Why I Love Confession

One of the topics I get asked about most often by my Protestant friends is Confession. So here is a humble attempt to explain what the Sacrament of Confession means to me.

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Let me start by saying I love Confession. Love it. It’s awesome. More on that in a moment.

And then, let me also start by explaining a bit about what Confession is not to me.

To me:

Confession is not a guilt-induced act that is forced upon me by a strict and rigid institution.

Confession is not my only means of being connected with God, nor is it my only means, in most cases, of being forgiven by God.

Background

My history with the idea of Confession, in any form, was rather shallow. I understood that I needed to ask Jesus to forgive me of my sins to commit to Christianity, but, honestly, I was a young kid and I didn’t really think much about what “sin” meant… not listening to my parents, spreading a rumor, being selfish… all things I knew were sin, but for the most part, I, personally, felt like I was doing pretty well overall. Also, many Protestant traditions believe that once you are a Christian, your past, present and future sins are forgiven. So I didn’t feel like there was a lot of motivation to think about my sin.

Also, growing up in different Protestant Churches, most of them would have a time of private confession at some point in the church service. It’s where the pastor or whoever was leading that part of the service would have everyone take a moment and think about their sin, and then pray for and thank God for His forgiveness.

To be honest, in my experience, nearly every time that happened whoever was leading the confession didn’t even give me enough time to begin to contemplate my own sin. The pause lasted for like 5 seconds. And… 5 seconds is inadequate for a true examination of conscience. So I usually just stood quietly and looked prayerful during that time. And still, I continued on not thinking much about my own sin.

I have since found out that the community confession time in many Protestant churches harkens back to the early Christians, but it isn’t really a full representation of what early Christians practiced. It’s more of a shadow of it. Though, I think most Protestants would agree that confessing one’s sins is important in some regard, the actual practice of it in many churches today doesn’t reflect the depth and purpose and history of Confession itself, or why it is important.

Sin

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This is how I have come to understand sin. I have come to understand that God is offering, every moment of my life, to come alongside me and walk with me. Everywhere. And all the time. He never will leave me. Sin is where in my heart and my actions, I block God out of my life.

In Catholic Confession, prior to going to Confession, it is most appropriate to process through an Examination of Conscience. Many are based on the ten commandments, but there are others as well, for children, married people, single people, etc. It is a really thorough way to discover where I am not allowing God fully into my life. Even just the 1st Commandment examination… I reflect upon where in my life I am not putting God first. Where am I putting something or someone else in God’s place.

One thing I’m definitely not doing is  sitting around with my head in my hands in hopelessness over how sinful I am. It’s actually really helpful for me, and I can use those reflections to allow God into more of my life.

I’ve also come to understand sin as that which wounds our soul and our relationship with our Creator. God is there, all the time, but when I turn away from Him and do my own thing, it is bad for me… left unchecked, it will contribute to my walk with God becoming unhealthy over time… sick even. Many of humanity’s own classic tales reveal what happens when someone is overcome by sin in their own life. Ebeneezer Scrooge and his greed, the Beast and his lack of charity, the Grinch and his desire for revenge.

Sacraments

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Catholics believe that Sacraments are ways that God makes tangible (something we can see, smell, taste, touch, or hear), something that is a spiritual reality. So, for example (briefly, because this is a whole ‘nother post), marriage is a Sacrament. It’s meant to be a tangible representation of Christ’s relationship with the Church. Something we can see, and, within the marriage itself, touch, that is meant to draw our minds towards heavenly truth.

Confession, is another Sacrament.

Confession Itself

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This is where it gets good. This is the stuff.

I think it is easy for many to think about confession in a church service, or praying directly to God for forgiveness. Catholics also have a time of confession communally each Mass, and Catholics also can pray directly to God for forgiveness in most cases.

I also think it’s easy for Christians to acknowledge that we are to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the world around us.

When I walk into the confessional, I am walking in and talking to the Priest, who is acting as the hands and feet of Jesus for me. Instead of silently admitting my sins in private or at church, or to myself alone, I get to verbally share about the areas in my life where I am struggling to let God in. I verbally ask for forgiveness.

And then I audibly hear I am forgiven.

And that is huge. God knows we are both spiritual and physical. I love that this Sacrament exists, and I can hear the truth of my forgiveness time and time again, audibly, from someone who is representing Jesus.

But that’s not all. The Priest then spends a bit of time talking to me about some of my struggles, and prescribes penance. That word is one that may cause someone who isn’t Catholic to go… Yikes! Danger! Or What is that?

Let me explain what penance is. Just as unrepentant sin can hurt our walk with God, and even make our souls sick, penance is a sort of medicine that helps me to turn back to God in the areas in which I struggle.

