Friday, September 4, 2015

The Sacrament of Reconciliation (Alternatively Titled: I Am the Literal Worst, but Jesus is the Literal Best)

I know several people who go to confession at least once a month. I know others who go once a week. I even know someone who goes semi-weekly.

When I learned this about each of them, I immediately felt inferior. Not because they said or did anything to make me feel inferior, but because I know them. I know they're good, holy people. I know they strive every moment of everyday to live for the Lord Jesus and the mental image I have of each of them is one of someone holy to the core.

And I am just the worst.

Granted, I also go to confession at least once a month. Sometimes, I go every week. And sometimes, I go more than once a week. But, and I'm sure if I asked my friends I mentioned above why they go so often, they might say the same thing: I don't go because I'm holy, I go because I'm a sinner.

I am an awkward person, and I have an anxiety disorder. I thrive in organized, categorized efficiency, but the awkwardness of confession usually throws me for a crazy turn. I tend to forget the formulas and proper rituals. I almost always forget to begin "Forgive me Father, for I have sinned." And I kick myself when I'm saying my penance after confession and realize I forgot to say I was sorry for all my sins.

But here lately, it's been really easy to remember to say how long it's been since my last confession.

Because I'm usually saying "My last confession was a week ago," or, once this month, "My last confession was four days ago." And I need the priest to know how much I am the worst.

Now, you may say, "Oh, it can't be that bad. Most people commit the same sins all the time, or whatever. You know? Like... Also, haven't you heard that old cliche? There's nothing you're going to tell a priest that he hasn't heard before? There's nothing you're going to say that's going to be the worst thing he's ever heard?"

But, allow me to extend a great big jolly "You're welcome!" to you all, dear readers, because I am that person. I am the person the priest has gawked at and said, "You did what? Could me what that means?" Because he had literally never heard it before and literally had no idea what the words coming out of my face meant. I am the person to whom the priest has said, "Come closer, I want you to hear this," as he leaned in closer before adding, "This is very, very bad. I want you to be aware of how particularly serious what you just confessed was." Two different times, with two different priests. I'm telling you; I am that person.

So, naturally, when I know my super holy friends go to confession so often, it makes me feel kind of small and stupid and horrible. Because, as a theology student, I know that the graces of confession are what help us become holy. They're probably so holy because they frequent the sacrament so often, not in spite of that fact. Meanwhile, I'm over here violently flopping all over the floor of Catholicism frustratedly trying to pull myself up to my feet and wipe the dirt off my face so Jesus won't be embarrassed.

You can understand why this might be intimidating.

BUT! I actually love going to confession. I've come a long, long way since those first few confessions several years ago when priests were probably scarred for life by my teenaged antics. I'm at that comfortable point in my life where, like every average Catholic, I'm just confessing the same things over and over again, while the priest nods and pretends it isn't totally frustrating to have me back, again, to say the same thing I said last time. I tell him I've been so angry. He nods. I tell him I've been so hateful in my heart. He nods. I tell him I've been gossipy and rude and downright malicious. I rattle off about how I'm impatient and stubborn and lazy and whatever else I've been since four days ago. He nods. He encourages me to pray for people instead of being mean. And then, every time, the most amazing thing happens.

It hits me, hard, every time I go to confession. The Gospel is preached privately, to me, personally, from the heart of Jesus Christ Himself through His minister the priest.

"God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins."

Whoa. That is, seriously, the entire Gospel. That is Genesis to Revelation. That is the epitome of the Church's teaching, study, and concern, for 2,000 years. That is the Gospel, and that is Jesus speaking those words through His priest. That is grace. That is what it means to be Catholic. That is what it means to be loved by God.

If you've been to confession lately, you've probably heard it. Maybe it registered with you, and maybe it didn't. It gets me every time, though, and the words alone are enough to flood my soul with peace. The first time I went to confession after coming back to the Church, and heard -- really heard -- those words for the first time since what seemed like forever before, I was overjoyed. I was also crying, because of that line in the standard Act of Contrition that finds its way into every confessional: "I have sinned against You whom I should love above all things." But, that's a whole different story. It was those words of that priest that day that shook me to the core. "God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins."

And, as if that isn't amazing enough, it's followed up immediately with: "Through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace. I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

Sometimes, a priest will follow that much up with, "Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His mercy endures forever. The Lord has freed you from your sins. Go in peace."

This is such a personal, intimate sacrament of healing and embracing Jesus.

It is so difficult to explain to our Christian brothers and sisters who are not Catholic the joy and intimacy with Jesus that comes from confession. It is so difficult to explain to them that the priest is there because Jesus is there, and that Jesus is there because the priest is there. And it is impossible to truly put into words the overflow of grace which accompanies one as they leave the confessional.

If you haven't been to confession in a while, or if you just haven't been in four days, I highly encourage you to go tomorrow evening. Tomorrow is Saturday, and most parishes offer the sacrament of penance on Saturday evenings.

To find parishes and times for the sacrament near you, go to:


  1. Beautiful post! I also love the prayer some priests add: "may the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, the merits of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints, whatever good you do and evil you endure, be for you the increase of grace, the remission of your sins, and the reward of everlasting life. Amen."