A Guide to Confession – Practical Tips for a Meaningful Experience

The hardest part of working out for me (no matter how many times I do it) is always just getting off the couch. Once I’ve started the workout, I don’t look back, and when it’s finished I’m energized and rejuvenated. In many ways, this parallels my relationship with Confession: I desire it, I know it’s good for me, I know I will feel better afterwards . . . but I have to get off the dang couch.

Regarding Confession, tt seems most people have one thing in common: feelings of stress, awkwardness, and anxiety leading up to the moment they walk through the door. Whether you haven’t been to Confession since you were 7 years old, or you’re a frequent visitor of the Sacrament, here are 5 tips for a meaningful experience.

  1. Go and Stop Making Excuses
    Having worked with teens for a number of years, I’ve heard pretty much every excuse for why Confession really isn’t that necessary.

    I talk to my dog.
    This is why I have a good therapist.
    I’m a flawed human being, God knows that.
    I tell God I’m sorry through my own prayer.
    It’s not like I killed anyone, I’m a pretty good person.

    As much as I love my dog, my therapist, and praying on my own – these things cannot, and do not, replace the grace you receive through this sacrament. (Not only that, but if I had hurt/damaged my relationship with my friend or family member, I wouldn’t just talk to my dog or internalize a conversation with them. It would be weird. I would go talk to them and perform some concrete action to show I am sorry. )

    Here’s the other thing – God desires you to be so much more than good enough, which is why we need to repent. In the words of Fr. Mike Schmitz, “there’s people who say, ‘I don’t even know what I would repent for.’ I don’t necessarily think that’s as much numbness to their sin, as much as it is that they have no idea how incredible they’re supposed be.

    SO. Just do it. Get off the couch. Stop the excuses. Go run to God’s mercy and be reconciled to him. Become the incredible person God destined you to be.
  2. Examine Your Conscience
    Ok so you did it. You’re going to go to Confession. But now what? What do you even say? This is where an Examination of Conscience comes in really handy. It is a means of looking at your heart and examining what isn’t right.

    Do you love things you shouldn’t love? Do you fail to love people you should love? What is your relationship with God like? Do you go to Church? Do you get angry or gossip? Do you remember the dignity of every. single. person ?

    If it helps, you can write these things down before you go to confession. Just be sure to tear it up when you’re done, preferably, discard the list before you even get there. (One time I wrote down a laundry list of all of my sins. The paper slipped out of my pocket sometime between when I got out of my car and into the Confessional. God bless whoever stumbled upon that!)
  3. Remember that Sin is Sin
    I think a big reason people avoid the Sacrament is because of shame. For some reason saying our faults aloud can pierce our heart a bit. Perhaps we know the priest we are confessing to and we’re worried he will look differently at us. Or maybe the priest is a complete stranger and we feel uncomfortable being so vulnerable with someone we don’t even know. To quote Fr. Mike Schmitz (again, I know, but the guy’s amazing):

    The truth is, sins aren’t all that impressive. They aren’t like memorable sunsets or meteor showers or super-intriguing movies… they are more like the garbage. And if sins are like garbage, then the priest is like God’s garbage-man. If you ask a garbage-man about the grossest thing he’s ever had to haul to the dump, maaaaaaybe he could remember it. But the fact is, once you get used to taking out the trash, it ceases to be noteworthy, it ceases to stand out.

    I promise you, priests have heard it all. You’re not going to scandalize him. We all have those “this is the worst thing I’ve ever done” moments. Those sins that make us wonder but could God really forgive this? Could he really forgive me?

    Yes. Yes, God can. And He wants to. When we start doubting God’s forgiveness we let pride (ugh, another sin) reign in our hearts instead of being humble and accepting his mercy.
  4. You’re Confessing Your Sins to Jesus
    Sometimes I get hung up on what the priest will think of me because I forget that in reality, I’m not confessing my sins to the priest — he’s not the one forgiving me, I’m confessing them to Jesus, my Lord and Savior. It is Jesus’ mercy and forgiveness that I am receiving. The priest is there as a mediator, a bridge builder between you and Jesus:

    The Christ whom he gives and makes present, and who by means of his ministry effects the remission of sins is with the priest, who appears as a brother of man, a merciful bridge-builder, faithful and compassionate pastor dedicated to search for the lost sheep, the doctor who heals and comforts
    (St. John Paul II, Reconciliatio et Paenitentia)

    Jesus loves each of us so profoundly, he understands our human condition, our brokenness and weakness, the things that tempt us. He is not afraid to sit with sinners. That is who he came and died for. He died for YOU. Go back to him.
  5. Lean into His Grace, Live out of that Joy
    I will never forget the little seven year old who’d I’d helped prepare for his first Confession. He stood in line, teary eyed, wringing his hands, so anxious. It honestly broke my heart. Finally it was his turn to go. A few minutes passed and then he came out of the confessional BEAMING, literally SKIPPING back to his pew. He was so relieved, so full of joy.

    Once we confess our sins and receive the words of absolution, that’s it. They’re gone. Wiped clean. Our soul is restored, we are returned to communion with God. And quite frankly, that SHOULD cause us to skip out of the confessional.

    One last note – the final words of absolution are “go and sin no more.” Part of any sincere apology is the resolve to not commit the same offense again. While we can always return to Confession, and while God’s forgiveness is not finite, we should firmly attempt to change our ways. Luckily the graces received from this sacrament help us to do just that.

    God is just, but he is also SO merciful and loving. Lean into his grace, accept the gift of salvation, and celebrate it through a life of joy.

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