A Guide to Reconciliation.....
A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE OF
Rembrandt's 'The Prodigal Son'
As a Catholic I am expected to participate in the sacrament of reconciliation on a regular basis.
I made my first confession back in the heady days of primary 3 and have experienced many a moment in the confessional since; though, like many, I have often strayed from the kind offer of God's forgiveness.
Still, in recent years I have returned more often and I have to say the experience has been an uplifting one.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that sin is an offence against God as it is a rupture of communion with Him and, further, it damages communion with the Church. Therefore, receipt of the Sacrament ’entails both God's forgiveness and reconciliation with the Church.'
The Catechism also states that ’Penance requires....the sinner to endure all things willingly, be contrite of heart, confess with the lips, and practise complete humility and fruitful satisfaction.’ It is in this sentence where we appreciate all the requirements of a good confession:
We must confess willingly: That is, our confession should not be forced. It should be something we really want to do.
We must be contrite of heart: We must explore the very depths of our heart to make sure we acknowledge all our sins and feel regret and sorrow for them. This must be coupled with a deep resolve not to commit the sin again.
We must confess with the lips: We must follow what St Paul told us in his letter to the Romans: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Therefore, confessing with the lips is a crucial part of our being saved; saved from our sins.
We must practise complete humility and fruitful satisfaction: This is, in essence, our penance. By confessing our sins we have gone a long way to reconciling ourselves to God for our wrongdoings but we must still be humble and do penance before we can be completely forgiven. Satisfaction in this sense can be achieved by prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service of neighbour, voluntary self-denial, sacrifices, and above all the patient acceptance of the cross we must bear. The priest will, of course, guide us in our penance but these acts of love towards God can serve us very well beyond the confessional and even beyond the Church.
Many may well cast doubt on whether there is a genuine feeling of joy after a visit to Confession. Many, particularly those who do not believe either in the Sacrament or God Himself, simply don't accept any kind of transaction takes place at all. There is no listening God, therefore there is no forgiving God.
But as Catholic people we trust completely in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Our souls need looking after and we need forgiveness for those moments when we stray from God; much like the prodigal son who required the forgiveness of his father after leaving home with his inheritance and wasting it on a life of sin.
If we are to benefit completely from the experience of Confession then we must acknowledge that, when we speak in Confession, it is Jesus who is listening. The priest is an intermediary between us and God. Personally, it was significant for my confessional experience when I opened up completely to this aspect and trusted that God was present. That is when I realised that, at the very moment the priest says ’I absolve you from your sins’, God had actively forgiven me for my wrongdoings. Like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, God is always ready to forgive when we turn to Him. He is ready with a robe to clothe us in His love and mercy.
I then started to be more open and honest with my confession. I don't think it's fair to say I was dishonest in earlier confessions but I perhaps held back and wasn't as open with God as I should have been. But each experience gave me more confidence and it was as if God was slowly working in me; encouraging my honesty and pulling me ever closer to the complete forgiveness he was offering for all of my sins.
Although we need the presence of a priest to ensure we receive the Sacrament, I think it is essential that we don't go into the confessional thinking that it is only ourselves and the priest. We must acknowledge God's presence and if we struggle with that then ask God to help us to acknowledge Him, and visit the confessional regularly to allow God the opportunity to work in us.
Remember, no sin is too great. God will forgive you and give you a clean slate.
What to Say in Confession?
If anyone isn’t sure what you say in Confession please see a quick guide, below. However, it should be borne in mind that the confessional is not some alien land for the hardened Catholic where you must know what to say and when to say it. Remember, you are in the confessional with your Father. He is not going to judge you unfairly nor is He likely to chastise you for saying the wrong thing. He is delighted that you have come to Him in this wonderful sacrament and He is ready to clothe you in finest robes.
The first thing to say in Confession is:
“Bless me Father for I have sinned, it has been x weeks/months since my last Confession and in that time…..<you now take this opportunity to confess all of your sins>”
After your confession of sins the priest may say a few words, including giving you your penance, and will ask you to make a good act of contrition. The following are examples of well known acts of contrition:
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of Heaven, and the pains of Hell; but most of all because I love Thee, my God, Who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.
O my God, I am sorry for my sins because I have offended you. I know I should love you above all things. Help me to do penance, to do better, and to avoid anything that might lead me to sin. Amen.
O my God, I am sorry for my sins, for not loving others and not loving you. Help me to live like Jesus and to not sin again. Amen.
The priest will then bless you and you will be absolved from all your sins (assuming, of course, you complete your penance). The feeling at this point can be summed up in the very short phrase 'washed clean'; a truly amazing and liberating feeling.