As Pope Francis prepares to open the Porta Santa in Rome, and proclaim a year of mercy, I thought I’d finally finish off a blog post I had drafted a few months ago. In a way it’s my confession about Confession, that under related, maligned, and often malpracticed sacrament. Well, here we go …
The sacrament of Confession (or Reconciliation) has for many Catholics gone out of the window. But I can understand that, mostly because I struggle with it myself. It’s not easy to speak out our limits, our sinfulness. Even if we concede the importance of the sacrament, we still somehow half believe that praying God for forgiveness is enough, isn’t it? So, while I never rejected it as part of the Catholic package – I am, deep down, a cradle Catholic – somehow my heart was not all there.
I must admit, that I have rediscovered it in the last few years as a priest. There is something extremely humbling for me that people trust me as a priest with their brokenness, their sinfulness, their fears. I have also experienced (occasionally very strongly) the cathartic effect of confession.
Don’t take me wrongly. I recognise the value of the regular, “routine”, confession, that reminds us of our limitations, our boring, repetitive, sinfulness, which we need to wash regularly in the love of God. But this sacrament really comes to its own when the wounds are deeper. Not necessarily because sins are graver (often they are not), but when there is human brokenness brought to the fore, questions that we carry about our faith, a struggle to accept the profound truth that God loves us, that sin in our life is hardly a blip in the eyes of God who – if anything – does wants to embrace us all the more, like a loving adult embracing a young child who has fallen and needs caring for their wounds, and reassurance.
That’s why I’m not allergic to calling the sacrament one of “Confession,” rather than insisting on speaking of “Reconciliation.” Individual confession of our sins remains a key point, because NAMING our sin, and bringing it out to the light of the sacrament, is particularly helpful, even to the human aspect of confession. The supernatural always builds on the natural!
No, the priest is not particularly interested in your sin. (And, by the way, if he is, run off as fast as you can!) We’ve probably heard it before, and won’t shock us anyway. But it’s the wisdom of realising that the things that trouble us love to lurke in the darker nooks and cranniess of our life, and want to stay there, gnawing away. And the shadows they cast can often be as frightening as they are false.
Finally, two practical bits of advice:
Firstly, find a priest with whom you can be comfortable to be open and honest. This may mean a different thing to different people: some prefer a priest they know, one they can choose as a regular confessor and spiritual father. Some prefer an outsider, because it’s slightly embarrassing to speak out your sin.
Secondly, be prepared. NAME your sin. No need for a long list. But name what is troubling you. Naming our troubles helps to shed light on our darker corners, and let the light in.