Example. If someone hurt me and I am struggling to forgive them fully, my penance for that might be to spend some time praying for those people. Penance is simply helping me turn back to God and let Him into more of my life, in the areas where I am blocking him out through my actions.

And I leave the Confessional full of the Holy Spirit, and so thankful for God’s redeeming work in my life. I leave with joy, and I always look forward to going. It helps keep me tuned into and focused on my Savior, and helps me be more aware to walk more closely with Him. More than ever before.

Summing Up

Here is what, to Lorelei, Confession is.

Confession is one of the many ways that I can receive God’s grace.

Confession is a tangible representation of my forgiven and restored relationship with God.

Confession is a Sacrament of healing, and of helping me walk more closely with God.

 

And that, is why I love Confession. 🙂

 

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First Confession

Well, this girl has had her First Confession.

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Backtracking a bit. This week had been very stressful and draining, in light of the conversations JP and I have had with friends. We were spent. But I knew I needed to continue on, and I have very much desired to prepare myself for First Confession for a couple of weeks now.

So on Tuesday, I went through an Examination of Conscience I had found, and spent a couple of days wondering if I was, indeed, ready to go. Never having done this before, I wondered about how specific to get, and ended up feeling settled on the sincerity of my heart, and desire to place all I could at the feet of Jesus, in however I was able to form the words at the time.

Then, Thursday, at RCIA, our usual teacher wasn’t there, as he was meeting with high school students who were preparing for confession. So the priest was in. I felt a bit of a pang, because the week had almost gone by and I hadn’t called to schedule a time. And sure enough, our teacher popped back in about a half hour later, just as our group began a discussion of confession as a sacrament, to let us know the priest was available if any of us wanted to have our First Confession.

Seeing as I had done an examination of conscience earlier that week (God knew what was coming 🙂 ), as quickly as it was appropriate, I jumped up and got ready to head over. I had forgotten my notes from home, but they had an Examination of Conscience there I could use to help me remember. The door was open, and in I went.

Let me tell you, briefly, what my First Confession was not. It was not a guilt-ridden situation where I had to go and remember all the bad things I had done, and tell them to some old man in vestments, who then tells me to do 10 Hail Mary’s and be on my way, only to see me the next time I’ve racked up a list of sins long enough to need another confession.

My First Confession was not that. No way. Not even close. This is what I may have thought Confession would be like in my life before all of this, and it may be similar to what some of my friends think Confession is like, which is saddening to think about.

In all reality, my First Confession was beautiful. I walked in, sat down, and the Priest guided me through. It was basically like this… having the chance to talk to God and say “here are all the ways I’ve failed you through my sin,” and have God say, in audible words that he loves me and forgives me. And to even get some wise advice on how to better deal with some of my areas where I struggle. And my penance, was both simply and profoundly a way for me to redirect my mind and thinking to allow God into those situations where I struggle.

That was it. I felt God’s peace. I felt God’s presence. I still, the next day, feel like I’m part of a very spiritual situation. I feel grace. I once had a very specific and unforgettable encounter with the Holy Spirit as a child, and how I feel now reminds me much of that, only in kind of an adult version. I even woke up in the middle of the night last night, feeling like I had been a part of something that transcended the physical reality I live in. Something big goes on in that Confessional, more than I even realize, I’m sure.

In short, Confession moved me closer to Jesus. In my desire to please Him, in my acknowledgement of how amazing his grace is for me, and in my humility as I attempt to live a life worthy of the call.

I understand now, first hand, even through this one time, how the act of Confession is good for the soul. I wish my Protestant friends knew more about it… that rather than a spiritual ball and chain ritual, Confession it is incredibly freeing. Protestants can look forward to the day of judgment when God finally puts all to right as an opportunity to hear God say “I know all you’ve done, and you are forgiven.” Catholics can hear that as often as they go to Confession.

What’s Next. And now, since somehow I was actually baptized as an infant in the Catholic Church, and since I have just received my First Confession, our parish Priest allowed it up to JP and I if we wanted to start receiving the Eucharist at Mass, or to wait until Easter Vigil. I’m really excited for Confirmation and the Easter Vigil service and the celebration it will be, but if I’m being honest, I don’t really want to wait 2 months to receive Jesus in the Eucharist if I don’t have to. I want Jesus, and I want to experience the fullness of the mass. So, I think we know what will be happening this Sunday. Stay tuned :).

Confession

This one has taken me a while to put together. Because confession proved to be a more difficult thing to work through than I thought it would be. Specifically, it’s necessity for Catholics, and lack of necessity for Protestants due to their lack of access to the sacrament, among other things.

In general, the idea of needing to go “through” a priest is very aversive to Protestants. The main argument here is that you can go directly to God with anything. You don’t need a go-between.

