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.
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.”
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.