Love your loved ones … by going to confession

I recently took my two youngest children with me to confession. It was the middle of the week, so we met with our pastor in his office. Afterward, my 4-year-old wanted to know what Father and I had been discussing as he, the 4-year-old, ran circles around the conference table.

“That was confession,” I told him, knowing he’d heard a lot about this sacrament from his older three siblings.

“That was confession?” he repeated. “But it was just talking!”

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It looked like just talking, I explained, but something else was going on that he couldn’t see. My soul was getting cleaned up. God was working in a way that looked, well, like talking, but it changed me from the inside out. He still looked a little confused, but I was breathing a grateful sigh of relief for having received the gift of grace that, I’ve learned, creates a ripple effect through my closer relationships and into the Church at large.

Yes, superficially, confession looks like “just talking.” But on a spiritual level, our souls are reconciled to the Lord. We are restored to grace and better prepared to continue our life’s journey. The Father’s unending and ever-new mercy strengthens us to be kinder, more patient and more forgiving with those around us. For me that means, most especially, my family.

Scott Hahn explores this in his talk “The Healing Power of Confession.” A convert, Hahn came to experience and appreciate the power of confession as an adult. He speaks about the change his family noticed in him when he received the sacrament more regularly. He was gentler and more peaceful when he welcomed the Lord in to soften his heart, hardened by sin. Sometimes his family even asked him to go to confession, since they liked the peaceful post-confession dad the best!

Like Hahn, I’d had times of greater and lesser regularity in going to confession. Never before had I noticed the impact it had on others, but after I heard his talk, I started to. I realized I treat others better when I feel more at peace with my relationship with the Lord. When I began going once a month, I found that I was more aware of the temptation to fall into those sins I was consistently bringing to the Lord, and so better able to resist. Having a plan to go the first Saturday of the month (Church wisdom in the form of a devotion gifted to us by Our Lady of Fátima) meant that I was more aware of the immediacy of God’s mercy and how willingly and joyfully he offered it to me.

Confession is good for us, but not only on a personal level. When we know we are forgiven, it’s easier to forgive. When we know we’re loved, it’s easier for us to love. When we accept the Lord’s mercy, it is more natural for us to extend mercy to others. Regular confession is good for our families, for our domestic churches, for our schools, for our workplaces, and for any other situations in which we have an opportunity to evangelize others and welcome them back home to the Church.

Proper preparation is essential to a good confession. To garner a deeper understanding of the sacrament and the depths of the Lord’s love and mercy, read “The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming” by Henri Nouwen. (You’re likely to see a print of the Rembrandt painting this book explores when you go into the confessional.)

Aids like these examinations of conscience for married and single women or this one from Blessed Is She can help you reflect more deeply on your day, week or month. It’s also helpful to make an examination of conscience at the end of each day, jotting down something you need to confess or would like to improve on in a journal or on your phone, whatever you feel comfortable bringing along to the sacrament. If you’re nervous about what to say and when, print off this guide from Busted Halo as well.

If you don’t go to confession regularly, it may feel like a sacrifice to make the time, to be vulnerable in your examination of conscience and to humbly speak your sins. But in the upcoming season of Lent, perhaps you can consider the practice of regular confession an extension of the prayer, fasting and almsgiving we’re called to. Your going to confession is a gift you can offer to the people you love, as well as whoever else God will place in your path this week, this month, this season, this year.

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