Who except God can give you peace? Has the world ever been able to satisfy the heart?
-- St. Gerard Majella
As I imagine is the case with many people, my relationship with the sacrament of reconciliation is complicated. Before my conversion it was hardly one of the things that I looked forward to about the path that would lead to my confirmation in the Church. When I first found out that I would have to go to confession before my confirmation and first communion I was a little surprised. I can’t remember my exact reaction, but I believe it was along the lines of “you guys still do that?!?!?” Suddenly my first communion and confirmation seemed to be coming up very quickly.
I was even more nervous when I found that confessions in our tiny parish were done face to face. There’s a room to confess in, but it in no way resembles the confessionals that I remembered seeing in movies and on TV shows. It’s more like a small, white washed closet in the back of the Church with a couple of chairs in it (although at that point most of the confessions were done in the office).
I was a little envious of the people in my RCIA group that weren’t baptized… After all, they didn’t have to come up with a list of sins stretching back twelve years (which was how long had passed since my own baptism) to run through during their first confession. They got to start fresh with their Easter Vigil Baptism without that first nerve-wracking experience.
Over the past few years my view of the sacrament has evolved. I’ve realized that it truly is a gift, although a highly underutilized (and underappreciated) one at that. A few times it’s popped into my head that if more people went to see their confessors (or had confessors!), there might be a lesser need for the number of psychologists who get paid to hear people’s problems.
I’ve related before how I know that I need confession when I most don’t want to go. Major sins are easier for me in one simple way: if I’ve done something that would fall on the “mortal sin” list than I feel like I need to get to the Church right away and will rush straight over to facebook to see if our priest is online and when he can see me. Venial sins are harder… and I’ve heard many people give advice on the forums that I don’t quite agree with.
Someone will bring up confession and how frequently they feel they need to go. Some will encourage the person and talk about the amazing grace of reconciliation. Others will discourage the person. They’ll usually categorize almost any sin as “venial” or even excuse ones that definitely fall in the other category away, and then say “and you know… you don’t have to go to confession for venial sins. It’s between you and God. It’s fine not to go…”
And it’s true… You don’t have to go to confession for venial sins. But just like my earlier post on the gift of the Eucharist, I can’t help but feel that the particular view on Reconciliation leaves something to be desired. It ignores the grace of the sacrament and makes something beautiful a chore (at best)… something that many of us avoid, to our own detriment.
Most of the time when I head into town and ask our priest to hear my confession, it isn’t for anything that would fall in the mortal category. It’s almost hard to explain the reason. I’ve noticed that somewhere, usually around four weeks after my last confession, I’ll begin to feel muddled and disjointed, as if spiritually something is dislocated and needs to be reset. If, because of day-to-day life and responsibilities, I end up going six weeks between confessions, the feeling of spiritual discomfort will be nearly physical. I’ll start to notice I’m snappy and short tempered to everyone around me and I’ll find myself genuinely sorry, yet needing to pray an Act of Contrition a half dozen times a day...
Simply knowing that I’m on my way to reconciliation brings a sense of relief, although nothing that compares to the feeling from receiving the gift of the sacrament.
Because of its very nature, reconciliation isn’t ever going to be on the list of things that are “fun.” But it can be a powerful, healing, cleansing experience… and I always leave feeling uplifted by God’s amazing grace. Reconciliation is far more than something that we should do because we’ve been told that we must… it is another gift through which we receive His grace in our lives here on Earth.