This post is being written as one of a series leading up to advent and Christmas itself; for those who want to join me on a spiritual journey preparing for the liturgical coming of Christ. However towards the end I do talk about how to progress in holiness by taking full advantage of this under rated, and sometimes feared, sacrament.
1 It’s Spending Time With Christ
Too often we view confession as a burden, when the reality is it’s spending time with Jesus.
One of the main themes of the New Testament is God’s desire to seek out and bring home His lost sheep. How does He do this? He spends time with them.
Not only did He sit with the sinners and the tax collectors, but we can hear how He interacts with them. If you doubt me read the passage with Jesus and His conversation with the woman at the well. Although He is honest with her about her predicament, you can tell by her reaction to Him that He isn’t antagonistic.
4 Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3 So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
17 “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I Am He.”The Gospel of John
2 Think of the Grace
Whenever I read this passage I am reminded of the story of creation. Just after Eve and Adam eat the fruit they hide when they hear God coming. Until this point they had walked and talked with God in the garden.
When God speaks to them He asks them if they ate the forbidden fruit. Instead of honesty they blame each other and the devil. Following this they are banished.
What if they had told the truth immediately? Time and time again Jesus talked about the abundance of grace available to us. If we walk with Him on our journey, regularly making use of the sacrament then we can continue to use His strength to continue the journey of redemption.
This, after all, is what happens to the Woman at the Well. Jesus prompts her to honesty about her marital status, when she is honest he reveals Himself to her further. She is the only person in the Bible that he says He is the Messiah to; Peter has it revealed from God and Jesus confirms it. It’s to her that He is says “I Am He”.
3 Pray for a sympathetic priest
If you have been away from the sacrament for a long time then you may have something in particular that you are reticent to bring before a priest. After all, even though the priest is the physical embodiment of Christ we are speaking to another human being.
As part of your preparation I would pray for a priest to confess to. Of course you could just look on the nearest parish bulletin board and go from there. However, praying for God’s Guidance in choosing where to go and trusting in Him to guide you to the right ear is an act of faith that will result in grace as well. I’ve done this and can attest to the fact that God really acts as a Good Shepherd to His lost revert sheep in this way.
4 Be aware of who your priest is and look at the bigger picture
Your priest is human and has battled their demons too. In fact, as we know that satan attacks those who are moving closer to God most viciously then it’s safe to say that they have probably had to wage a long war against the enemy to be in a their position.
As it’s said that Jesus..
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.Hebrews 4:15
it can also be said that who we talk to in the confessional have fought and fallen. They will probably have sympathy recognizing their own weakness in you.
Added to that they hear so many confessions, and human nature being what it is, what you will be bringing before Jesus, as it’s ultimately Him we’re talking to, will not be unique. King David committed adultery and murder; yet he was loved by God and his confession was accepted.
5 Go early
If you want to ensure that you will be able to confess then you must be prepared to go early to ensure your confession is heard. So organise your time around making sure you can confess as if it is a work meeting. This is in addition to the spiritual preparation. We would never turn up to work for a meeting late and unprepared – why would we do it for the sacrament that is one of the means God has gifted us for salvation?
If we’d offended a friend and wanted to apologise we wouldn’t add insult to injury by turning up late because we didn’t want to spend additional time there, or because we just couldn’t organise ourselves to be ready in time. What would the friend think of our apology?
God may be merciful, but it will say little about our spiritual progress if we treat it so carelessly.
6 Base your confession around The Ten Commandments
When you are trying to organise your thoughts to make a good confession there is a framework that God has already given us; The Ten Commandments.
Love the Lord your God…….have I used a feeble excuse to miss Sunday mass and therefore haven’t spent time with Him? Have I gone only to mass but neglected to pray throughout the week? Perhaps in difficult circumstances I didn’t spend time with Him, but turned only to the culture around me to guide me as to what to do?
Love your neighbour….have I gossiped? Written uncharitable things on line? neglected to give to charity? Met my own personal desires before others consistently?
Have I coveted? Lusted after my neighbours wife? Husband? Donkey?
Ok, their classic Jaguar XJS….but you get the idea right?
