported him fully. Several days later, while sitting at the dinner table, my husband said to me, "Perhaps one day soon you, too, will go to Confession." I said to him, "I don't think that day will ever come. I could never bare my heart and soul to another man; I can only bare them to Christ."
Two weeks later, the Holy Spirit began to move upon my heart concerning the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I tried resisting, but it was futile. The desire to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation burned in my heart to the point of distraction. The more I resisted, the more it intensified, and so I decided one Saturday afternoon to go.
I spent the entire week before that Saturday praying, reflecting, meditating, and thinking about what I was going to say to the priest. I kept thinking how small I was going to feel when I had to say the words, "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been over 30 years since my last Confession." When I entered the church on that Saturday afternoon, I waited my turn in line. Because I had not even memorized the Act of Contrition, I had a little booklet of prayers with me so that I could recite it in Confession.
I was terrified. My hands were as cold as ice. Twice I almost got up to leave and go home. What was the priest going to say when I told him that I had not been to confession in over 30 years? What if I opened up my mouth to speak and my standard, "I cursed, I lied, and I fought with my brothers and sisters" confession came out instead of the one that I had prepared myself to make? What was the priest going to say when I told him some of the sins that I had committed during that time? Why did I have to mention those sins? The Protestants told me that God had forgiven me of them. Why was I now about to enter into a confessional to bring up sins that I was taught God no longer remembered? After 30 years, quite a list of sins had been accumulated, and some of them were quite embarrassing; others were heartbreaking. What in the world was I doing here, and why was I putting myself through this? The Protestants couldn't be wrong about everything, could they? These were some of the many torturous thoughts that were being launched into my mind by the very arsenal of Hell.
Before I knew it, it was my turn. I walked into the reconciliation room. No priest was in sight, because he was on the other side of the screen. He couldn’t see me, and I couldn’t see him. I knelt down on the kneeler and could barely find my voice. A cheerful, pleasant voice spoke to me from the other side of the screen welcoming me to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The priest's cheerfulness gave me the courage to find my voice, but I wondered how long his pleasantness would last as soon as he learned that I had not been to Confession in over 30 years.
When I opened up my mouth, I said, "Father, I left the Roman Catholic Church when I was 20 or 21 years old and stayed away for 20 years. I came back to the Catholic Church about five years ago, but this is the first time that I've been back to Confession since returning. The Protestants taught me that confession of sins to a priest was religious bondage, and this teaching was seared into my heart for many years even after I returned. Therefore, it's been over 30 years since my last confession."
I waited to hear "Tsk, Tsk," or something of that nature from behind the screen. Instead, the pleasant voice said to me, "Welcome back to the Sacraments!" It was at that point that I completely broke down, wept, and confessed my sins. When the priest prayed the prayer of absolution over me, something within me changed. From that moment on, everything changed. My prayer life. My teaching ministry. Even the way that I studied the Scriptures and the Catechism.
I never realized that up until that moment, there had been an invisible wall between me and God. When you live with a barrier in your life long enough, you become used to it. You become desensitized to it and are not even aware that it is in your life. I didn't realize that this barrier had even existed until I went to Confession and it was removed. I had become so used to carrying the weight of this barrier around that I no longer felt its burden. I didn't realize how greatly I was being hindered in everything that pertains to my walk with Christ until that barrier was removed, and I no longer felt its weight.
I had always considered myself to be "on fire for Christ," but after I received the Sacrament of Reconciliation, something deeper was ignited within me that had not been lit before. After going to Confession, the Holy Spirit catapaulted me into a higher, deeper realm in Christ.
The Catholic Church teaches that when we receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we receive two things: We receive pardon for our sins, and sanctifying grace to live a more victorious life for Christ. I had been taught by the Protestants that this receiving of sanctifying grace through any Sacrament was a false teaching, and even after returning to the Catholic Church, I was still clinging to this teaching. But when I went to Confession after staying away for almost 30 years, I discovered that what the Protestants taught me was wrong. That sanctifying grace has made all of the difference in my life. It's real because I became a changed person afterward. If it wasn't real, my life would have remained the same.
I now try to make confession a regular part of my life and go every month. What has made the difference in the way I confess my sins now as opposed to how I confessed them when I was younger is in the amount of time spent examining my conscience and comparing my life to what I read in the Word of God and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. When I know that I will be going to Confession on Saturday afternoon, I spend the entire week before examining my life before God and thinking about where I have erred. I don't just walk into the reconciliation room and think of sins off of the top of my head. This preparation has made all the difference in my life and has shown me what Christ always intended the Sacrament of Reconciliation to be in the lives of His people.
It is important that when we go to Confession, we make a good confession. This is why examination of conscience and time spent in thoughtful reflection before receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation are absolutely essential to making a good confession.
Because of this, it is imperative that we know what the Ten Commandments are. When we examine our conscience, we compare our lives to what is written in God's Ten Commandments. This gives us something to work with – something to use – when reflecting thoughtfully on what kind of lives we are really living in the sight of God.
