“Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” These are the words for the signing of ashes on Ash Wednesday.
More importantly, they are the words with which Jesus began his preaching ministry (Mark 1:15).
Lent is a penitential season, a time to turn away from our sins: to face them, admit them, confess them, be absolved of them, and to quit them.
As we approach the last three weeks of Lent, this is an ideal time to approach the sacrament of reconciliation. The right mindset and careful preparation will make for a better confession.
Pray to the Holy Spirit. Ask the Holy Spirit for a genuine sense of contrition, a sincere sorrow for your sins and failings. Ask for the humility to see and admit the evil that you have done and the good that you have failed to do. Ask for the ability to be honest with God and yourself, and to be completely truthful. Ask for the courage to get beyond your fears and the strength to confess these sins, to speak them out loud, to go through the priest to God, as Jesus asked (Matthew 16:19; John 20:22-23). God “sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins” (Prayer of Absolution). It is through the Holy Spirit that we receive pardon and peace.
Make an examination of conscience. Set aside ample time to look back over your life to check for sin. Ideally, it is best to conduct an exam every evening to review the day. If this has not been your custom, you should do a thorough review before approaching the sacrament. It is best to find a quiet place, be fully alert, and reflect carefully. A good method is to check yourself against a biblical standard like the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12), or St. Paul’s Ode to Love (1 Corinthians 13:1-13).
Set a time to go to confession. Act upon your good intentions. Check the parish schedule for the regular times when the sacrament is available. During the later portion of Lent, many parishes add extra times or offer penance services with the opportunity for individual confessions. Decide to go, select a time and mark your calendar. Then when the day arrives, actually make the trip to church.
Be forthright. It is important to be completely honest, to hold nothing back. State your sins for what they really are. It is no time to couch wrongdoing in soft terms, talk obliquely, make excuses or minimize. Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). If you want to be unburdened of your sins, you need to name them.
Have the right intention. This intention is called a “firm purpose of amendment.” Once absolved, it should be your goal to stop sinning entirely. Aware of our fallen nature, your intention will never be perfect, so at the very least you should resolve to make your bigger sins smaller and your habitual sins less frequent. The special graces provided through this sacrament give you the power to grow in virtue and holiness, to walk in right paths, and to be pleasing to God.
Pre-confession stress relievers
The time before confession can be anxious, particularly if a person has been away from the sacrament for a while. We all have our worries and apprehensions. We need to face them and deal with them constructively.
“Confession makes me nervous.” Relax. Take a deep breath. The Holy Spirit will help you.
“I’m afraid.” Fear is one of the greatest obstacles to progress. Jesus was fond of saying, “Do not be afraid.” With his help, we can overcome our troubles.
“Can’t I skip confession and go straight to God?” You go straight to God through the priest. The priest makes the love and mercy of God real, and through his words you hear the voice of God speaking directly to you.
“I’ve been away from confession for a long time.” Do not be held captive by your past. There is no better time than the present to begin anew.
“I don’t know what to do.” If you are rusty, the priest will guide you through the process. It would be good to refamiliarize yourself with the formula. Many parishes have the steps listed on cards or information sheets.
“The priest might recognize me.” If you want to be anonymous, go behind the screen or go to a visiting priest.
“The priest might remember my sins.” This is highly unlikely. Priests hear so many confessions that they cannot remember who said what.
“The priest will think less of me.” It is quite the opposite. The priest will think more of you as he witnesses your deep faith and your sorrow for your sins.
“What if the priest scolds me or puts me down?” The priest is supposed to be an agent of God’s love and mercy, to treat you gently with kindness, tenderness and encouragement.
“Is there a chance my sins would ever be revealed?” The priest is bound by the seal of confession. Everything is completely and absolutely confidential. Never a word will be spoken.
“Confession is hard for me.” Look at confession like going to the doctor. Once you address your spiritual illness, there will be great healing and you will feel much better.
Father Michael Van Sloun is pastor of St. Stephen in Anoka.
Category: The Lesson Plan