7 pray for help and write them down
As you work through the Commandments pray to the Holy Spirit to highlight what it is that God wants to bring to your attention. God’s standard is high, but His love is deep. So many of us see ourselves as ‘good people’ at the start of our walk deeper into faith, then when we look back on who we were before we are embarrassed by our former nature that He has transformed.
As I progress in my faith I find that the ‘big’ sins I committed continually no longer have the same grip on me. The Holy Spirit focuses me on new sins, that I start off by seeing not as significant. Then as I battle to give them up I realise just how tight a grip the particular behaviour has on me and how deep and destructive the root of it is.
Case in point; meatless Fridays. It’s easy to think of this spiritual offering as not important at all. I mean, what good does it do right? But then I always find so many excuses that “I really don’t have to do this today because….”
What all these excuses boil down to is that I seek my personal comfort before I seek God. If I can’t give up something so small for the Kingdom how will I have the spiritual strength to stand by the Truth when I face real hardship?
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”Genesis 3:1
The Holy Spirit will bring you to a fuller understanding of not only what you’re doing that’s sinful, but the true significance of it.
It is a good part of your preparation to have a little notepad and pen with you, then write what comes to you as you pray. I don’t mean in full – I’d hate to see what my confession list is. But you can just write key words next to the commandments as a prompt in the confessional.
8 In the confessional…
Start with the most difficult ones – they will be the mortal sins in probability and you don’t want to leave the confessional without having stated what they are!
Remember what I said about priests in number 4. Then, should you feel nervous, or embarrassed to tell all you can feel confident not only that the priest will have faced similar temptations, but that if you need to ask for understanding prior to speaking it will be given to you.
If you are uncertain about some sins were sinful, such as if the way you missed mass in a particular set of circumstances, ask.
You may not remember everything in your confession – no matter how well you’ve prepared. When it’s a good effort God sees this. However when you have finished confessing all the sins that you remember, say:
For these sins all the sins of my past life, especially the sins against…(mention the most important virtues, like charity, honesty, purity, etc.) I ask absolution and penance from you, Father.
9 Go often
As i said at the outset, this post is focused on confession leading up to Christmas. But spiritual progress means continually availing ourselves of the medicine. We know that quick diets don’t work, the change has to be for life. We also know that to maintain good health we need to ensure that we remain active, eat healthy and have regular check ups with our doctor. Confession is the same.
How many times does Jesus refer to humanity as being sick and Him as the doctor? To enable you to overcome spiritual difficulties we need to stay in His care.
And hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”Mark 2:17
10 Recurring sins make an appointment and ask advice
In terms of particular recurring sins that you are trying to overcome finding a priest that you trust, that you can be honest with and who will walk that journey with you is essential.
Back to my third point; pray for a good confessor!
Then go to them and verbalise that you need their help to overcome it. Go at least fortnightly if not weekly. Think of alcoholics and the meetings they follow; honesty and someone who will walk by your side is essential to overcome disordered movements. I would advise you to use these confession times in addition to the First Friday devotion.
Remember that it is necessary to specify the number of mortal sins, together with the circumstances that add to their gravity. By doing this your priest can advise you and help you unpick behaviours that you may not see yourselves.
We’re drawing close to the penitential season of Advent now, so just one more important point. During the Lenten season your parish may well have a Penitential Service. These services take different forms, but the important thing to remember is that one must still talk to the priest one-on-one in order to make a valid Sacrament of Reconciliation.
I have heard of some parishes that simply have some Bible readings with a public Act of Contrition and NO one-on-one with a priest. This is not valid. If this is what your parish does, please attend the Sacrament of Reconciliation some other time.
Or you may be confused as to what makes it valid. I hope this information helps.
Other parishes have some readings and the public Act of Contrition. They then have every person attending that wishes to approach the priests. If you don’t go forward to confess you are not absolved of your sin.
If, however, they encourage only confessing one or two major sins for time consideration this is valid – even though others may doubt this validity or be fond of them. However, consider this…
36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them….Luke 7: 36-38, 48-50
48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
She does not talk, but it is evident by her actions that she is fully repentant. If your parish is giving you advise of one or two sins choose the mortal sins and confess with sorrow. From then on we can be fully confident based on our obedience and in the mercy of God that we are absolved of sin.
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