My brother and I could be rambunctious children. There were times our rowdiness more than made up for the fact there was only two of us. One moment leaps to mind. We were roughly 12 and 9. Our dad had gone out on an errand and we were told to stay quiet while our mom, who was sick, took a nap. All we heard was “make sure you get as loud as possible without waking mom.” Challenge accepted. Nerf guns, balled up socks, and anything else that could be chunked at a brother’s head were deemed appropriate. The fighting was fierce. To this day we are not sure who cast the final stone. In any case, a sock, dart or hacky sack arched through the air right into our mom’s ceramic cherub causing an arm and a wing to break off. Crushing panic ensued. Fingers were pointed for a moment before we realized we were both in trouble. My brother, who is now an engineer, didn’t hesitate to get model glue while I tried my best to reassemble the pieces. Thankfully, he did good work and no one was the wiser. Except, the guilt ate away at us. We had covered sin up, from the outside, but we felt too guilty. After a few days we couldn’t take it and confessed to our parents. I do not remember the punishment, if we were, but I can clearly recall the pressure lifting off my shoulders the moment we fessed up.
There have been times where we have ignored that nudge from our conscience to confess a wrongdoing. Voicing our failings is not an easy thing. Especially, when we feel we have a justification for our actions, such as “well so-and-so did blank first.” Taking that first step toward God is often the toughest. Just after college, 2009, I found myself in a place of sadness and doubt. While my friends went off into the world for marriage, careers, professional school, and the like, I returned home. I had a “job”, so my future was not bleak. The future was simply a dark blob ahead without form, guidance, or hope. I confess I had very strong doubts about God’s plans for me.
During this time, I received some advice I will always carry with me. A special person continually, for months, encouraged me to turn to God and the Church in my depression and frustration. I knew this was correct, but knowing and doing are two very different things. And, though she is a person I trust more than anyone I did not immediately heed her words. No, the issues were in my own heart. After several wonderful spiritual experiences in college I felt spiritually empty and alone. Much of this was my own doing, but at the time I could not see that.
Finally, I heeded her wise words. First, she suggested going to Adoration and praying more often. I ‘prayed’, but infrequently and without much heart. Also, I had not been to Adoration since college. So, this seemed like a practical starting point. Begin a conversation with God by praying and sitting with Him in silence. I attempted the Liturgy of the Hours once a day and went to Adoration at my parish once a week. For a few weeks this helped, but I still felt I lacked something.
Her second encouragement was for me to return to Confession. My confessions amounted to twice a year at Christmas and Easter during the Penitential Services. But, I knew she was right so turned to God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Prayer and Adoration time had revealed many aspects of my personal relationship with God. For confession, I began to realize the full extent of what sin was doing to my relationship with God and those around me.
[Sin] wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. [It] sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it (CCC 1849-50).
Additionally, I realized I had unintentionally been avoiding Confession for months. I am not 100% sure of the reason, but I know that once I realized I was avoiding confessing my sins it became that much harder to push myself to go.
Thankfully, confession was offered during Adoration and I took comfort from that. I went, stressfully confessed my sins, and walked out feeling not better but different. In some way I knew I was unburdened but spiritually unfinished. For remainder of spring 2010 I continued in this way: Adoration, Divine Office, and Confession. This created a desire to read and learn about my faith that continues to this day. I realized my soul and my way of life needed work, and I began to see small fruits of my labor in my thoughts and actions.
However, these small victories were merely rewards to prepare me for greater trials and triumphs. During this time, my confessions were more or less once a month. From my point of view this was tremendous leap forward from twice a year. Two things remained. First, whenever I began to slip, especially mortal sin and trying times, Confession was postponed until the following month. I knew, and the Giver of Advice agreed, that the best way to combat this was to go to Confession more frequently. So, slowly but surely until the spring 2011 I chiseled the time away to once every two weeks. The second part was much more difficult and required more time.
From fall 2010 through spring of 2011, I experienced a pressure building up in my heart. I realized I was still attempting to cover up sins and speed up my confessions. At the Penitential Services, the lines were long so I would just group my sins up for a speedier confession. Unfortunately, this bad habit continued. I knew it was time to break it and face each of my sins individually. One day, I entered the confessional with the priest that I would continue to go to until I left for graduate school. I explained to him the issue I faced and he told me something striking. By knowingly and purposefully covering up my sins in this way I was essentially not confessing my sins. I was not being open and honest with God. For example, as kids our parents told us to say we are sorry. When we mumbled a half-hearted sorry they asked us “And what are you sorry for?” It is hard to be contrite if you do not know what you are sorry for. Even though I did an examination of conscience, I did not necessarily read off the list once inside the confessional. So, I began what I do now. I confess the type and number of sins. For example, I took the Lord’s name in vain twice this week. This caused me to take a closer look at my venial sins which helped me avoid them.
…confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is … strongly recommended by the Church. Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us to form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit. (CCC 1458)
Over the past couple of years, I have more or less kept to a once a week confession. Again, small victories to reveal something greater. I saw in myself reoccurrences of the same laundry list of sins each week. Even if some weeks were better than others. Someone joked with me that God might get tired of forgiving the same sins over and over again. But, it did make me think. Can I really be contrite if the table of contents for my confession never changes? What’s the point? I once heard Scott Hahn express similar concerns when speaking about his weekly confessions. He asked his confessor these same questions. The response he received was we are on a long pilgrimage here on Earth. Confession is not a quick medical fix that solves the problem immediately. No, Reconciliation is more like physical therapy or counseling. This is long-term healing and conversion for Heaven. Confession strengthens us for the road ahead. By going once a week I saw, in uncomfortably clear detail, each of my failings. But, with confession, I witnessed God’s mercy to forgive, and His ability to build me up.
We all hope that when see ourselves doing wrong we can fix it and never do it again. That we can rise to each and every opportunity for virtue. This, for most, is not reality. We all fall. What is important is we get back up and continue along the way. If you are struggling in life or with God I suggest to you what was once suggested to me. Adoration, prayer, and confession. Unburden yourself in prayer and allow God to be with you. Something I continually struggle with is the ability to forgive myself and trust in God plan for me. Confession helps. It shows me the limitlessness of God’s mercy and love. It teaches me to forgive myself and others as God forgives. If you are contrite, there is no sin confession cannot heal. I have found that seeking out a confessor is a great help for long-term spiritual growth. If you cannot keep yourself going find a confession buddy. But, most importantly, in all things persevere. No matter what difficulties you are confronted by persevere in faith. Sometimes we fall so low is seems there is no way out of the pit. Confession is that way out and the path to peace. Even after a terrible week, I know that God is waiting for me in the confessional. This peace is not a freedom from all troubles or sorrows but a confidence in the knowledge Christ is with me along the way.
St. Ambrose, in On Repentance, said,
Things which are impossible with men are possible with God; and God is able whensoever He wills to forgive us our sins, even those which we think cannot be forgiven. And so it possible for God to give us that which it seems to us impossible to obtain.