The other day I was getting ready to go on a date with my boyfriend and as I was thinking about what I was going to wear and how I was going to do my hair, I realized Lent is less than 10 days away. I felt a little bad that in my last 10 minutes of getting ready, I had put more effort into my preparation for the date than the preparation of my heart for the most important liturgical season in our Church!
Lent is a season of penance and preparation. We are preparing for the highest Holy Day on our calendar. There is no better way to prepare our hearts for our Risen Lord, then to take advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Here are 10 steps to make a grace-filled Confession.
Recognize our sin and our need for Confession. We are human; we sin. The good news is the Lord is always ready and eager for us to take advantage of His mercy. The Sacraments are privileged encounters with the Living God. It is in the Sacraments that we meet Jesus Christ face-to-face. He alone offers us His mercy, forgiveness and grace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Perform an Examination of Conscience. You can find one here. This is where we look at our thoughts, words, actions, and omissions since our last Confession. We see where we have pleased the Lord and where we have sinned and failed to love the Lord, those around us, and ourselves. The best way to begin an Examination of Conscience is with a simple prayer to the Holy Spirit. The Lord does not want or expect you to do any of this on our own. There is always grace available to help us if we only ask. So begin your examination with a prayer, calling on the Holy Spirit to open your heart and mind to recall your sins and be truly contrite for them.
Contrition is genuine sorrow for our sin. It is motivated by our love for Love Himself, God the Father. When we sin against God the Father, we are choosing not to love Him, choosing to place impediments in our relationship. We can pray for a contrite heart. We can pray to the Lord that He would conform our hearts to His and inspire within us an attitude of true sorrow for our sin. If you don’t feel that sorry for your sins, God understands. As humans our contrition is always a little “imperfect” but God’s forgiveness doesn’t depend on our feelings.
Go. Get to the Church. Or “priest snatch,” that’s what I call it when you know you need to go to Confession and there is a priest walking around and you snatch him – “Hey Fr. can I grab you for a quick Confession?” #priestsnatch. Don’t hesitate just go! I often stumble on this step. The last thing the devil wants is for us to reconcile our hearts with the Lord. Satan will take advantage of those thoughts, “oh I should send that email first,” or “I should do my chores,” or “I should write that essay.” There will always be something else to do, just GO to Confession!
Going to Confession can be a scary thing. But there is no need to be afraid. 365 times in Scripture the Lord tells us, “Be not afraid.” The Lord is with us always. He “goes before us,” (Deuteronomy 31:8). He is already in the confessional, ready to meet you with love and tender mercy.
Confess your sins to the priest who stands in persona Christi capitas et spousa. This means we are confessing our sins to Christ Himself. Only God Almighty can forgive our sins. God gave us a special place to encounter Him, to be healed. Why do we need to go to a priest? Why can’t I just tell Christ myself? Good questions. Priests are awesome! Read here and here.
When you get into the confessional, or sit down with a priest, be sure to tell him how long it’s been since your last Confession. Then tell him what sins you would like to confess.
Repent comes from the Latin word meaning “to regret intensely.” We are literally supposed to grieve for our sin. To repent means to turn away from our sin, to shed our attachment to sin. I often tell teens, “when we walk out of the confessional, the one thing we do not want to do is walk back in next week, for the same sins.” However, don’t forget that no matter how often you fall into the same sin, God’s love and mercy is always there for you.
After you’ve told your sins to the priest, he will probably give you some advice, and then ask you to say the “Act of Contrition” which you can find here.
Absolution is the remission of the punishment due to sin, granted by the Church. It is in this prayer that Christ, through the priest, acquits us from our sins. We are freed in this sacrament, through this prayer. The priest will pray the “prayer of absolution” over you at the end of your Confession.
Penance is our way of “making amends for” or “making satisfaction for” our sins. The Catechism says that, “absolution takes away our sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sins has caused.” There is a certain amount of healing that must be done to help heal the injuries and weaknesses sin has left in it’s wake.
Penance is those prayers or sacrifices the priest asks us to offer in reparation for our sin. It’s best to do your penance as soon as possible after you leave the confessional so that you won’t forget!
St. Augustine said, “The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works.” Reconciliation is the sacrament which restores God’s grace – His very life – within us. In this sacrament we reconcile our hearts to the Lord. This is a beautiful and privileged encounter, so let the flood of His graces wash over you and heal you.
For more tips for an awesome Confession, check out this blog from Fr. Mike Schmitz. And for all you visual learners, this is a great video that explains the process of the Sacrament of Confession.