About Me, Catholic Spirituality, Catholics Do What?, sin

My love affair with the Sacrament of Confession

March 9, 2016

How about I kick things off with a confession of my own? I have not, despite 33 years of instruction, including a handful of Catholic schooling, managed to memorize the Act of Contrition.

(I think I might start reading it daily for the remainder of Lent, just to remedy the situation once and for all.)

Confession, or Reconciliation, is my very favorite of the 7 Sacraments. But it was not always so.

I still vividly remember being a hot, shaky mess waiting in line on Saturday afternoons as a young teenager, sure that I was about to finally die of stage fright/anticipatory dread/having father recognize my voice from behind the screen.

Then I’d get in there, plow though that list of admittedly boring sins, and voila, the sweet, sanctifying release of absolution would be mine.

For anyone who’s never tried it, walking out of the Confessional is a little like finishing a race or walking out of finals after a solid showing. There’s so much relief mingled with a lightness and a freedom that is hard to describe. A runner’s high is a close approximation, but it’s a runner’s high of the soul.

I didn’t think I could say all that, I didn’t think I’d be able to admit to it, but I did, and now I’m free.

It’s pretty wonderful.

I’ve heard the argument made that it’s weird to confess to a priest, that one needs only to confess one’s sins to God directly without need for any kind of intermediary, and I guess because I’m a cradle Catholic, I’ve always kind of scratched my head over that one. After all, I didn’t baptize myself, and I don’t DIY the Eucharist on Sunday mornings at home. I received the Sacrament of Confirmation from the hands of my local bishop, and a priest friend witnessed our marriage vows on our wedding day.

God loves to use other people to minister to us. That’s why He brings us into familial relationships to begin with: we need each other.

But I digress.

I used to see Confession as a kind of necessary evil (ironic, no?) of being Catholic, something I resigned myself to participate in a couple times a year, or more frequently as my poor behavior and lifestyle choices warranted. And sure, the payout was always light-footed and fancy free on the way out of the box, but the dreadful ramp up was agonizing.

I’ve since come to truly love and even anticipate with joy this means by which God and I become intimately acquainted again. And the secret is this: the more I go, the more I want to go.

It’s kind of like going to the gym. Minus the streaming HGTV and man buns.

Frequent confession has changed my life powerfully, and I think the biggest difference is that I know now what it’s like to be in a state of grace, and I crave that level of union with my Creator.

Because I’m married and therefore responsible for an entire other soul besides my own, and because we have 4 miniature humans to train and mold to boot, I’m deeply aware of the need for more grace.

I can.not.do.this.on.my.own.

It’s funny because I for sure do not perceive a growth in personal sanctity as a result of more frequent Confession. If anything, I see myself more and more as I truly am: very broken and in need of a Savior.

I used to feel the needling prick of “oh I should probably get such and such off my chest” when I’d see a line of potential penitents outside the confessional door in our parish’s vestibule. I don’t wait for that feeling any more, though. Now I just plop myself in line with a baby or two in tow and make an examination of conscience right then and there.

I’ve found that anticipatory grace is always preferable to emergency grace, if you know what I mean, though both are beautifully necessary.

But for me in my vocation as a wife and a mom, it’s more expedient and a whole lot more efficacious if I can keep myself from getting to the place of spiritual triage between visits to the box. So, in short, I go more often. About as often as I can, usually every 2-4 weeks.

That seems like a lot because it is a lot. But truthfully? The more I go, the more stuff comes up and out and the greater the need to return. God’s funny that way.

A dear friend of mine joined a beautiful religious order 2 years ago, and she shared this nugget of wisdom with her sister in a letter from her new community:

“If I could go back in time and do one thing differently with my life before my time here, I would have gone to Confession every single week. I never knew it was possible to live with this much joy.”

Whoa, right?

I know. Blew my mind too. All of ours, the group of girlfriends standing around her sister, listening with our jaws on the floor.

You can bet each of us has been hustling to get there more frequently since we heard that story.

