Having paused our reflections on the Precepts of the Church for one week (I hope the clarification on the status of some of our priests was helpful), let us return to the topic at hand – the second Precept of the Church: Confession of serious sins at least once a year
Although I did not plan it this way, our continued reflection on the sometimes difficult topic of confession falls on a Sunday in which the Church provides us probably the most powerful of Jesus’s teaching on His mercy, the Parable of the Prodigal Son. I do not want to focus too much on that parable in this article, as that is what the homily is for, just to make note of it and to keep the story in our minds as we consider the Father and the great mercy He offers to us as His beloved children in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
One point that I will highlight from this story is the line where the younger son prepares what he is going to say when he returns to his father’s house. We can see in this rehearsal a model for us as we prepare to return to the Father’s house in the sacrament. Preparation is key! Trust me, we hear a lot of confessions at the Cathedral and it is evident that the best confessions are those when it is clear that somebody has made a good preparation beforehand. Without preparation, we risk not confessing some of the sins that we should confess. There is a difference between not being able to recall a sin after a good preparation and simple negligence by not doing any significant preparation. A good preparation is all the more necessary if it has been some time since our last confession. A lack of preparation could result in a very vague confession which only speaks in general terms, which is not very beneficial, or we could find ourselves rambling on without much direction – also not very beneficial.
So how should we prepare? I highly recommend finding a good Examination of Conscience to review. A quick Internet search will certainly return many options. Then, ask the Holy Spirit to help you as you examine your conscience. If you need to, make a list that you can bring into the confessional. Do not underestimate how unreliable our memory can be, especially when we have our nerves running high once we step into the confessional! I have heard some people say that making a list is unnecessary, or not advisable out of a fear that somebody might find the list. But if making a list helps you to make a good confession, by all means, go for it. Full transparency – I make a list every time I go to confession. When you are done, destroy the list – shred it or burn it. When it comes time for making your confession, please stick to your sins. Please do not confess the sins of another person. You can only take ownership for your own sins. Confessing our sins does not need a story, either. As a priest I know said one time: “if you feel the need to explain it, you might just be making excuses instead of just taking ownership and confessing your sins.” Plus, we want to be respectful of the time of those who are in line behind us. Doing a good preparation will enable the flow of the line go much more efficiently. Not that efficiency is and end in itself, but it is a sign of good courtesy toward your fellow penitents.
So as you think and pray about your relationship with confession, let me gently encourage you to examine how well you prepare for your confession. If you truly take the time to do a good preparation, I can guarantee you will benefit greatly from this sacrament the next time you go. And that experience may well help you to embrace this gift of the Father’s mercy in a new way, such that you are eager to make use of it more frequently as one of the most effective means of truly growing in holiness.