That first Easter Sunday night, as the Apostles hid in the upper room in fear of the Jews and possible execution from the Romans, Jesus walked through the wall in His glorified Body and greeted them: "Peace be with you! (Shalom!) Breathing on them He said: "Receive the Holy Spirit; whose sins you forgive they shall be forgiven; whose sins you retain they shall be retained." (Jn. 21: 21-23)
By this gesture, Jesus was bestowing upon the Apostles, future Bishops as well as future priests until the end of the world, the ability in His Name to forgive sins through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Jesus' Easter Sunday night gift was none other than giving us forgiveness, peace, joy, freedom and liberty, by instituting the Sacrament of Confession. Gratitude for this sublime gift should have no bounds or limits in our hearts! "Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; His mercy endures forever."
However, a problem exists far and wide today: this gift is misunderstood, forgotten, abused and sorely neglected! The nature of a "Gift" is that it is to be well used and graciously received by the recipient! In too many churches and Parishes throughout the world, the line for Holy Communion, never ends! On the contrary, the confessional line dwindles to nothing, except the scrupulous sacristan who confesses three times a day! Let us first present some of the major obstacles, roadblocks and objections to confession; then some practical tips on how to draw close to this infinite source of grace! SOME TYPICAL OBSTACLES AND OBJECTIONS!
1. TOMORROW. Too often the devil convinces us to follow the "Philosophy of tomorrow". Simply do it, but tomorrow! We all know that tomorrow never exists; we only have today! C. S. Lewis in SCREWTAPE LETTERS, presents Satan in discussion with others devils on how to successfully win souls to hell. The best idea presented to Satan was to get the people to believe they have a long life and that they could put off their conversion for tomorrow! The devil of "Tomorrow" has won over man penitents who never make it tot he confessional! What should be done today, now, should not be put off till tomorrow. St Augustine presents Jesus as the Pilgrim knocking at the door. He knocks and knocks, but if the door is not open He will never return. Why not open today your heart to the Lord's forgiveness!
2. ACT OF CONTRITION! I do not know the "Act of Contrition"; so I cannot go to confession! Easily resolved! Just ask the priest and he will give you a card with the "Act of Contrition". Resolved! Just go! Then, see if you can memorize an "Act of Contrition!"
3. CONFESSION INVENTED BY PRIESTS-- NOT IN BIBLE! FALSE! it can be found in the Bible in the Gospel of John, chapter 21: 21-23. Jesus breathes on them the Holy Spirit and empowers them to forgive sins in His name: "The sins that you forgive will be forgiven; the sins you bind shall be held bound..." A very clear and convincing Biblical passage substantiating the institution of the Sacrament of Confession! (Jn 20:21-23) Read it memorize it!
4. PRIESTS ARE TOO BUSY! Another false claim! The two greatest actions that a priest can carry out, related to his reception of Holy Orders, is the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and the celebration of the Sacrament of Confession. Likewise, the two most important phrases a priest can say are: TAKE AND EAT THIS IS MY BODY; TAKE AND DRINK THIS IS MY BLOOD. DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME.... and "I ABSOLVE YOU OF YOUR SINS IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER AND OF THE SON AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT...." These words and actions of the priest are by far the most important manifestations of his priesthood. By calling upon a priest to hear your confession you are helping that priest to become a better and more holy priest! Holy priests usually spend much time in the confessional; take for example The Cure of Ars, Padre Pio and St. John Bosco! They all spent long hours in the confessional in their thirst for the salvation of souls. St. John Bosco's motto was: "Give me souls and take all the rest away!"
5. I HAVE NO SIN TO CONFESS! Impossible! There were only two perfect persons that lived on the face of the earth: Jesus, the Son of the living God, and Mary, the Immaculate Conception! They were born without sin and were impeccable their whole lives. However, in the case of the rest of humanity, we were conceived with Original Sin, commit many actual sins and need God's mercy through the Sacrament of Penance. The words of the late Pope Pius XII ring so true today: " The sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin." It is not that you do not have sin; it is that you are blind to your sin!