Also, widespread belief in Protestantism is that once you are ‘saved,’ or accept Christianity’s teachings on who Jesus was and his redeeming role for mankind, then your sins are forgiven. Past, present, and future ones.

A result of that is we don’t think about our sins all that much. Our church does have a time of common confession, where there is a few moments of silence to reflect on our sins, then to be reminded of God’s forgiveness. But it’s really easy to let that moment pass without seriously reflecting on your sins. Like in the Mass, or any church service, you can go through the motions without engaging your heart.

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Here is where the Sacrament of Reconciliation started to make sense to me. This belief Protestants have that all past present and future sins are forgiven doesn’t really jive with the Lord’s Prayer that we all pray so often, where we ask God to forgive our sins. Also, the time of public (private) confession in the church service.Which is hard to reconcile with the past, present and future sin forgiveness at the time of conversion that is common belief. Both those things seem to indicate that at some level, continual confession of our sins is good, necessary even. But to what end?

We don’t even often, or ever, “count” our sins, per say. It’s more of a general acknowledgement of our need for God’s forgiveness. So the idea of going to a first confession in the Catholic church, and needing to try and remember things I’ve done and privately asked God for forgiveness for still didn’t make a lot of sense to me early on.

So here are some of the other pieces of the puzzle that reconciled me peacefully to the idea of reconciliation.

Church History. What was the early church doing? How did they practice confession? Thanks to a friend I was pointed in the direction of a helpful website, which listed numerous early church documents that referred to the practice of confession. This is only one of them:

“[Regarding confession, some] flee from this work as being an exposure of themselves, or they put it off from day to day. I presume they are more mindful of modesty than of salvation, like those who contract a disease in the more shameful parts of the body and shun making themselves known to the physicians; and thus they perish along with their own bashfulness” (Repentance 10:1 [A.D. 203]).

See here for more.

In everything else, we consult historical sources to help us gain insight in interpreting texts. I am no longer hesitant to do that with the Bible and the Early Church (See my thoughts on Sola Scripture here). I think it is wise to look at other texts that might help us get an insight into the time and culture in which our faith had its beginnings.

The concept of sin. Sin makes our souls sick. I think this is a concept almost anyone of any background could at the very least understand. Everyone knows what happened to Ebeneezer Scrooge’s heart due to his selfishness and greed. We all know the Grinch. Beauty and the Beast. Let selfishness, bitterness, anger, pride, or any number of things take over in our life and we become ugly.

The Catholic concept is that all sin hurts our souls. Some more than others. Venial sins aren’t good, but they aren’t a death blow. Mortal sins are so serious that it inflicts a potentially deadly wound.

In short, sin is serious business.

As Christians, we have a call to live higher- to be selfless, loving, trustworthy, faithful, patient, kind, etc. We can’t be those things while crippling ourselves with selfishness, hate, anger, greed, rudeness, etc.

In Persona Christi So I agree. The Early Church practiced confession. Even Protestant churches, though rather non-specifically at times practice confession still today. So there is probably something to the idea of it. I also agree sin is serious and bad for me in my pursuit to live more like Christ each day.

Which brings me to… Protestant Christians are all about talking directly to God, so why need a priest? Well, the Catholic Church is all about the idea of taking a spiritual reality and giving us something physical to hold onto to represent what is happening on the spiritual level. Confession is no different.

The priest, during confession, acting in the person of Christ actually isn’t that difficult for me to understand. In my circle, we frequently talk about needing to be the “hands and feet” of Jesus in this world we live in. When I go do the ministry I am a part of, I hope people will see Jesus through my interaction with them. In essence, and much more informally than a priest, I am hoping to be In Persona Christi daily as I interact with everyone I meet. So the idea of the priest acting in the person of Christ for my encounter with God through confession logically holds to many beliefs I am already practicing.

Instead of looking up into the air and asking God to forgive me my sins, which can sometimes be so difficult because as humans we want something tangible to hold onto, I would have the opportunity in Confession to look in the eyes of someone who is acting as Jesus. Instead of hoping to feel or understand that I am forgiven on my own, I can hear an actual voice speak to me that it is true. I could see that being a very powerful experience.

I’ve been hearing the words “both, and” in reference to Catholicism a lot. Yes, we can pray directly to God, and should and need to. And yes, we do need the Sacraments because we are physical beings and those physical, tangible representations of the spiritual reality of receiving God’s grace are immensely valuable to us. And if you have access to that beautiful gift, you should use it!

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This picture to me is a beautiful reminder of overwhelming, undeserved grace.