If I could give a couple pieces of advice to anyone who’s on the fence about Confession in general, or about stepping up their practice of it, it would be this: find a good examination of conscience, and consider making it a few times a week. Maybe journaling with it. And see what happens.

And the other piece? Just go. Just pull up the schedule on your parish’s website and save it to your calendar. Or google a church close to your office with weekday hours. You can even call your parish office and request an appointment with a priest if your schedule and the parish’s doesn’t match up.

But don’t put it off. There is so much grace waiting for you. And as for father remembering your CrAzY sins? Forget about it.

Because he definitely does.

A priest friend told me about 4 months after his ordination that he’d already heard “every sin that could possibly exist” at least once, and that on his end, the litany of sins was the boring and unremarkable part.

“The memorable part is absolution,” he told me, his eyes sparkling, “you get to see someone’s heart being reconciled to the Father. It’s incredible.”

“And you really don’t remember the stuff we tell you?” I pressed,

“Not any more than I remember what’s in the garbage bags when I’m taking the trash to the curb.”

Sounds good to me.

shower coffee

(Click here to find a list of nearby parishes where you can get to Confession this weekend.)

33 Comments

  • Reply Charlotte March 9, 2016 at 2:27 pm

    An old priest I know, who has heard many of my confessions, confirms the same thing your newly ordained priest said. He considers it a gift from God; a gift to the priest for standing in His place during the Sacrament. He says it really is like his memory is erased as soon as the door closes.

  • Reply Jessica March 9, 2016 at 2:50 pm

    I LOVE this post. I’m a cradle Catholic who felt the same way until I made a face-to-face confession at my marriage retreat (after 10 years of not receiving the Sacrament) and I fell in love with it. I burst into tears as soon as I sat down in front of the priest that day. I wasn’t sad or scared. In that moment I felt an overwhelming sense of joy and of Christ’s presence! I’ve been hooked ever since.

    • Reply Joe March 12, 2016 at 2:43 pm

      Jessica,

      Your brief comment was beautiful…Praise be to God…

      Joe

  • Reply Stephanie March 9, 2016 at 6:32 pm

    Beautiful. The comparison of confession to going to the gym is positively brilliant. I haven’t been going as often as I should, and this will have me back in the box this weekend.

  • Reply Maria March 9, 2016 at 8:05 pm

    Three things..

    One, thanks for this! At the very least, for the emphasis on the “if I could change one thing..”

    Two, you put “as for Father remembering all your sins, forget about it. … … Because he definitely does.” Just wanted to say that this seemed at first like “Because he definitely does [remember them all.]” When I read farther and saw the incongruity and went back and re-read it a couple times I finally figure out the he definitely does was referring to FORGETTING about it, ha. Just in case you wanted to know. Not an error or a typo of course, just thought I’d share in case.

    Third! The FOCUS ministries have a great examination of conscience I’ve found particularly helpful. I’ll put a link here in a second that has many of them, but my preferred one is the “By Capital Sin” one that’s first. Only caution is that I got hung up on those I think about or am tempted to do but don’t and those that I actually do, because there are so many that seem to apply! Bah! But that’s up to each individual person of course..

    https://focusoncampus.org/content/examination-of-conscience-smorgasbord

  • Reply Patty March 10, 2016 at 7:27 am

    I love this sacrament. There is something hard to describe about being able to bring all the pain/brokenness to God.I was traveling in Atlanta last weekend and was able to go. I started crying about some difficult things in life, and the priest was so direct, in a genuine, loving way. It was something sacred amid all my snot. Especially in this year of mercy, I am trying to make a more active commitment to regular Confession.

