Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What I Can, I Give Him; Give My Heart

When I first became a pastor, my parish had substantial financial problems.  I remember one night sitting at a finance meeting and being overwhelmed by the situation.  After the meeting, one of the members sent out a detailed list of the issues and the action steps to be taken to solve the issues.  Immediately, I was relieved.  I was relieved because I saw that there were solutions to the problems and that I was not alone in these difficulties.  We were in it together.

Sometimes, when we confront the reality of sin in our life, we can feel a bit overwhelmed and like we are totally alone in our struggle.  This is perhaps why people avoid seriously considering the state of their souls.  The problems seem too ingrained to do anything about them.  And, knowing how weak we are, the thought of overcoming these sins by sheer force of will seems an impossible task.  If you find yourself in this position, you are not alone and there is a solution to your problem.  In the Sacrament of Confession, Christ shares his victory over sin and death with us. 

There are always reasons why people don't go to confession.  I hope in this post to provide some good reasons to go to confession and some practical advice.  Sometimes, people don't go to confession because they have forgotten how to do so.  I hope this is helpful to somebody.

Before you go into the confessional, spend some time examining your conscience.  There are many good examiniation of consciences online.  One that seems particularly exhaustive can be found here:

Don't be overwhelmed by the examination.  The reason God gave us confession is not because he thought that maybe some day, some person, might possibly not be entirely perfect.  He gave us the sacrament because he knows that we need it.  The reason why we have the examination of conscience is not because somebody decided to come up with a list of things that nobody would ever consider doing.  The examination of conscience is a list of sins that have become identified as common traps.  If you've fallen into one of those traps, confession is meant to extricate you from it.  An examination of conscience ought to make us squirm a little bit.  Don't be afraid of honestly assessing your life.

When you go into the confessional, tell the priest how long it has been since your last confession.  Tell him roughly how old you are and whether you are married, single, a priest, a religious etc.  This just helps the priest understand a little bit of who you are. 

Then, tell him your sins.  If you need to bring a list with you, bring the list.  (Burn it afterwards!)  To the best of your ability, tell the priest all serious sins and how many times you have committed those sins.  If you cannot remember the exact number, say, "lots" or "a few times." 

Believe it or not, the priest doesn't need to know nor does he want to know all of the sordid details.  Tell him the sins.  If afterwards the priest needs to clarify something, he might ask you some question.  But, he doesn't need for you to give the background and circumstances of each sin.  You lied three times?  Then say, "I lied three times." My experience is that the priest is only going to ask a question if he is confused about something or if he needs to clarify if the sin is in the distant past or yesterday, or if the sin is an ongoing issue. 

Feel relieved that you are only responsible for confessing your own sins.  Don't tell the priest, "I got impatient . . . but that's because my mother-in-law is a rotten, self-centered, mean-spirited, selfish, woman."  Your mother-in-law is responsible for her own confession!

If you are particularly embarrassed about some sin or another, just say it.  Usually, sins of the flesh are the ones that are most embarrassing.  What is so amazing is how these sins appear to exercise such power over a person and then, the moment a person confesses them, they realize that the power of these sins evaporates.  Sexual sins embarrass people into not confessing.  But confessing these sins deprives the sins of all of their imaginary power.  To this end, let me say that the priest hearing confessions has heard the words, "adultery, fornication, homosexual activity, pornography, and masturbation" before.  Unless you happen to be the first person ever to go to confession to that priest, you are not going to tell him anything he hasn't already heard many times.

Speaking of which, I could not imagine a priest thinking less of somebody who has come to confession.  When I hear confessions and somebody comes to me and humbly confesses their sins, my heart is filled with a great love and joy.  The priest is SO happy to know that Jesus is using his priesthood to reconcile this person and to free them from the burden of sin.  I could not imagine a priest thinking less of somebody who has gone to confession.  And, if you haven't been to confession in ten, twenty, or thirty years, then the priest feels like God sent to him "a big fish!"

Also, most priests are fairly busy.  I can assure you that we do not spend our days thinking about who and what we heard in confession.  We move on fairly quickly from hearing confessions to a thousand other things. 

Remember, priests go to confession too.  We know what it is like to be on the other side of the screen.

If you have had an abortion or assisted in an abortion: JESUS LOVES YOU.  Sometimes, people carry the weight of this sin around with them for decades.  They do everything possible to bury this sin.  But, it continuously re-surfaces.  People feel that deep down they can never be forgiven and that they have no place in the Church.  Often, they even go through all of the motions of a Catholic life, but deep down, they feel as though they really can never truly be part of the Church.  They think that they are a fraud.  Jesus died for these sins.  He wants to give you pardon and peace.  Don't be afraid to confess this sin.  It will set you free.

After you've confessed all of your sins, let the priest know that you are done.  A lot of people say something like, "For these and for all of my sins, I am truly sorry."  This helps the priest to know that you have finished confessing.

Then, the priest might ask for some clarification and will give you a penance to do or to say.  If you don't understand what the penance is, ask him to explain.  Then, he might ask you to "make an act of contrition."  You can bring one with you, you can express one in your own words, or you can simply say, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner."  Then, the priest will absolve you.

Christmas is fast approaching.  There is no more beautiful way to prepare for Christmas than by coming to confession.  There is a beautiful and not too well known Christmas hymn entitled, "In the Bleak Mid-Winter."  The last verse says, "What can I bring him, poor as I am?  If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.  If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part.  Yet what I can I give him; give my heart."  If you are afraid to go to confession, perhaps imagine yourself as someone who is very poor.  While others have something seemingly important to offer the Lord, all you have to offer is your heart.  Go into the confessional as though you were entering the manger and offer to the Christ Child the gift that only you can give to him; your heart.

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