Every Advent we prepare to celebrate once more the first coming of Christ. We want to be ready for it. We also know there will be a second coming. We do not know when that will be. But we must be ready for that, too. One way to get ready for both our celebration of the first coming and the second coming is to go to confession. Today’s Gospel speaks to us of the importance of “acknowledging our sins” with a repentant heart. That is, it speaks of the importance of the Sacrament of Confession. It is a great thing to do in Advent.
I want to offer five tips on how to make a good confession.
- USE PAST TENSE: Often I hear things like this: “I fight with my sister.” “Sometimes I eat too much.” “I say God’s name in vain.” The problem with these things is that you’re speaking in the present tense. Confession is a time to give to God the mistakes you made IN THE PAST and promise God you’ll do better IN THE FUTURE. To be repentant means I have every intention of not going this thing again–and that repentance is a requirement in the sacrament of confession. If we fall again, we fall again and we come back. But we cannot set ourselves up for failure by just saying, “This is who I am, it’s what I do.” Nope–it’s what you DID and want to put away.
- BE PREPARED: Sometimes people will come and say, “It’s been a year since my last confession. I hit my brother and didn’t listen to my mom. That’s it.” Yeah, right. That’s it for a year? I think you’re lying to me. We need to be thorough. There is a list in the narthex after Mass with some things you might want to take in to confession. It might help start your ideas. We need to say everything we can remember.
- SAY EVERYTHING….BUT SAY IT BRIEFLY: Often I hear something like this: “These are the sins I want to tell you today.” OK, great…but you need to tell me the ones you don’t want to say, too. The Church says we must give it all, that we cannot hold anything back. We must say it all. If we forget something–honestly forget it–just wait till your next confession. But we have to say everything we can remember. That doesn’t mean we need to share the whole story behind the sin.
- BE SPECIFIC–SAY KIND AND NUMBER: Often I hear things like: “I watched something I shouldn’t have.” “I did inappropriate things.” “I broke the sixth commandment.” I get it–it’s hard to say certain things. But we must name our sin for what it is. When we have to use the word for what we did, we realize how much we messed up, what a mistake we have made. So I say it’s good to name our sins, it is good to have to use the word, it is good not to decorate it with nice verbage. The Church also asks us to share the number–or at least a ballpark. Did you gossip one time or five times a day? Did you miss Mass about once a month? A ballpark is fine, but keeping a count in our heads is a good plan. If I am really trying to improve on something, then numbers are important. A basketball player compares how many points he got at this week’s game versus last week’s, last year’s. He should be getting better, making progress. So must we.
- DO A DAILY EXAMINATION OF CONSCIENCE: This is something Msgr and I are both suggesting this weekend. It is best to do as a family as part of night prayers before bed. Msgr and I do this every night. As we begin our prayers at the end of the day, we take a moment of silence and think about our sins from the day. Then we together pray the act of contrition. Families should do this too. If you live alone, do it alone. But there is virtue in considering our sins from the day and then saying the act of contrition. For one thing, it helps us to remember the act of contrition. For another, we are more likely to make more frequent confessions when we consider our sins each day.
The Church teaches every Christian should go to confession at least once a year. That is a precept of the church. Now…if it’s been a while, don’t be afraid! I often do a “clear all” option where I go through the commandments and people answer yes or no to things, and about how many times (“once a week, every day, etc).
We ask God’s blessing upon us all as we prepare to celebrate our Lord’s first coming, and as we prepare at the same time for his second coming.