I still remember the homily from the first Mass I attended at my university’s parish. Unfortunately, I remember it because of how uncomfortable it made me.
It was a homily about sin, but this priest used really strong imagery. Unlike the stereotypical “fire and brimstone” speech, this priest used filth. In this particular homily, he described visiting a family with a baby that was severely neglected. The poor child was sitting in an absolutely overflowing diaper, covered in its own excrement. The priest compared that to the sin we bury ourselves in when we refuse to go to confession. Needless to say, my heart broke for that child. I was also uncomfortable hearing sin discussed in such vivid detail.
His point was we should go to confession. There is no reason to sit in our own filth when Jesus is waiting patiently for us to reveal His mercy and forgive us. It’s a great point, but I didn’t get it at the time.
At that point in my life, I had this perception that talking about sin was rude. It existed, but we had no reason to talk about it. Rather than being aware of my own sin, I was upset he was talking to people like that.I had this perception that talking about sin was rude. Click To Tweet
I added that horrifying image of sin to my list of things I didn’t like about the Catholic Church, and the bitterness built up over the years. That priest ended up being transferred (as priests so often are), but I still let that bitterness fester.
Fast-forward five years. I was on retreat with my university parish. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that my faith had changed quite a bit. The topic of the retreat happened to be mercy. A big point of discussion was the sacrament of confession. When it was time for confession to start, I saw that same priest from my first year of college and found myself feeling that bitterness I had been holding on to rise up. Fortunately, I decided to pray about it.
I had a really important realization: the reason I was so disgusted about the homily wasn’t just the imagery; it was guilt. It was making me aware of my own weakness, which is never pleasant. I held this ridiculous micro-grudge about a really good priest because he talked about something I really, really needed to hear but really, really didn’t want to listen to.It was making me aware of my own weakness, which is never pleasant. Click To Tweet
As I look back, I realize that the growth I got from that wasn’t just something that took 5 years to sprout; it actually affected me then (although it was a little delayed). The summer after that memorable homily, I went to my second ever confession. It had been 10 years, and since my family didn’t go to confession, I’m not sure if it would’ve even crossed my mind to go when I stumbled across an opportunity if the priest had not talked about sin.
Hearing someone talk about sin is really difficult, and I’m still not sold that comparing it to a poop-filled diaper is the best way to get the message across, but the Holy Spirit worked through that talk. We need to be open to hearing about sin and really listen to it. Reminders of the necessity of repentance aren’t attacks; they are loving reminders of our need for God’s mercy. We’re all flawed, imperfect, and sinners, but the grace of God can heal us. We have to acknowledge that we sin and repent, but our all-good, all-loving God forgives us and Christ’s sacrifice saves us.
I still struggle with going to confession. I have had some really fantastic experiences in confession. Intellectually, I know why the sacrament is important and know how available Christ’s mercy is. My human nature tends to get in the way. I can’t entirely articulate why I don’t want to go; I just really struggle. Over the years, I have found some things over the years that make it a little less uncomfortable for me.
Do a Daily Examen.
There are so many benefits to prayerfully walking through your day on a daily basis. I won’t go into all of them, but it is specifically beneficial for the sacrament for two reasons. The first is that when you reflect daily, you are more aware of your faults (and victories) so you can make a good confession. The second is it makes a confession of sins seem more regular. Obviously, repentance is a necessary part of Christian life, but my aversion to confession has decreased because it isn’t this scary event where I am unpacking all the gunk built up on my soul. Instead, it is like me finally dropping off all the stuff I found after I had been decluttering my house. I’ve been preparing for it all along.
Perform a good Examination of Conscience beforehand.
An Examination of Conscience is critical, and it is important you find one that is relevant to your life. There is an abundance of Examinations available, so find one that is appropriate for where you are in your life both in a spiritual sense and a practical sense. Some people just walk through the 10 Commandments, but here are some good Examinations I have found:
- EWTN’S Examination
- Laudate App
- USCCB Examinations of Conscience
- A detailed Examination based on the 10 Commandments and 7 Precepts of the Church
Find an accountability partner.
Your friend can encourage you to go, and you can provide support for them. While our priority should obviously be our relationship with God, having a person that is a little more tangible can be immensely helpful. They can also help you address the lies Satan is telling you about why you should be afraid to go or why you don’t need to go.
Determine a scheduling system that works for you.
If you do well with having something consistently scheduled, find a time confession is offered in your area and commit to going the same time each month.
Some churches offer confession while there is Eucharistic Adoration. If you find comfort from Eucharistic Adoration (which is amazing by the way), pairing it with confession may make you feel more at ease.
If you can’t make the regularly scheduled time, the amount of people makes you uncomfortable, or you know you’ll need some extra time, schedule a time with a priest.
If all else fails, have your accountability buddy step in. For a while, I’d have Ben give me somewhat short notice that we were going to confession. I had enough time to prayerfully examine my conscience but not enough time for Satan to give me a list of excuses.
Find a consistent confessor.
I totally understand the temptation to see a confessor who doesn’t know you so don’t have to worry about them judging you. First, the priest is acting in Persona Christi so they aren’t judging you, and many priests say they don’t remember what the penitents confess. Fr. Mike Schmitz wrote a great piece about the priest’s perspective on Confession.
Second, it helps if a confessor knows a little about you. For example, I struggle with depression. Though depression itself is not sinful, I know it can lead me to act on sinful things. Seeing the same confessor means they have that context when I am doing my confession.
I know some people prefer to do a screen confession, and that is totally ok. I’m just sharing what works for me.
Read what the saints have to say.
The Saints are role models for us. Turn to them for advice and encouragement. Listing all the Saints would require a whole other blog post, or more likely, a book; instead, I’ll focus on two.
St. Margaret Mary Alacoque has my favorite story about confession. Though she is most known for the Sacred Heart devotion, her confession story is one worth reading. She was having visions of Jesus. The priest (St. Claude de la Colombière) she wanted to have as a spiritual director told her to “test” these visions, she was to ask Jesus what mortal sins the priest had confessed in Confession. Jesus said He did not remember.
St. Faustina has some beautiful descriptions of Christ’s Divine Mercy in her diary. I’ve only read a little of it, but I am floored by the beautiful depictions of God’s immense love for us.
Most importantly, remember that Jesus wants you there.
We were made for love from God. Our purpose is to be in a relationship with Him. Confession is an opportunity to heal that relationship. We should embrace this beautiful gift of mercy.We should embrace this beautiful gift of mercy. Click To Tweet
Words of Wisdom
Talking about sin and going to confession are tough topics, and I don’t expect a single blog post to be able to address it. Instead, I want to provide some incredible insight from other Catholic bloggers.
You aren’t the only one who struggles going to confession.
Anni shares her true feelings about Confession while also acknowledging its healing powers.
Chloe lists the reasons she hates Confession but explains why she still believes it is important.
Leslie describes the challenges she faces when she would go to Confession.
Allison recalls her experience as a “Confession Chicken.”
There are ways to address our fears about going to confession.
Laura explains why we should go even though it is hard.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is beautiful and important.
Anni describes the beauty of the Sacrament by mentioning God’s mercy.
Ginny makes a beautiful connection between Shakespeare and confession.
Allison explains why Confession is a gift.
Do you struggle to go to Confession? What has helped you? What advice would you give to someone who is uncomfortable with Confession?