Questions about confession?

Categories: Around the Diocese

A Visitor Q & A has the answers

March 14, 2014, edition
By Sue Schulzetenberg-Gully

Lent is a season of penance as well as prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

The sacrament of penance or reconciliation is meant to be healing, but for some people the process of confession can be confusing and anxiety producing.

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A priest listens to a young adult’s confession in this file photo. Penance — or reconciliation — is a sacrament of healing, Father Tony Oelrich explains, and a call to conversion away from what wounds our humanity. CNS / Mike Crupi, Catholic Courier

For them, Father Tony Oelrich, rector of St. Mary’s Cathedral and pastor St. Augustine Parish and Christ Church Newman Center, all of St. Cloud, explained the who, what, where, why and how of confession in an interview with The Visitor.

Q. Why is confession important?

A. At the heart of the Gospel is the call to conversion, the call from sin and darkness, from destructive patterns of behavior in our life, toward a life of grace, a life of holiness, a life of light in the direction of God. At the very heart of the Gospel is conversion, so it should be no wonder that the church has — and Christ gave us — a sacrament that mediates the reality of conversion in our lives.

Q. What does confession do?

A. It forgives sin. It also is a sacrament of healing. If you go to the catechism, it’s listed with the other sacrament of healing, the anointing of the sick. Sin, in much of the tradition, has been viewed as a wounding of our humanity, whether in our relationships, in our emotions, our psychological self or in our spirit. Jesus said, “The well don’t need a doctor, but those who are sick do. I did not come for the righteous but for sinners.”

It also calls us to conversion, to examine our lives and to say, “Where are we headed? Are we headed in the right direction?”

Q. When should a person go to confession?

A. Strictly speaking, when they have serious sin they need to go.

In particular, it’s very good for people to go to the sacrament of reconciliation during the seasons of Advent and Lent, which are seasons of conversion when the call to conversion is renewed and particularly intent.

Lent is traditionally the time of year when people prepare to enter the church. People are preparing for baptism. Another aspect of confession is the renewal of our baptismal grace where we first promised to reject Satan and all of his empty promises and empty works and encounter God in our lives.

Q. What do you think many people don’t understand about confession?

A. People have a hard time understanding why you have to tell your sins to another person. God approaches us as we are. We are human beings. Just as God became man, became human in Jesus Christ, God continues to come to us in human ways to communicate his life to us.

We need another human being because we are human beings. It’s the way we know and learn and experience, in very tangible, perceptible, sensory ways.

We don’t just think forgiveness. We speak forgiveness and we act on forgiveness. We hear forgiveness through the words of absolution expressed by the priest. The priest mediates the word of God’s forgiveness.

Q. What is a good way to prepare for confession?

A. One beautiful way is going to a communal reconciliation service where people share the word of God in common and a common examination of conscience and then receive individual confession.

A good way is by prayer. Ask the Holy Spirit, “Show me where my relationship with God and with others is broken and in need of mercy, healing and forgiveness.” It’s good to use an examination of conscience. There are many examinations of conscience online and in prayer books. Look at the Ten Commandments and look at the two great commandments. In what ways have I not really loved God with everything? How am I not loving my neighbor as myself?

Q. Please explain the process of confession.

A. The priest or the person starts with a Sign of the Cross. Then you say something like, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned.” Say how long ago it has been since your last confession. Then you say, “I am sorry for,” and you announce the sins of the areas that you need forgiveness or spiritual or emotional healing for.

Then the priest will give some encouragement, some teaching, maybe ask some questions, but not too many.

The priest will give you a penance and then the priest will ask for an act of contrition. If you don’t have it memorized, bring one in the confessional with you. You can read it.

The priest will pray the prayer of absolution and then say, “Go in peace,” to which you say, “Thanks be to God.”

Penance is not to make up for the sins, that’s what grace does, but to help us live more faithfully to God’s grace. For instance, if you confess stealing something, a penance might be to give a certain amount of money to charity. It teaches one to be generous rather than taking.

Absolution is the forgiveness of sin. The confession is met with God’s forgiveness and healing. The words of absolution mediate God’s mercy and healing.

After confession, do your penance. Hopefully you are filled with joy and thankful for God’s love and faithfulness.

Q. Is there anything else you would like people to know about confession?

A. Every sacrament is an encounter with Jesus Christ. The sacrament of reconciliation in particular is an encounter with Jesus who is a faithful friend to us. When we come to Jesus in our brokenness we discover that God doesn’t shame us, doesn’t guilt us, but receives us with compassion and mercy. God receives us also with grace. He shares his life with us, so we have hope of doing better. We always have hope of doing better.

Sacraments are transformative. They are meant to transform us, to make us more faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

For more information on the sacrament of penance, check out the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website at www.usccb.org. Type “penance resources” in the search box.