6. RATIONALIZATION/MODERN PSYCHOLOGY. Modern psychological schools tend to downplay, or worse yet, simply deny that "sin is sin", especially in the realm of sexual morality! Simply follow your feelings; be free and uninhibited! The Church has never promoted license and following sinful tendencies but self-control through prayer, fasting, sacraments, Marian devotion and hard work!
7. EVERYBODY ELSE IS DOING WHAT YOU CALL SIN! Never forget, the Church is not a democracy! Jesus never promised that to follow Him was going to be easy! On the contrary, he unequivocally stated the conditions to follow Him: "Whoever wants to be my follower, must renounce himself, take up his cross and follow me." Keep in mind! The cross leads to the glory of the Resurrection and eternal life. Confession is dying to sin and living life and life in abundance. It is the sacramental realization of the Paschal mystery in the human heart: death to sin and rising to the new life of grace!
8. MY SIN (SINS) ARE TOO BIG! False! The greatest attribute of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is His Infinite Mercy. The essence of Devotion to Divine Mercy, written by "The Secretary of Divine Mercy" St Faustina Kowalska, is that Jesus is Mercy Incarnate. The greater the sinner, the more he has a right to God's mercy. Also, the greatest sinners can be the greatest saints, under one condition: TRUST IN HIS INFINITE MERCY! Remember the words of St. Paul: "Where sin abounds, the mercy of God abounds all the more." Never be fearful to draw close to the merciful Heart of Jesus. Remember the Prodigal son, but remember even more the Merciful Father of the Prodigal Son. His arms are open to receive you!
9. PRIEST WILL YELL AT ME! If it happened in the past, then forgive the priest! He was probably just having a bad day, as we all do! That was half of your penance! Most likely, it will not happen again! Most priests are kind, merciful compassionate and encouraging confessors! Pray for priests! Once St. Faustina went to confession and it did not go well, as if the priest did not understand her, nor she the priest. Jesus revealed to her that the reason was simple: she did not pray for the priest-confessor before entering the confessional. The next time she did pray for the priest and her confession was excellent! Before entering the confessional, say a short pray for the priest--- maybe even to his guardian angel!
10. PRIEST WILL TELL MY SINS! Never! The priest is bound with the strictest observance to maintain what is called the "Seal of the Confession". That means that a priest can never reveal to others what he has heard in the confessional! Otherwise, strict canonical sanctions can be leveled against that priest. So much so that there have been priests who were almost coerced into divulging the sins of the penitent. One famous case is in the life of St. John Nepomucene. Father John was the confessor to the Queen and the King wanted to know the sins of his wife, so he tried to bride, coax, force, coerce, the priest into revealing the sins of the Queen. In short, Father John resisted and was martyred, by being thrown over a bridge and drowning then dying as a martyr! He dies as a "Martyr for the seal of the Confessional". So, do not worry! your sins are known to God, the priest(who easily forgets them) and to yourself! Be at peace!
11. I AM AFRAID! Time and time again Jesus rebuked the Apostles-- and all of us too-- not to be afraid. Jesus said, "Fear is useless, what is needed is trust! One of the tactics of the devil is to petrify us with useless, groundless, hopeless, fear! How often have we feared persons, places and circumstances and events and these fears had no really substance or meaning! Our motto should be: "Jesus I trust in you!" St. Paul put it bluntly, " The Holy Spirit is not a cowardly spirit!" Pope John Paul II exhorted us: "Do not be afraid to open the doors to Christ!" That door is your heart!
12. I AM ASHAMED! Another tactic of the devil is to take away our shame when we decide to commit sin, but then to fill us with so much fear and shame that he paralyzes us, preventing us to draw close to God's infinite fountain of grace in the confessional! Shame is related to pride, because we have an inflated view of who we really are. No matter what you think, we are always sinners. But that is the precise reason for Jesus' coming: to save us from sin. The name "Jesus" means God saves! From what! Sin! And sin forgiven through sacramental confession! How great God's mercy!
