JUST as important as going to Confession on a regular basis, is knowing also how to make a good Confession. This is more important than many realize, since it is the truth which sets us free. What happens, then, when we obscure or hide the truth?
There is a very revealing exchange between Jesus and His skeptical listeners that exposes the nature of Satan:
Why do you not understand what I am saying? Because you cannot bear to hear my word. You belong to your father the devil and you willingly carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:43-44)
Satan is a liar, indeed, the father of lies. Are we not his children, then, when we imitate him? Christ’s listeners here are sidestepping the truth because they cannot bear to hear His word. We do the same when we refuse to come into the light as we are. As St. John wrote:
If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing. If we say, “We have not sinned,” we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)
Whenever you enter the confessional, if you hide or downplay your sins, you are in some ways saying “we have not sinned.” But in so doing, you are giving legal ground for Satan to maintain a stronghold in your life, even if it is just a thread. But even a thread tied tightly around a bird’s foot can keep it from flying.
Exorcists tell us that Confession, in fact, is one of the most powerful forms of exorcism. Why? Because, when we walk in truth, we are walking in the light, and the darkness cannot remain. Turning again to St. John, we read:
God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say, “We have fellowship with him,” while we continue to walk in darkness, we lie and do not act in truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7)
We are cleansed by the blood of Jesus only when we walk in the light of truth.
And so, when you enter the confessional, the Church has taught that it is good to tell the priest how long it has been since your last confession. Why? In so doing, you help him to understand the general health of your soul not only by how long it’s been since your last confession, but how much you are struggling in the spiritual battle in between confessions. This helps the priest in the counsel he will give.
Second—and this is most important—it is crucial to state exactly the sins you have committed, and even the number of times. In the first place, this brings into the light the wrong committed, thereby loosening Satan’s grip in this area of your life. So if you say, for example, “Well Fr., I haven’t had a great week. I got angry with my wife…” when in fact you hit your wife, then you are not being quite honest at this point. Rather, you are subtly trying to put yourself in a good light. Now you are adding pride to your list! No, leave aside all excuses, all defenses, and simply say, “I am so sorry, for I have I done this or that this many times…” In this way, you are leaving no room for the devil. More importantly, your humility in this moment is opening the path for God’s healing love and mercy to work its miracles in your soul.
When Christ’s faithful strive to confess all the sins that they can remember, they undoubtedly place all of them before the divine mercy for pardon. But those who fail to do so and knowingly withhold some, place nothing before the divine goodness for remission through the mediation of the priest, “for if the sick person is too ashamed to show his wound to the doctor, the medicine cannot heal what it does not know.” —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1456 (from the Council of Trent)
The explicit confession of all your sins is not for God’s sake, but for your own. He already knows your sins, in fact, He knows the sins you’re not even aware of. Which is why I usually end my confessions by saying, “I ask the Lord to forgive me for those sins which I can’t remember or that I’m not aware of.” However, before making a confession, always ask the Holy Spirit to help you make a good examination of conscience so that you are prepared and will remember to the best of your ability your transgressions since your last visit to the Sacrament.
This may sound legalistic or even scrupulous. But here is the point: the Father knows that in exposing your wounds, you can find the healing, freedom and joy that He desires you to have. In fact, as you count your sins, the Father is not. Recall the prodigal son; the father embraced the boy upon his return before he made his confession, before he stated his unworthiness. So too, the Heavenly Father runs to embrace you also as you approach the confessional.
So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)
In the parable, the father then allows his son to confess his sin because the son needed to reconcile on his part. Overcome with joy, the father cried out for a new robe, new sandals, and a new ring to be placed on his son’s finger. You see, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is not there to rob you of your dignity, but precisely to restore it.
While it is not strictly necessary to confess venial sins, those everyday faults, it is nevertheless strongly recommended by Mother Church.
Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit. By receiving more frequently through this sacrament the gift of the Father’s mercy, we are spurred to be merciful as he is merciful. —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1458
Very simply, then, confess everything, baring the depths of your soul in true sorrow and contrition, setting aside any attempt to justify yourself.
Do not argue with Me about your wretchedness. You will give me pleasure if you hand over to me all your troubles and griefs. I shall heap upon you the treasures of My grace. —Jesus to St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in My Soul, Diary, n. 1485
St. Augustine said, “The beginning of good works is the confession of evil works. You do the truth and come to the light.” CCC, n. 1458 And God, who is faithful and just, will forgive and cleanse you of all wrongdoing. He will restore you to himself as He did when you were baptized. And He will love and bless you even more, since there is more rejoicing in heaven “over one sinner who repents than over ninety- nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.” Luke 15:7
SUMMARY AND SCRIPTURE
It is necessary to fully bare one’s soul in Confession so that the Lord may fully heal it.
Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. (Proverbs 28:13)
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