  • Reply Maria March 10, 2016 at 7:58 am

    As children, we used to go each Sunday during mass (yes, they had confessions during the mass, this was in Mexico, and my father made sure we went.) I just went to confession last night, and have been trying to go every three weeks or so. I remember hearing Mother Angelica saying it is her favorite sacrament, and I can understand why, as it is an immediate “lightening of the spirit”. Since becoming an adult, my visits became less and less frequent, and the mentality set in that it wasn’t really necessary to go, because as usual, “my usual sins, what am I going to tell in the confessional” type of thinking, but it is so true, the more you go, the better it is for the soul, that is why Christ instituted the sacrament, to help us along our rocky paths! Since going more frequently my “usual sins” have become a shade lighter, or less frequent… Our parish has adoration one day each week and it really helps to go on those days, since afterwards one is able to kneel right before Our Lord in the BlessedSacrament, and wow, it makes a difference to be in His presence after confession, and before! I also heard of a study done that showed how once people stopped going to confession, the rate of people visiting psychologists went up. Thanks for writing this post, and I hope it spurs more people to go back.

  • Reply Denise March 10, 2016 at 12:55 pm

    A priest told me it was like looking in a mirror, hearing confessions. They’re human and tempted just like we are—it’s nothing new to them. Glad to hear you go with the little ones too! I ended up in confession with my three-year-old and it only got awkward when she said, “Where is that man? What is he doing back there?” 🙂

  • Reply Ari March 10, 2016 at 1:21 pm

    I am a convert, and Confession is possibly my favorite thing about being Catholic (besides the Eucharist). It’s one of those things that I never really *want* to do, but I’m always glad at having *done* it. It is a sacrament of healing, and ALL of us need healing. We need healing from the stuff that causes our sins, as well as healing of our view of God. Part of my being absolutely petrified to go to confession as a newbie Catholic was that 1) I had to confess 25 years of sins, and I had pretty much done all of them and 2) I viewed God as a judge and was scared of the wrath waiting for me when I said outloud what I’d done. I have heard stories of others having occasionally negative experiences in confession, but I never ever have. The priest has always exhibited God’s mercy to me, and it is awe-inspiring and healing. I wish that all Catholics took advantage of this on a regular basis. It is good for the soul.

  • Reply Linda Artigurs March 10, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    I love this commentary on confession. My devotion to confession came after I went to Medjugorie. I would like to go twice a month, but I just do not know what to say. I live alone and I participate in various church ministries. I know that I am not perfect but I just do not know what to confess. Any suggestions on any books to read or someone to talk to. I am at a loss. Linda

    • Reply Ari March 11, 2016 at 8:40 am

      I would recommend Vinny Flynn’s book – 7 Secrets of Confession or the Diary of St. Faustina (much longer and obviously not just about confession). As someone linked to above, here’s an examination of conscience which really gets to the nitty-gritty of everyday life. I find it extremely helpful: http://www.focusequip.org/assets/pdf/examination-of-conscience.pdf My advice is just to keep going and going. Ask God to reveal to you the “why” behind the habits and patterns of sins. He will reveal to you where you need healing and what to confess.

  • Reply anthony March 10, 2016 at 1:31 pm

    i came to fully understand the importance of this sacrament after reading the diary of DIVINE MERCY. After that, i really don’t care whether the priest remembers my sins or he is looking me in the eye when i make a confession, as long as i get absolution.and as you have said, it really feels going out of the box.

  • Reply anthony March 10, 2016 at 1:42 pm

    i have not yet fully understood how people go to receive jesus when they have not gone to confession. It’s like going on your wedding wearing your every day clothes and you haven’t taken a shower too.

  • Reply Liz March 10, 2016 at 7:02 pm

    Love this post. I admit, I didn’t always like going to Confession, despite being a cradle Catholic who understood its immense value.

    Something really changed 15 months ago when my son made his first Confession. The thing is, little kids don’t have any fear about this Sacrament. They’re not fretting over whether or not the priest is judging them or remembering their sins. They want to go back again and again, if given the chance.

    With my son asking to be taken 2 or 3 times a month, I inevitably ended up confessing way more frequently myself (I used to go maybe six times a year).

    One time about a year ago, I went into the Confessional right after my son came out. I was taken by surprise when Father interrupted me at one point to say, “Sorry, I just have to ask– are you P’s mother? The boy who was just in here?” and I told him I was.

