I feel like there is a huge stigma around the word “confession.” It brings instant fear when mentioned to a lot of people. But for me, when I hear “confession,” I think of the unique and beautiful gift that we, as Catholics, get to experience. In fact, along with the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is one of my two favorite parts of my faith. I did not always feel this way, though.
For much of my life, I, like many other fearful Catholics, would always try to avoid going to confession. I really disliked it. It was so intimidating to tell someone I saw every Sunday everything that I have ever done wrong and to wait for his response! However, when I was on a retreat in middle school, my youth minister at the time gave a talk about confession that really stuck with me. She told us it is common to experience fear as we approach confession, and she encouraged us to honestly communicate that with the priest. She also shared with us a Bible verse that really spoke to my heart:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.1 John 1:9
After hearing this, I sat there for a moment, digesting everything she just said, as I internally gave myself a pep talk. I really didn’t want to go, but I felt compelled to. Everyone else seemed willing to go, so I joined them in line, in spite of my anxieties building up. Have you ever heard the expression, “butterflies flying in your stomach”? Well, I had a whole flock of geese in my stomach at this point! I saw the knob turn and the door open… It was my turn. Tightly gripping a pamphlet with the “Examination of Conscience” and “Steps of Confession” printed on it, I walked right past the kneeler and straight to the priest.
I was beyond relieved when I saw that the man on the other side of the wall was Father Simon. Father Simon had been my favorite priest since he came to my parish years before, and he still is to this day. As I walked in, I blurted out, “Father, I am scared to be here.”
He said, “That’s okay; it is good that you are here. Thank you for being here.” Although I had heard him say that same catchphrase many times before, I knew he was right. It was good that I was there. He then proceeded to ask why I was nervous. I told him I was afraid of telling him my sins because I didn’t want him to view me differently every time I would see him for Mass or at youth group. He told me, “The only thing that has changed and will ever change is how proud I am of you for making the brave choice to be here.”
He then explained that I wasn’t telling “Father Simon” my sins. Rather, I was actually taking the action of apologizing to God “Persona Christi,” which, translated, means, “in the person of Christ.” Father’s words reassured me, and like my sins, my deep-seated dread of confession was soon wiped away, as I mustered the courage to divulge all of my past regrets and neglects. After I was absolved of my sins, I walked out of the confessional with a whole new perspective and a newfound love for the sacrament.
Perhaps you identify with many of these feelings regarding confession that I had prior to this experience. You may find yourself wondering, why do we have confession? Over the years, I have come to understand that God the Father wants to forgive us for all the times we have wronged Him. He longs to heal us of the brokenness we have consequently suffered. He longs to lift our shame off of our shoulders and to knock down the barriers that obstruct us from receiving His love. He longs to hear us apologize, so that He can tenderly say, “I forgive you,” and overflow us with His abundant mercy.
Fast forward: I am now an adult, and I love Reconciliation far more than probably most Catholics you will ever meet. I recently went to confession during Lent of 2021 and there he was— Father Simon. He was sitting there, waiting, and he smiled when he saw me walking in. He said the familiar, “It is good that you are here; thank you for being here.” Some things never change.
Before my confession even “started,” we talked about life and Lent and my family. I laughed, reminiscing about our first confession together, and we both were struck by all that had changed. Still, much like that middle school memory, I left the sacrament feeling overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. It was one of the best confessions of my life. My heart felt so clean from not being able to go for a long time because the pandemic had taken that opportunity away from me. I felt so free.
After all these years, I have developed an eagerness to jump on every chance I am given to be able to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness. I want to be able to grow in my relationship with Christ. I have a better opportunity to do so now that my views on confession have changed, and for that, I will forever be grateful to Father Simon and the works of Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit in my heart.