This is why it is important that we take the time each and every single day to study:
Ø The Holy Bible
Ø The Catechism of the Catholic Church
How will we know if we have transgressed against the Word of God or a teaching of the Church if we don't discipline ourselves by studying the Bible and the Catechism every day? Do you know that there were times when I was sinning against the teachings of the Church and didn't even realize it until I started studying the Catechism? By taking the time to study the Catechism, as well as the Holy Bible, I was giving the Holy Spirit something to work with in my life to show me where I was sinning and where I was going astray.
All of us have spare time that we can devote to spiritual reading. Even if it's only 20 or 30 minutes a day, we have it, and we know we have it. It's a matter of disciplining ourselves to use that spare time for God. Spiritual reading is absolutely essential to growing in God. St. Pio of Pietrelcina once wrote the following to one of his spiritual daughters: "I am horrified at the damage done to souls by their failure to read holy books."
We do not have to know the entire Bible and Catechism of the Catholic Church in order to examine our conscience thoroughly and make a good confession. Just start with the Ten Commandments.
We have several books on Confession in our home, but my favorite one which I resort to time and time again is a tiny, 40-page booklet entitled A Guidebook For Confession, which was written by Donal O Cuilleanain and published by Scepter Publishers, Inc. This simple, reader-friendly booklet takes a look at each of the Ten Commandments and then teaches the reader how to use them to examine his or her conscience before God when going to Confession.
It's a great little booklet that I always keep handy. In fact, each member of my family has a copy. Each time I plan to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I spend the week before reading, reviewing, and reflecting on the material inside the booklet. Then, when Saturday comes around, I'm ready to make a good confession because I've put much thought into the matter beforehand.
The booklet forces you to take a deeper look at each of the commandments of God. For example, the first commandment is as follows: "I am the Lord your God. You shall not have strange gods before Me." At first glance, it's easy for us to look at the commandment and say, "I haven't bowed down to any strange gods or idols, so I guess I'm okay here." But before you move on to the next commandment, the booklet grabs you by the collar, pulls you back, and forces you to take a closer look at this commandment before walking away with a false assurance that you have not transgressed against it. Underneath the commandment, the booklet then lists the following questions:
· Have I doubted God's existence?
· Have I denied my faith in thought, word, or deed?
· Did I endanger my faith by joining or attending meetings and activities of organizations contrary to the Church or to Catholic faith (anti-Catholic gatherings, non-Catholic prayer meetings, Freemasonry, cults, and other religions?)
· Have I put myself in danger of losing my faith by what I have read?
· Have I lost sight of God as a loving Father and despaired of my salvation?
· On the other hand, have I taken God's mercy for granted and sinned by presumption?
· Have I been diligent in practicing my faith? Do I pray regularly?
· Have I committed a sin of sacrilege, showing disrespect to God by harming a sacred person, place, or thing?
· Have I received any of the sacraments unworthily?
· Have I made a bad confession?
· Do I pray for a deeper faith?
Do you see the difference that this little booklet can make when looking at one of the commandments of God? It expounds on the commandment and forces us to examine our lives more closely. It teaches us that violation of the first commandment entails a whole lot more than simply bowing down to an idol or burning incense to a foreign god.
There are many good materials out there that can help us to examine our conscience and make a good confession. Getting a hold of these materials can truly make the difference between making a really good confession and one that was not really thought out.
What matters is not which type of materials you may or may not choose to purchase in order to help you to make a good confession, but that you thoroughly examine your conscience so that you are able to make that good confession.
Examining your conscience beforehand is key to making a good confession. As mentioned earlier, we may not know the entire Bible, and we may not know the entire Catechism of the Catholic Church. But most of us do know the Ten Commandments, which is why this is a great starting point when it comes to examining our lives before going to Confession.
Lent is that penitential period of time during which people attempt to become more sensitive to the role of sin in their lives. But if we neglect time spent in the Holy Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, how is this sensitivity to sin going to be cultivated in our lives? Is the world going to wave a red flag every time we make a choice or choose a path that goes against the teachings of the Church? We all know the answer to this. Therefore, it is up to us to expose ourselves on a daily basis to the teachings of God's Word and His Church so that we will not go astray in our Faith. But if we do go astray in our Faith, and if we do stumble in our obedience to God, we have available to us His grace and pardon each time we receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
That same Word, which can guard us against sin, can also be used to help us to make a good confession when we have sinned.
If you're planning on receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but do not know where to start when it comes to examining your conscience before God, start with the Ten Commandments! This will make all the difference between making a good confession and one that leaves much room for improvement in the sight of the Lord.
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|Published by: Miguel Angel|
|Date: 2013-03-13 20:04:12|
|Thank you fr this article. It has
truly moved me and helped me
understand the sacrament from
a very matyre and accepting
perspective. God Bless
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