• August 11, 2009

I want to go to confession!

This article was written by Rev Thierry de Roucy and pub­lished in “D’un Point-Coeur à l’autre” #30 the French magazine of Heart’s Home in March 2000.

The best way to reveal mankind’s state today is found in God’s ques­tion to Adam when he sinned: “Where are you?” (Gn 3:9) Through this ques­tion, many people under­stand that they are lost. This ques­tion is addressed to the first man but it applies to each one of us too: “Where are you? Come back. I cannot bear that you stay so far... so far from me... so far from your hap­pi­ness... .” Maybe you have heard this call or you are going to hear it: “Where are you? Your life has been pur­pose­less for twenty... thirty... forty years. It does not have enough meaning!” Indeed, when you con­sider the Kingdom of God, life is worth only as much as it con­tains true and deep love. Outside of this, life is mean­ing­less! The call to give one­self to God, to accept His love, is a call toward the sacra­ment of con­fes­sion. Do not post­pone rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, this road to sal­va­tion; imme­di­ately entrust your­self to God, let­ting God drive.

Where to go? How to get pre­pared? Sometimes it is hard to find a priest. But we must be honest; are we very inge­nious in finding means to sat­isfy many other needs, much less vital than our need for mercy? The one who is moti­vated will find the time and place to go to con­fes­sion.

As with every serious event, we must be pre­pared to receive this sacra­ment. Turn to the Holy Spirit. He is the best help because He knows us and He knows God. Step by step, He will teach us to go to con­fes­sion in truth and with con­fi­dence. For the moment we may not be approaching con­fes­sion in this way, but this is not at all an obstacle to kneeling down. It is much more a call to sup­pli­ca­tion: “Holy Spirit, I pray to you, light the way for me! Show me how You want me to con­vert!”.

The Holy Spirit always answers. Not with a list of prin­ci­ples by which one must abide, but with a face, the Face of Christ. To say to us: ‘‘You have been cre­ated in His image and in His resem­blance.” (Gn 1:26). This is the face that you are sup­posed to have, and now, take a look at the face that you have today! Our sin is what sep­a­rates us from Christ. The way Jesus loves His Father, the way He loves men and the way He loves within the Trinity is so dif­ferent from the way we love. Step by step, the Holy Spirit will reveal aspects of our life where the gap is big. He will not show us every­thing at once because we would not be able to stand it. The Holy Spirit reveals gently from con­fes­sion to con­fes­sion, the seri­ous­ness of our sins. Soul searching should not be an unhealthy intro­spec­tion that results in with­drawal into one­self;,rather it should help us open our heart to the Savior. “The one who makes psycho -intro­spec­tive anal­yses goes against the prin­ci­ples of a Christian con­fes­sion.” Soul searching should not shut us in with our sins but should help us rec­og­nize Christ’s call and the meaning of our life. Confession means exposing our­selves to God in truth, and wel­coming His mercy.

What am I going to say?

Sometimes when we arrive to speak to the priest, we know what to say. However, most of the time, we are ashamed and afraid of what the priest is going to think. Strangely enough, even if con­fes­sion has already started, the Holy Spirit can inter­fere with what we had planned to con­fess and sud­denly show a sin that pre­vented us from looking like the Lord.

When we start to con­fess, we are sadly aware that we are ill pre­pared to do it prop­erly. It is so hard to deal with our own sin... It is so hard to rec­og­nize God’s call...our con­tri­tion is still so weak... But if the priest is honest, he acknowl­edges a sim­ilar inca­pacity: in a sense he feels unable to hear a con­fes­sion, to give abso­lu­tion... It is such a great mys­tery! But the shared weak­ness of the one con­fessing and the priest is also a sign of God’s grace... Our weak­ness leaves room for the pres­ence of the Holy Spirit. Many people feel guilty for being afraid of going to con­fes­sion, as if this fear was an expres­sion of a lack of faith in God’s mercy. But this fear is not abnormal. In a sense, it is a way to take part in Jesus’ anx­iety in Gethsemane or at Golgotha: “If only this cup could pass away from me”... The normal temp­ta­tion is to avoid or to post­pone the time when the truth will be revealed. It is not easy to bare our soul, to deprive our­selves of every­thing in front of the pastor. Like Adam, we would prefer to hide, to flee the look of the Father because indeed, we fear Him: this is the sad­dest con­se­quence of orig­inal sin - the most awful inher­i­tance from the first man. This fear is deeply rooted in our soul, and only the work of God’s grace in our inner self will give us another vision of God, like Maurice Zundel when he says: “God is a heart, only a heart, a whole heart!”

“Father, bless me because I have sinned”

It is beau­tiful to start our con­fes­sion as the Church pro­poses, saying: “Father, my Father!” My real iden­tity is “son” rather than “sinner”. I am the lost son. And God is the father I love. He is waiting for me and is tired of waiting for me to find my way back after such a long time. The gentle­ness, the divine ten­der­ness of the sacra­ment of con­fes­sion appears in these words: “Fa­ther, bless me because I have sinned!” It is because we sin and not despite our sin that we ask God. Do not sen­tence me O Lord, I trust you! And the salv­ific words of the Father, His salu­tary words will heal me: “Where sin increased, God’s grace increased much more” (Rm 5: 20).

