Written by Fr. Ronnie D’Souza, SJ and Vinay Silva
A few tips for Confession
Unless you repent, you will all perish...The words of Jesus in Luke 13:5
When we approach the Sacrament of Confession, we have to realise that the ‘Absolution’ that the ordained priest ministers to us will NOT be effective unless the individual person is truly sincere and repentant. This is because, unseen by us and understood only through faith, Jesus Himself is behind the priest in the confessional; and as indicated above, Jesus desires true repentance.
As a person going for Confession, ask yourself the following 5 questions:
1. Am I in a state of repentance and sincere remorse for my sins & do I really feel sorry for having offended God?
When you realise your guilt, you shall confess the sin that you have committedLeviticus 5:5
2. Have I made a firm decision not to commit the same sins again?
For if we wilfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgement …Hebrews 10:26
3. Have I decided that I will avoid the situations that caused me to sin?
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.James 4:7
4. Do I strongly desire not just to come out of my sin, but also to make up for the damage caused by it?
When a man or a woman wrongs another, breaking faith with the Lord, that person incurs guilt and shall confess the sin that has been committed. The person shall make full restitution for the wrong…Numbers 5:5-7
5. Do I desire to work towards a deeper personal prayer life & holiness & to work towards increasing my faith after confessing my sins?
Without faith, it is impossible to please God.Hebrews 11:6
If your answer is ‘no’ to any of the above 5 questions, then you need to understand that Confession as a Sacrament will NOT be effective in your life. It remains NULL & VOID. The transfer of grace through the priest’s absolution depends on your co-operation as well. This is because you are not a mere puppet in God’s hands, but He looks at you as His child and seeks to develop a friendship with you. He expects a response of sincerity in you which you are free to adopt without being forced to do so.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.Psalm 15:7
A: Desire for HOLINESS is a MUST for Sacramental graces to flow
Pursue peace with everyone and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.Hebrews 12:14
Holiness is neither sinlessness nor being overtly religious. It is an attitude of sincere readiness to surrender to God. We need to acknowledge our weakness and abandon ourselves to Him so that He can put His holiness into us. We have to humbly admit that without Him, coming out of sin is impossible. He helps us in our weakness and is constantly inviting us into developing an authentic and personal relationship with Him through Jesus. Only through this relationship, the Sacrament of Confession can be effective and thereby can make the way for further graces to be instilled in our lives.
B: RETURNING TO GOD is a MUST for Sacramental graces to flow
Another question: “Am I truly longing to return to God?”
This is what the Sacrament of Confession is all about!
This will involve a decision to spend time with Him every day in prayer and thereby, one can experience being in the Father arms like the Prodigal son did (Luke 15).
Since Christianity is more of a relationship of freewill and surrender than a religion of following rules, returning to God is a pre- requisite and a mandatory condition for us to experience God’s embrace.
Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord.Malachi 3:7b
C: Sincere desire to FORGIVE OTHERS is a MUST for Sacramental graces to flow
Let’s not forget that forgiveness from God involves our sincere desire to forgive others, which God is always willing to help us achieve. Without this happening, you cannot expect God to forgive you. Hence, approaching the Sacrament without this attitude becomes meaningless. We pray in the “Our Father” –
Forgive us our sins AS we forgive those who sin against us.Matthew 6:12
The 3 points above: Without desire for holiness, returning to God and your sincere desire to forgive others, it is unrealistic and illogical to expect God’s forgiveness to you. Coming back to the title of this article – Your repentance is the Key!
Be aware of DECEPTION
Not all who go in for Confession come out forgiven, even after doing the penance. It is the interior disposition of heart and the grace that follows in prayer that shows that the forgiveness is complete. The sacramental grace of a Confession done with true repentance may not be explosive or tangible, but it will surely lead the soul into a more Christ centred life. This outward sign needs to be realised. Since deception happens subtly under the disguise of goodness, many of us are in danger of getting trapped into something which the Catholic Church does not uphold as truth.
Many of us, perhaps as children, have been taught and encouraged to go for the Sacrament of Confession. Unfortunately, ‘why and how’ this Sacrament should be approached may not have been taught effectively. Parents, teachers and others in authority have fallen short of this responsibility in many ways. The damaging consequence is that people lose out on a spiritual blessing due to their ignorance of how the Sacramental graces could flow into their lives.
Sincere repentance is the KEY to forgiveness. The Sacrament of Confession has to be approached with this in mind. If not, it will amount to a misuse of God’s gift of Reconciliation which the Catholic Church offers. It amounts to taking God lightly, being a bad witness in society, and it also indirectly and silently discourages other Catholics from reaping the benefits of this spiritual treasure. This is because we are all a part of the Body of Christ and not isolated or separate beings. What we do and what we do not do, in addition to how we do it, affects the wider community, whether we realise it or not. To be partakers in causing this damage to God’s kingdom is contrary to our call to be partakers of divine nature (2Pet 1:4).
Repent, and believe in the good news.Mark 1:15b
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come nearMatthew 4:17b
Let’s always remember these words of Jesus which he spoke after he came out of the 40 days in the wilderness. These words need to be imprinted on our hearts and seen in our behavior, allowing for a truly grace filled and empowering relationship with the Lord, as Jesus desires for one and all!
Prayer from Psalm 51:
Have mercy on me, O Lord. Cleanse me from my sin. I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me. Create in me a clean heart, O God. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation and renew a right spirit within me!
Note: The longer version of this article was published by Fr. Adrian Mascarenhas in “The Tabor Kirana”, Oct. 2015.