    He told me how deeply it moved him and even stirred his own conscience to hear my son’s confession. “Children are so artless, so forthright; they come in here unafraid; they trust in God so completely; they remind us of forgotten truths and the way we all need to be,” he told me.

    It was a very humbling experience, I tell you, basically to be told that I need to do a better job following my CHILD’s example– but it helped me more in my spiritual life than anything else in my 32 years. I feel now that I not only confess more often, but confess better because of my son.

  • Reply Maureen March 11, 2016 at 4:21 am

    I love your writing – it makes me smile, and sometimes makes me cry, but always it lifts my heart.
    Why is it we don’t remember the act of contrition? I have been trying to remember it since the age of 7 – and I’m 62 now! If you find a good way to make it stick, do share:-)

    Frequent confession is a new thing for me, and just as it becomes more difficult to do! We have so few priests now that the opportunities are simply not what they were when I was a child. Thank God for the Jesuits! An hour in the car, another 20 minutes getting parked, and then it is all good. And worth the journey because not only is there confession, there is Eucharistic Adoration. How wonderful to prepare before the Blessed Sacrament, and to do penance. And then there is Mass.

    Perhaps it is only when the wonderful becomes more difficult to access that we truly appreciate it?

    • Reply Jenny Uebbing March 11, 2016 at 9:15 am

      I can’t help but think that our Enemy really hates that prayer, since it’s the last little piece of what sets us free, time after time, within this beautiful Sacrament. I’ve pretty much resigned myself to frantically searching for the little laminated cheat sheet, but maybe I can pull it up on my phone when I have a spare minute and just keep trying to memorize it.

      Thanks for your sweet words, and for reading. Love your wisdom and insights as a mom and grandmother!

  • Reply Michael Loria March 11, 2016 at 4:38 am

    Last November I had the honor to chaperone at the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indiana. This was an amazing experience for so many youths and also for me. One of the sessions impacted me deeply when discussing confession. It was stated that when we do a full examination and fully confess all, we become white as snow and are as holy as the saints. I became determined to do this and it was just as if the Lord cleared a path for me. At one time, there was over 500 youths in line for confession that weekend and it would take hours. When I finally decided to commit there was no line. I asked for a bishop and a bishop was available. We talked and I confessed for 45 minutes. He took off his ring and showed it to me. It was of the Father of the prodigal son. The father who is so merciful that he is always looking for His son to return and when He sees him, He runs to him. When it was finished, I was shaking and I was in tears. I will never forget the moments of joy I had afterwards.

    • Reply Jenny Uebbing March 11, 2016 at 9:13 am

      this brought me to tears, thank you for sharing your story!

  • Reply Diana March 11, 2016 at 11:58 am

    You’ve inspired me. I’m going to try to start going once a month. We’re usually struggling to remember to go during Lent (and occasionally during Advent). Need to be much better about this!!

  • Reply Annelise March 11, 2016 at 1:53 pm

    No one is required to memorize the popular Act of Contrition prayer…the Church simply requires an expression of sorrow for sin and a firm purpose of amendment. It could come in many forms. It does not have to be the traditional long formula. I teach my young ones to say simply, “O my God, I am sorry for my sins. I will never sin again. Amen.”

    Short and sweet and to the point!

  • Reply Jean March 12, 2016 at 2:45 pm

    While the Church doesn’t require us to memorize the Act of Contrition most priests I’ve confessed to request we make it so why not memorize it? Take it a couple of lines at a time over a week and you’ll have it down pat. That’s how my family and I managed it. Some priests leave a printed copy of it in the confessional but others don’t so why get caught short? I’ve gotten into the habit of praying the Act of Contrition just before falling asleep, my last prayer of the day. Who knows but it could be my last prayer, period? I think it’s worthwhile committing some prayers to memory, the Apostle’s Creed, etc., because you never know if one day you’ll need them and they won’t be there in print, or you won’t be able to read it, eyesight having failed.

