This past Lent, I thought a lot about the Sacrament of Reconciliation; what it means, what to do, and what not to do. I went to confession twice; once on Ash Wednesday, and once again the week before Easter. I wanted the confession on Ash Wednesday to be powerful and cleansing, but the fact that the church I was at (it wasn’t my home parish) didn’t have a copy of the Act of Contrition taped up inside the confessional and that I apparently was speaking too loudly and the priest had to tell me to lower my voice (awkward!), I left the confessional hoping the next time I would get it “right”. I’ve only been going to confession regularly (once a month) for a year. It can still be an uncomfortable experience, but it’s never one I regret.
After what happened that day, I thought about what I wanted to say the next time, and I asked questions about what Jesus would consider a good confession. As often happens now, I was eventually led to an answer. One night before bed, I was reading a few pages from St. Faustina’s diary, and I came across a page with the following message written in her own words:
“And again, I would like to say three words to the soul that is determined to strive for sanctity and to derive fruit; that is to say, benefit from confession:
- First word – complete sincerity and openness. Even the holiest and wisest confessor cannot forcibly pour into the soul what he desires if it is not sincere and open. An insincere, secretive soul risks great dangers in the spiritual life, and even the Lord Jesus Himself does not give Himself such a soul on a higher level, because He knows it would derive no benefit from these special graces.
- Second word – humility. A soul does not benefit as it should from the sacrament of confession if it is not humble. Pride keeps it in darkness. The soul neither knows how, nor is it willing, to probe with precision the depths of its own misery. It puts on a mask and avoids everything that might bring it discovery.
- Third word – obedience. A disobedient soul will win no victory, even if the Lord Jesus himself, in person, were to hear its confession. The most experienced confessor will be of no help whatsoever to such a soul. The disobedient soul exposes itself to great misfortunes; it will make no progress toward perfection, nor will it succeed in the spiritual life. God lavishes His graces most generously upon the soul, but it must be an obedient soul.”
A few days before Easter, I wrote everything I wanted to say down on a piece of notebook paper and went to church. No one was in line for confession yet, so I walked right into the room and got behind the screen. While I was confessing, I kept St. Faustina’s words in my mind. The priest asked me follow-up questions, and the confession turned into a conversation. I eventually felt comfortable enough to ask him for advice. Without going into too much detail, I said I wanted to live according to God’s will. As a twenty-something in 2014, I’m frequently in the throes of making major life decisions, and choosing the right path weighs heavy on my heart.
I said to the priest: “I assume I’ll feel peace of mind when I make a decision that is according to God’s will.”
The priest replied: “You’ll have peace of mind when you make sound decisions of your own free will.”
His response was thought-shifting. I had assumed that living according to God’s will means giving up my own free will. My interpretation now is that there’s a delicate balance between God’s will and our own free will, and harvesting the fruits of both requires a marriage between the two.
After thirty minutes, I finally left the room. There was a line of at least twenty people stretching down the hall, and unfortunately the priest I had just confessed to was the priest scheduled to give the Mass in fifteen minutes. I felt bad for taking up so much time, but I think there are occasions when we need to rely on the patience of others. I’m usually pretty quick in the confessional, ten minutes tops, but that day I needed a little more time.
Moving on to one more topic – a memorable homily I heard a few Sundays ago. I believe the Gospel had been about Thomas, the apostle who doubted that the other apostles had seen a resurrected Jesus.
In his homily, the priest asked us, “What else do you need in order to believe? Jesus is in the scriptures, He’s in the Eucharist, He’s in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Really, what else do you need?” In his question, “What else do you need?”, the priest suggested that we all have some doubting Thomas in us. When we hear the story in the Gospel we think, “How could Thomas not believe?” Same goes for us – how could we not believe? Jesus talks to us in the Gospel, we receive Him at Mass, and we encounter Him in confession.
He does not reveal Himself in ways we expect (Isaiah 55:8), and that’s where the need for faith comes in.