Traditionally, the Church has said that the easiest way to make a good confession is to honestly confess one’s sins by their nature and their number. This means that one is specific enough so that the priest knows what one is confessing and also gives a sense of how often these sins have been committed. Over time it may be hard to remember how often one has committed a particular sin and so it’s okay to give a general sense of it, for instance, by saying that it’s something that has been committed once or is of a frequent occurrence. This not only helps the priest to know how deep the roots of this sin go, but it also helps the penitent to get a sense of what part of their lives they need to work on, with the influence of grace and the help of the Holy Spirit. It also helps one to be more honest and to confront the sin more directly, since it doesn’t call for an explanation or excuses to be given – it’s just the confession of the sin and its frequency - bluntly, honestly and directly.
For this reason, it’s good to keep in mind, that it is not necessary to relay all the circumstances surrounding each sin. If the circumstances are particularly important than it may be helpful for the priest to know, however every confessed sin does not require an explanation and, the rule of thumb is often that the more succinct the better. Another thing to keep in mind is that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is not a short counseling session. While very real problems and issues can manifest themselves in various sins, if the situation requires some type of counseling or advice, it’s better to pursue that outside of the confessional by setting up a separate appointment. Finally, confessing our sins directly by their type and number prevents the subtle human tendency to want to mitigate our sinfulness or to give excuses for it. It is not the amount of words that are used to confess one’s sin that makes for a good confession, it’s the honesty and the directness that they are confessed with that does.
As we continue to move through the Lenten season, it’s good to take a few minutes to ask ourselves if it has been too long since we’ve gone to confession and if it is, then to work to celebrate this sacrament in preparation for Easter. There are quite a few opportunities to celebrate the sacrament here at St. Mary’s and the Archdiocesan website (www.archmil.org) actually has a listing of the confession times at various parishes throughout the Archdiocese if you are looking for a place and time that works for you and your schedule. Imagine entering into Holy Week and the celebration of Easter without the heavy weight of sin being dragged along with us, what graces the Lord will bestow on us and what joy will fill our hearts!
(This article is part of a series of articles on The Sacraments which will appear in the bulletin over the course of this year.)