Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

22 October 2018

Confession: I'm Not A Good Person

How does one go to Confession in this day and age? Before ever entering the room or booth, it is necessary to take some time to examine one’s conscience—to reflect on the time since the last Confession, however long it has been, and consider the ways one has seriously violated the Commandments. 

Think of the actual words of the commandments, but think also of the deeper meaning behind them. Sure, you may not have killed anyone (#5), but you may have desired serious harm to another by thought or attempted that harm in direct or indirect conversation. You may not have committed literal adultery (#6), but maybe you have had sex with yourself or another in fantasy or reality. You may not have fashioned an idol out of your jewelry, but you may have given some good but lesser activity such importance in your life that you thereby made it “impossible” to give God due worship by attending Mass. These are some of the things to think about and mention in Confession.

In St. Michael’s and most other confessionals, you still have the opportunity to go to Confession anonymously or face-to-face. Our room has a kneeler with a screen, and a seat directly in front of Father. I’ve been a priest for 15 years and a human being for 42 years, so positively nothing you say will give me a bad impression of you. I won’t judgmentally “take it with me” into our regular interactions, except to say I will love and respect you more for your honesty and willingness to change. Plus, I am mindful enough of my own sins and weaknesses that I have no basis to condemn anyone for anything. If you dare to present yourself to the Lord’s priest, you are already showing tremendous cooperation with Grace. 

People often greet me by sheepishly saying, “I’m not sure how to do this,” but then they end up doing just fine! It remains appropriate to begin by making the Sign of the Cross and saying, “Bless/Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been [this long] since my last Confession. These are my sins.” Then you tell me your sins. Then (hopefully!) a little encouragement and/or challenge from the priest, maybe a little conversation, your Act of Contrition, the Church’s Prayer of Absolution, and then freedom!

Don’t sugarcoat yourself by saying, “I’m not a bad person” or “I try to be a good person.” For whatever reason, people might do that because they’re nervous, or ashamed. But could there be a little pride, too? Sit with yourself long enough and you will find evidence of badness. 

For all you used to hear about Catholics, we don’t enjoy guilt, but we do find it helpful because it shows us where we need to grow in love of God and neighbor. We use it only long enough to draw us to Confession and to try to do better in the future. Guilt isn’t meant to become a handy billy club for punishing ourselves or for walking around with a sense of continuous oppression. It never was meant for that!

The more often you go to Confession, the easier it will be. The more you will find to confess. The more the devil will try to convince you that either you are so awful that you’re not worth the space you occupy, or that Confession isn’t necessary because you’re such a saint and everyone else is so wretched. Truth is, we’re all in this life, in this Church, together.

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