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Preparing for Confession 

From the April 2001 Messenger

Last month we talked about when one should go to confession. This month, we turn to the subject of what happens when one goes.

The first things that happen in confession actually happen before one enters the church and approaches the priest to confess. This is because one first must come to the conclusion that “I need to go to confession.” How does this occur?

There are two ways. One is when a person comes under the conviction of sin. He realizes “I have sinned and need to go to confession.” He clearly senses that he has failed before God, broken his commandments, offended him, and perhaps hurt another person. This sense of conviction arises in the conscience under the influence of the Holy Spirit. At such times, one knows that he stands guilty before God and needs his forgiveness. It is unmistakable. He is grieved at the thought of what he has done. He knows there is no other way to be free from the burden of his sin other than to acknowledge it, repent of it, and resolve not to commit it again. To complete this process, he needs the help of God’s grace, and so he approaches the sacrament of confession as a penitent seeking absolution.

The other way a person comes to sense his need for confession is by examination of conscience. In this case, a person is not immediately aware of the fact that he has sinned against God and needs forgiveness. But he knows that a Christian must regularly review his conduct in the light of God’s commandments. So he takes time to examine himself and conduct a moral inventory of his behavior. This review then points up to him his failures and the need for repentance and confession, and so he resolves to approach the sacrament for the healing of his soul.

If one does not have an immediate and unmistakable sense of conviction of sin, then it is necessary to prepare for confession by examination of conscience. This is best achieved by taking the little red paperback “Pocket Prayer Book” and reviewing the section on “Self-Examination”on pages 38-43. It is an abuse of the sacrament to approach confession without preparing oneself and knowing what one has to confess. It is not enough to come to the sacrament and confess “I am a sinner” in a general sense. The priest is already aware of that! Confession is not about being a sinner, but about the actual sins you have committed! If one comes to confession with nothing to confess, the sacrament is reduced to a mere ritual and a charade. The very essence of confession is the acknowledgement of the specific acts by which one has failed before God.

Use of the “Self-Examination” in the Pocket Prayer Book will help bring one’s actual sins to mind, and enable one to make a good confession. Some people even find it helpful to write down lists and bring them to confession. So, having the immediate sense of conviction, or having examined one’s conscience, a person is aware of his specific sins, and thus ready to come to the sacrament.

What should he do when he arrives at the church? We will discuss this next month.

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