By Fr. Josh Miller
Everybody’s looking to improve their game, right? Well, after hearing thousands and thousands of confessions, I thought I’d craft a post on how you can make your next confession even better.
I should note before I begin that every confession is great, and that there’s no such thing as a “bad” confession as long as you’ve come to the Sacrament with a contrite heart. So if you read these tips and think to yourself, “I’ve been making some bad confessions!,” fear not: it’s pretty hard to do, unless you don’t take any of it seriously.
I should also note that the first tip largely assume you’re in a confessional box — a “sin bin,” as I call it — at a designated time, standing in line and waiting for your turn. There is at least one other way to make an awesome confession, which I address near the end of this post.
Tip #1 – The Devil’s In The Details
The awesome confessions I hear begin something like this:
“Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It has been two weeks since my last confession. I accuse myself of the following: I lied twice, I hosted uncharitable thoughts against my neighbor six times, I have failed on numerous occasions to be charitable to my husband…”
What’s lacking here is the word — indeed, even the sentiment of the word — “because.” Whenever you confess, the reasons for your failures aren’t pertinent to your confession. However, they are pertinent to the spiritual life; sin, like any other imperfect thought, any other emotion we have, should prompt rational discourse. The “because” matters to us because the ultimate aim is growth in holiness, which is only obtainable if we understand the reasons behind our failure. Strictly speaking, however, the “because” is not important within the context of confession.
In fact, I’d even venture so far as to say that the “because” is potentially harmful in confession. When we discuss how we lack charity towards a neighbor, for example, the tendency is to exonerate ourselves, or to lessen our own culpability somehow:
“I lacked charity towards my neighbor because it’s just so hard to get along with them when they keep their yard looking like a scene from Animal House.”
The tendency with humankind from the Fall forward has been to scapegoat, to create allibi: “She made me do it!,” says Adam. Of course, God sees through the bologna Adam tells himself. Within the context of the Sacrament with our souls laid bare, we should be on guard against the temptation to justify ourselves.
Traditionally, this is known as confession by “number and kind.” There’s something beautiful in a simplistic declaration of guilt. When we list number and kind, we say, “I did this!” and nothing else matters. We escape the temptation to feel sorry for ourselves when we courageously take responsibility for what we’ve done, the details be damned — literally.
Tip #2: Your Sins Are Boring
I’m as guilty of it as you are: every one of us thinks our sins are the worst in the world. We come in and confess them with a hesitant nervousness, as if what we’ve done is the worst the priest will ever hear.
I know that feeling as a penitent, even when — on an intellectual level — I know there’s nothing extraordinary about how I’ve sinned.
But as a priest, I also know this: sin is boring. It’s humdrum. It’s the most common thing in the world. There’s no sin you could possibly reveal that would cause me to raise an eyebrow, or start throwing things around, or get me angry. In order to do that, I’d have to turn a blind eye to my own sin, and it’s always before me. Nothing you say in that confessional should cause you any anxiety to simply kick out there. I may throw out a challenge for you, but that’s always in the form of encouragement rather than me being surprised or moved in any way.
You know what causes my eyebrows to perk up in the confessional? Virtue. Whenever someone mentions how they’ve made progress in an area, or when they note how they’ve grown in a certain way, that’s extraordinary. That’s interesting!
The point here: if you realize that your sins will make me yawn long before they’re going to shock or surprise me, then you’ll relax and make an awesome confession.
Tip #3: Make Use Of A Guided, “Spiritual Direction” Confession
As promised above, I thought I’d talk a little bit about where Tip #1 does not necessarily apply: within the context of a guided, spiritual direction-type confession.
Usually, these are not going to take place within the context of your parish’s regular confession times. They’re the “by appointment only” types, which every priest should be open to scheduling in addition to the regularly scheduled time he spends in the sin
The purpose of such a confession is to solicit more feedback and spiritual help from the priest, perhaps asking him for tips or areas of guidance in one or more areas. These kind of confessions take longer, but they’re extremely helpful when we’re facing some kind of spiritual impasse. These confessions allow you to go into the level of detail that just isn’t possible during a regularly scheduled confession time. I find them to be personally helpful myself, and take advantage of this form with regularity.
So there you have it: three simple tips to make your confessions awesome. As previously stated, every confession is a wonderful thing, but we can always hope for continued growth!
Born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1980, Fr. Miller was ordained a priest in 2010 and currently lives in Bloomingdale, Illinois. He is trained in biology, English literature, philosophy, and theology. None of them, however, proved bigger than the call to priesthood for the Diocese of Joliet. You can read his blog, “Quid Sit?” at http://www.fatherjosh.com/
Follow Father Miller on Twitter: @FrJoshMiller