“How long has it been since your last Confession?”
Many Catholic men dread these words, filled with anxiety at the prospect of having to admit that it’s been months or years since they found themselves talking to a priest about their sins. For many, that anxiety—coupled with the seeming shame of having to then actually verbalize the times that they’ve failed to love God (that’s what sin is, after all)—is enough to deter them from even trying to return to the Confessional. In fact, a study by the Center for Applied Research on the Apostolate shows that nearly half of adult Catholics say that they “Never” go to Confession! Yet, in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis, together with bishops and parishes across the globe, has launched a campaign to bring Catholics back to this sacrament, encouraging them to tap into God’s infinite love and mercy. With that in mind, here are four quick reasons why every Catholic man should never hesitate to run to the Confessional, time and time again.
1. It never fails—it’s sure-fire:
“Whoever’s sins you forgive are forgiven.”
Jesus’s words to his apostles, from John 20:23, leave no room for misinterpretation. The Catechism reminds us that “bishops and priests, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, have the power to forgive all sins ‘in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’”
The key word here is ALL; there is NEVER any sin that a priest or bishop can’t or won’t forgive. Certainly there are sins that are more serious offenses (mortal, reserved), but there is absolutely nothing that we can tell a priest in the confessional that God, acting through that priest, doesn’t forgive. Assuming we have true contrition for our sins and are genuinely resolved to try to avoid them in the future, the rest is left to God’s infinite and overflowing mercy, which is good news for us.
Additionally, there is nothing that we can confess that will shock or anger the priest hearing our confession. Most priests have “heard it all,” so never let guilt, shame, or embarrassment stop you from receiving the sacrament. They will welcome you with open arms, ministers for the Father who never turns away a lost son.
You are always forgiven.
2. It helps us know ourselves:
One of the amazing things about regular Confession is that it leads to profound self-knowledge. Many of history’s great Catholic minds, including St. Anselm and St. Augustine, argue that, since we are made in the image and likeness of our Creator, by better knowing ourselves, we better know Him.
Thus, by routinely confessing our sins, we come to an awareness our personal strengths and weaknesses. In doing so, we come to better understand our deepest selves. Most men likely fall victim to the same sins over and over, and struggle with the same vices—that’s normal! Through Confession, we can—with the help of our confessors—begin to form an “action plan” to address our shortcomings, many of which can become habitual. If regular sin can become a habit, what better counter to sin than a habit of Confession?
Finally, on a practical level, priests can be of invaluable service in offering insights and introducing resources to help men make meaningful amends to their lives, so that sin and the occasion of sin can be avoided in the future.
3. It heals a broken relationship:
Confession is also called “Reconciliation,” highlighting one of its most important effects: “restoring us to God’s grace and joining us with him in an intimate friendship.” Through Confession, we become closer to God, making ourselves vulnerable to Him in a very human and intimate way. If we imagine that our relationship with God is just that—a relationship—we can begin to see why Confession is so vital to our spiritual flourishing. For any relationship to be successful, both parties must be honest and open with each other, particularly concerning faults and shortcomings. Though it can be difficult and humbling, by contritely acknowledging our limitations and sins, we can enter into a truly open relationship with God.
A final name for Confession is “Penance,” which highlights another key aspect of the sacrament: not only are we acknowledging and apologizing; we are promising to do better in the future! When we say the Act of Contrition at the end of the sacrament (which a priest can walk you through, if you’ve forgotten the words), we promise to “sin no more and to avoid whatever leads [us] to sin.” What better way to heal a broken relationship than to firmly resolve to become better for the sake of that relationship!
4. The saints went—a lot:
The saints, those holy men and women whom the Church proudly declares are with God in Heaven, are perfect exemplars of the power of Confession. For many of them, daily or weekly Confession was an integral part of the spiritual life. And while adding the sacrament to our hectic daily schedules may seem impractical, surely we can rearrange our routine so that weekly or monthly Confession is do-able. Most parishes in the US offer Confession on Saturdays—why not make it part of your Saturday schedule?
If the saints needed Confession, all of us most certainly do as well. Look to their model and follow their example: it will lead into the confessional.