I knew a father once who used to bless his chil­dren every night by drawing a little cross on their fore­head. One night, as one of his sons had been par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult, he decided not to bless him, to punish him. But the son was expecting the cross more than ever. He started to cry and then to shout: “Daddy you are a liar!” The father arrived and asked his son to explain it to him: “Every night you say that you give me God’s blessing, but if it were the truth you would give it to me tonight because I have been unbear­able and I need it more than ever to calm down”. The child had under­stood that we need God’s blessing, not because we are righ­teous but because we are sin­ners. Let us begin our con­fes­sion with this won­derful sen­tence. “Fa­ther, bless me because I have sinned!”

The moment of confession
The most crucial moment is the moment of confession. Maybe you prepared a very detailed list... found a way to hide the truth with vague and ambiguous sentences that will not shock the priest... But God is expecting one thing: the truth. The aim is to show who we are. May the charges be the clearest! For instance, if we say: “I have been short of purity”, what is the priest supposed to understand? Did you glance at a dirty billboard or did you buy pornography or commit adultery? To truly feel the joy of absolution, we must entrust everything to God and the priest can help us do this by asking us questions. We do not need to describe every detail but we must confess all our inclinations and each sin with simplicity and truth. St John of the Cross says that a bird cannot fly away if it is tied by a string or a chain. If your front door is locked with twelve bolts but you can open only the first eleven, you will not be able to enter. Likewise, if we only confess eleven sins and intentionally hide the last one, the door of our heart remains closed to completely receiving God’s grace.
St. John Mary Vianney used to say that one should spend more time asking God for real contrition rather than thinking about what we are going to say to the priest. Unfortunately, this is not what we usually do! A man who hurts his fiancée will not be able to sleep that night! One has to love God with at least this intensity. We should regret being far from Him. This regret will help us to stand stronger in the face of temptation.

One day a ten-year-old boy came to me to con­fess. For a long time he did not say a word. He was quiet. I did not dare hurry him or ques­tion him. Suddenly, he lifted up his face, turned to me and asked me: “Fa­ther, do you know the Himalayas?” “Yes, sure” I answered. “It is a big moun­tain range.” “So, you see”, added the boy, “my sins are like a moun­tain range higher than the Himalayas.” This child who deeply loved Jesus, was haunted, was made aware by the Holy Spirit of his poverty and the sin of our world. Then, he slowly started to cry and he told me: “I have sinned so much, Father, that I cannot con­fess it, I can only bewail my sins.” Such true con­tri­tion!

With the few words that are said to the penitent after the confession, the priest is, in a very unique way, the spokesman of the Holy Spirit. With his words he tries to meet the penitent in his most private inner self, in what only belongs to him. Maybe these words speak to the penitent about himself, his sins, about God’s call. In this way, these words are a revelation like the one that Jesus addressed to the Samaritan when she confessed that she had no husband. But the exhortation is also a call to believe, to hope and to love more. The Lord, through the priest, invites the penitent to go further, to welcome the Holy Spirit. Maybe the penitent will fall again or get lost, but Jesus also fell once, twice, three times, until the most significant confession in His death on the cross, where He took on the sins of the world and entrusted them to God. “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I...” The confessed sin is deeply ours; it is intimately linked to our life. That is the reason why sometimes it is hard to turn one’s back on it.

When God absolves through the priest, he takes away the sin from the sinner. He cuts the link between the sinner and his sins. “When He absolves, God throws our sins away over His shoul­ders”, Saint John Mary Vianney used to say. “Just as my candle has entirely burnt tonight, my sins have dis­ap­peared and will not appear again.” Moreover, with abso­lu­tion, God gives new strength to defeat temp­ta­tions. One must not be afraid to repeat each time the same sin until the Lord sets one free from it. Let’s knock at His door until He frees us. When the priest says the words of abso­lu­tion, God for­gives. He answers the priest’s prayer and the pen­i­tent becomes “holy and without fault before Him”... (Ep 1:4). And at this moment, the church is more pre­pared to wel­come the coming of the Savior. At the moment of abso­lu­tion, all the chains that made us slaves dis­ap­pear, and we become free. The love of God, shown in His for­give­ness, gives us the freedom of the Saints... When one reg­u­larly wel­comes abso­lu­tion, life changes step by step... The pen­i­tent takes on the white dress of the Lamb’s Wedding, to live more spir­i­tu­ally. Finally, use the min­is­ters of God’s mercy: in giving Christ’s for­give­ness, they will no doubt dis­cover a deeper rela­tion­ship with the Holy Spirit, and each day, they will be more and more sat­is­fied in their voca­tion as priest!

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