    One thing I’d like to mention is that in decades of visiting the confessional I’ve only once encountered a priest who’d I’d describe as mean spirited to the point of being sadistic. Should anyone ever find themselves in such a situation feel free to leave and go to another priest. They’re human beings like the rest of us, some may be having a bad day, others like the one I describe. Don’t allow a bad experience to put you off. God will surely bless you for your persistence.

  • Reply Robbie J March 13, 2016 at 5:09 am

    Thank you, Jenny. Everything you’ve written is so true. There are only two sacraments that we are able to receive multiple times and it’s a crying shame that ‘going to confession’ isn’t practised more often. Who in his right mind would say ‘no’ to joy?

    Personally, I’ve found that this is so because many Catholics don’t understand about ‘being in, or not being in – the state of grace.’ I wish more priests would preach about this, and especially that we need to be ready to receive the Eucharist every time, by being in a state of grace. God bless you!

    • Reply Jean March 14, 2016 at 11:28 am

      There’s a third sacrament we may receive more than once – Anointing of the Sick. Hopefully not often, but a great comfort when needed.

  • Reply sister darlene March 13, 2016 at 7:30 am

    This is a very good commentary on the sacrament of confession…I agree with you about the joy that one finds in life from frequent confession…and yes, the more one engages in this sacrament, the deeper one goes into relationship with God…and yes, one might go to confession in the morning and by the afternoon realize that you should avail yourself again…not due to scrupulosity…but rather God drawing closer to you and wanting to keep your soul pure…

  • Reply Anna March 13, 2016 at 1:04 pm

    I committed to going to Confession every two weeks for Lent this year, and for the first time in my life I’m finding I actually desire to go, rather than dreading it. After experiencing the graces of the Sacrament on a more regular basis, I guess I’ve come to appreciate them more and realize my need for them. I memorized the act of contrition as a teenager when my family started praying it together every evening – highly recommend.

  • Reply Cami March 14, 2016 at 8:26 am

    Great post! I agree! And I rediscovered this sacrament around age 30 when I rediscovered our faith. One thing I think keeps people from going often is the misconception that you should (need?) only go if you have mortal sins to confess. Not true! Venial sins are also worth the visit. I’m a fan of just going to admit any struggles or sins because I then leave with more grace against those sins! It truly helps me be less likely to repeat those sins.

    • Reply Jean March 14, 2016 at 11:26 am

      Good point, Cami and glad you mentioned this! Venial sins have a way of piling up and becoming a pattern of life. When our goal is to grow closer to God they can obstruct our efforts, often quite insidiously, but then that’s one of the many ways Satan deceives us, encouraging us to believe our sins aren’t really that serious and then by convincing us we can’t possibly be forgiven.

      I think, too, that a lot of people (myself included) find ourselves confessing the same things and begin wondering whether it’s worthwhile to go to Confession and repeat ourselves, and the answer is yes, because as you state, grace empowers us to push back against those harmful tendencies.

  • Reply Daniel March 15, 2016 at 12:22 pm

    In the days following absolution from my sins through confession I notice that I pray for others. I pray not only for my loved ones, but also for random strangers I see on the street. Once I lapse into mortal sin again I find that selfishness returns and I care much less for others around me.

  • Reply Lauren S. March 18, 2016 at 6:27 pm

    Jenny,

    Love this! Love. This. In simple words, you explained why it’s so great to confess your sins to
    a priest. I’m a convert. I find confession hard, but it is my favorite sacrament besides the Eucharist. I printed out a copy of this for each of my college sons. I hope and pray that they dig deep one of these days into the beautiful faith that they have been raised in. In the meantime, I print out a few (very few) select articles that I think will speak to them. Thank you for the words I didn’t have, but you did, to share with them.

    • Reply Jenny Uebbing March 18, 2016 at 8:38 pm

      Lauren that is perhaps the highest compliment I have ever been paid – doesn’t get much better than a mama finding something worth sharing with her college kids.

      (My mom saved my life when I was in college, I’m sure of it. Her tears and prayers were the kindling, and JPII’s death was the match that reignited my own faith. Prayers for your family.)

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