13. I WILL FALL AGAIN INTO THE SAME SIN! Probably true! However be careful! Classical catholic moral theology for priests-confessors is the theological principle called "The principle of graduality". This means precisely this: frequent confession will not eliminate and obliterate all sins and the tendencies toward sin immediately, however gradually the sin will be conquered. How? There will be a gradual lessening of the "gravity" of the sins and the number of the sins. That is why it is called "The Principle of grduality"-- meaning, the sins are gradually overcome through the grace of God and the good will and effort on the part of the penitent! Conversion often is slow, laborious and painful, but efficacious if one takes serious frequent and well-prepared confessions! Be resilient, like a "Super-ball!" If you fall, bounce higher, launching yourself into the merciful arms of your loving Father! He is waiting for you!
14. JESUS IS TIRED OF ME SINNING! Never! Right from the mouth of Satan! Jesus knows human nature and that we are "made of clay" and that we are the epitome of weakness. He Himself stated this in the Garden of Gethsemane: "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak!" If one falls many times, the love of the Merciful Heart of Jesus for you is always overflowing, like a river after a huge, torrential downpour of rain!
15. I DO NOT KNOW WHAT TO SAY???? Might be the case! Ask the priest and he will cue you in and help you with the confession! Next time, however, prepare yourself better by acquiring a good booklet with an examination of conscience, explaining the ten (10) commandments, so that you have done a thorough and complete "Examination of conscience".. Priests are "Doctors of the soul". Doctors can get to the root of the sickness by pointed and opportune questions; priests the same, can help the "Sick of soul" to arrive at the heart and center of their spiritual malady and attain healing! Mission accomplished!
16. DEVIL WILL TONGUE TIE ME! Could be! However, prayer to the Holy Spirit is the answer! Remember St Peter and the Apostles, Holy Thursday night in the Garden, when Jesus was arrested, they fled and Peter-- with his tongue-- denied Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ three times! However, after the first and most efficacious novena of Pentecost, their hearts were filled with fire, their minds with light and their bodies ready to suffer for the sake of the Name and Person of Jesus the Lord! Tongue-tied by the devil, unlock, by a short but fervent prayer to He who can teach us how to speak: THE HOLY SPIRIT, THE INTERIOR MASTER AND TEACHER OF THE SOUL!
17. I FORGET MY SINS! Alzheimer's indeed can kick in even when we are in our "late-twenties" especially when we are nervous and before special victories! Remember, often before major spiritual victories, the enemy tries to intervene with tension, friction and confusion! Still, the best remedy to avoid "Forgetting my sins" is simply to prepare well the night before and to write down the sins on a sheet of paper and have them written as a guide in the confessional! Don't forget to destroy the sheet afterward; otherwise, they may appear in the local newspaper next week!
18. NO PRIESTS AVAILABLE! Indeed pray for more vocations to the priesthood, due to the shortage of vocations: "The harvest is rich, but the laborers are few!" Still, search and you will find parishes, sanctuaries, monasteries, Cathedrals, seminaries, retired priests, that indeed are available in most countries! Interesting note! St. Damian-- the priest who died tending the lepers in Molokai (remote island in Hawaii)-- sadly complained that his biggest suffering was his inability to go to confession , as there were no other priests on the forlorn island. Tenacious and persistent to the last, he would row out to a priest(or Bishop) on a ship and yell out his sins to the priest on deck! Give thanks that you do no have to go to these extremes!