Moving forward. I don’t have to have this all perfectly understood to move on. A life lived in faith of any kind is a journey and a process and I think something you grow into as your understanding and experience develop. But I’ve come a long way since I started this inquiry into this particular sacrament.

I think I will be nervous leading up to my first Confession. I know I will hear words full of grace at the end of it, but the idea of telling my worst moments as a person and the darkest parts of who I am to God through this sacrament is still scary.To say ones sins out loud, to another person, I imagine, changes things. I experience a sort of repulsion to the idea of thinking about the ways in which I am not a good person. The ways in which I hurt others or myself through my thoughts and actions. And some part of us, like Adam and Eve, thinks that if we just stay hidden in the bushes that God won’t know what we’ve done. Going to Confession rids us of the ability to lie to ourselves in that way.

Still, how can we possibly be truly ourselves and stand in the presence of the holiness that is God and live? Interestingly and obviously, God knows all those parts of me anyway, and here I am, alive. So. much. grace. I can’t even comprehend it in my mind. And I think the Sacrament of Reconciliation makes that grace tangible, in a beautiful and wonderful way.

And I think an official examination of my conscience is in my near future.

 

The Misconceptions

I told a friend yesterday about what’s going on with me and JP and studying Catholicism with the possibility of conversion. This was a bit of an easier friend to start with because she is not connected with our current church.

I was all like “Can I test out a difficult conversation that I’m going to need to have with a lot of people on you?” And she was like “Sure.” And I was like, “JP and I are thinking about becoming Catholic.” And she said, “I’m probably not the best person to talk to about this.”

Great start! Ha.

But it ended up being ok.

Her first question to me was about needing to go to a priest vs. talking directly to God. That’s a very classic concern for Protestants. I’m working on writing about it now, but the necessity of Confession for Catholics was surprisingly difficult for me to understand, and I’m probably going to become Catholic, so her point was understood for sure.

I began by sharing with my friend that, of course, Catholic Christians can also pray directly to God, and should. And that one of the main premises of Catholicism is that since as humans,we are both physical bodies and spiritual beings, many of their practices give a tangible representation of what is going on spiritually, and that confession is one of those situations. I went into more detail than that, but that’s for another entry because how I actually went from being someone who would ask the same question my friend asked to someone who was arguing for the other side of the issue requires more explanation.

All said, though, once I finished explaining how I’ve come to understand the importance and role of Confession in the Catholic church, she replied: “It makes sense when you explain it like that.” Yes! It does make sense. But I also got the impression that confession was only one of many, many things that make her a bit squeemish when it comes to Catholicism. And, unfortunately, we had arrived at our destination and had to end it there for now.

When I talked to JP about my conversation later last night we both shook our heads at how many deep-seated misconceptions there are about what Catholicism is. Mostly it seems to be due to people who go through all the ritual but aren’t engaged in their hearts. And who, even beyond that, don’t live a Christian life outside of church. Protestants see a perception of meaninglessness to it all, and instead of attributing the meaninglessness to the disengaged people, they attribute it to the faith as a whole.

What is particularly interesting to me about this is Protestants have the same frustration when it comes to non-Christians having deep-seated misconceptions about Christianity. We are very quick to say the Christian Protestant church is full of sinful people, and that people are wrong to base their perception of God on what the people do instead of who God is. Many non-Christians who use that argument have also probably not looked deeply into the theology and rationality of Christianity.

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But so many Protestants take that same prejudice and apply it to Catholicism.

How many Protestants have looked deeply into the theology and rationality of the Catholic faith? From what I’ve seen growing up, it’s not many. I sure didn’t. I just let people tell me untrue things about it, and believed them. And yet how many have a strong predisposition against Catholicism because of how Catholic’s they’ve known have behaved? Too many.

I think this point is fair enough, for sure, but at the same time I don’t think it entirely lets Catholics off the hook. Just like I don’t think the arguments about Christians being hypocritical and thus the faith being invalid lets any Christian off the hook.

The Catholic church focuses doctrinally more on living a holy life than any other denomination. And Christians in general have a well-defined moral code we are called to live by. We need to be better. Being lukewarm in our faith is worse to God than being cold. We need to live this Christian life so that people can’t use us as an excuse to not live in communion with God.

At the same time, though, I think it would be wise for Protestant Christians to not make the same error in logic we are so quick to point out that non-Christians make. How sinful people live out their faith isn’t reason enough to prove that the faith is wrong. Seeing some Catholics just go through the motions isn’t reason enough to prove that Catholicism is ritualistic and empty.

I sincerely hope to be able to have some great dialogue when I’m able to have time to share this journey with my other friends, and to continue it with my friend from last night. They may not be easy conversations, but I have found so much logical, down-to-the-core truth in my study of Catholicism so far, that I know I have a solid foundation to stand on.