19. PENANCE WILL BE TOO BIG! Hardly! Most likely the penance given is less than you deserve! Even if it seems to be somewhat weighty, look to the wall in the church and contemplate Jesus crucified and remember that He suffered all the bitter pains of His passion-- down to the most minute detail of pain-- due to your personal sins and mine! Remember the film "The Mission" (With Robert Dinero), in which a brother kills his own brother. For penance, the surviving brother is obliged to carry wherever ho goes indefinitely a ball of cumbersome things and tied to a rope! Finally after striving to scale a huge mountain falling and rising due to the weight and cumbersomeness of the load, the priest confessor orders the weight to be cut and severed! Quite a penance! Yours in comparison, literally nothing! Our novice master taught us-- showing a spirit of true generosity-- to always do double the penance of what the confessor imposed! Two wings to fly to heaven: prayer and penance! Soar high into the divine atmosphere! Be generous in accepting the penance and be willing to walk the extra mile!
20. OTHERS MAY HEAR MY SINS! HARDLY! However, two precautionary measures! First, make sure you close the door to the confessional upon entering! While leaving, keep the door open! This is called "Common sense!" Use it! Second, speak gently nd softly and do not yell! Penitents waiting should have the courtesy to stand far enough way that they cannot hear your sins! Or at least to cup their ears!!!!
21. ANONYMOUS! You might prefer that the priest, not know who you are! Fine! No problem! That is the reason why the church has given the option to choose to go behind the screen, so as to maintain your anonymity, or if you prefer to go face to face to have a more open confession with the priest! Your choice! The church and the priest will respect your choice! Anonymity should be respected!
22. ANOTHER PRIEST PREFER! Perfect! All penitents have the option to choose their confessor! Choose whichever priest that you prefer to be your confessor! However, a bit of advice! If your confessor is not available due to travel, sickness or simply unavailability, then go to another priest! Never forget! Every validly ordained priest is an "alter-Christus"-- meaning he is "Another Christ." Also, that it is not so much the priest that is forgiving you! Rather, it is Jesus forgiving you and the priest is simply the "Instrument". Jesus is the "Writer"; the priest is the "pen" in Jesus' Hand!
23. I CONFESS DIRECTLY TO GOD! You should before you go to confession! Interesting note! You should confess your sins directly to God before entering the confessional. However, as catholics, that is not enough. Jesus' forgiveness is mediated through the instrumentality of the priest in the Sacrament of Forgiveness. Crush your pride and confess to the priest. Jesus loves a meek, humble and repentant heart!
24. PRIEST A SINNER JUST LIKE ME! True, but it still does not matter! The priest could be even a greater sinner, but God's grace still is mediated through his priesthood and the Sacrament of Confession. Dr. Scott Hahn gave a superb example, through the analogy of a doctor. A patient went to the doctor with lung problems-- pneumonia! He told the doctor his problem. This doctor, with respect to his own personal life would eat too much, smoke, refuse exercise, and drink excessively. Still, the doctor upon giving the medicine and antibiotics, resulted in thre cure of the sick-patient! The same with respect to priest-confessor and penitent relation. The priest might be a great sinner, but Jesus still can use him as instrument of mercy and forgiveness in confession!
25. I WILL SHOCK THE PRIEST/HE WILL THINK LESS OF ME! Wrong! Wrong! Priests are trained to be ready to deal with all cases of sin! The human heart, due to Original sin and personal sin, is capable of the most heinous sins. Jesus came to save sinners, not the saints. Some of the greatest saints in the New Testament had committed serious sins before meeting Jesus. Examples: the Magdalen, from whom Jesus cast out 6 devils and was a "loose woman" before her conversion, Zacheus and Matthew, publicans, Peter, who denied Jesus three times and of course the Good thief, who died a thief because he stole heaven! Also, priests admire profoundly humble, penitent, sincere, sinners throwing themselves in the arms of the Merciful Father
Let us turn to Mary, "Mother of Mercy". Pope John Paul II stated that Marian Sanctuaries are "Spiritual Clinics"-- the reason being, so many sinners make pilgrimages there to meet Mary who points to Jesus, present in Mass and in the Confessional! Years ago, I had the privilege of confessing in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in the city of Mexico. I sat in the confessional for 7 hours-- non-stop-- I had to leave because they were closing up, but the line was twice as long as when I started. Praise be to Jesus through the intercession of Our Lady, Mother of Mercy. "Hail Holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope....