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A number of fellow Catholics over the years have asked me for advice and encouragement about going to Confession. Few things make me more glad than to share my love and appreciation for this very special Sacrament, and I pray very hard that all Catholics may be drawn to it. At the same time, I also understand that it’s not an easy thing to do. So, especially now that we are in Lent, I would like to offer some encouragement for my brothers and sister who might be having difficulty approaching the Sacrament. (The following is from a letter I wrote to one dear person this evening; but I think it might be applicable and helpful to many people.)
I understand how much trepidation we can experience about going to Confession. It never completely goes away; I still struggle with it occasionally, and I’m sure everybody does. The reason is that the devil wants to prevent us all from going and receiving the tremendous grace, nourishment, and healing of the Sacrament. He will throw every lie and every negative feeling at us in order to stop us, to make us afraid, to make us distrustful and doubtful.
To withstand these difficult things takes God’s grace. Nobody can do it alone. And so, what you should do now and very often is simply ask the Lord for His peace and for the grace to go to Confession. It may be helpful to pray this Act of Contrition–and note especially the part I’ve emphasized:
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest my sins because of Thy just punishment, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.
Pray that at least once a day, and it won’t be long until you start to feel much more at ease and even eager to go to Confession.
Trust that there are good reasons that Christ instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation and made human priests ministers of His mercy. The Sacrament itself provides not only sanctifying grace, but a very special, particular sacramental grace–that of stronger resistance to sin. The priest, as a fellow sinner and fellow penitent, can provide valuable help and guidance. As a fellow human, he can speak those wonderful words of absolution in a voice we can hear.
You certainly have nothing to fear from a confessor. You may think that he will be judgmental or perhaps even outraged at your sins. But he won’t. I’ve heard many priests say that sin is just sin–it’s boring, it’s dull, it’s unimaginative, it’s completely unremarkable. What they find truly remarkable is the courage and humility and faith of the penitents who come to them. And they feel privileged to be able to help and heal and minister to them.
I will just add here what I have told myself and others many times: In the whole universe, there is only one person who benefits from our not going to Confession–and that’s Satan. Don’t give him that benefit!
Also, I welcome anybody to contact me to ask further questions about Confession. I don’t ever get tired of talking about it!
If so, then run, don’t walk, to these posts by Father Z:
And of course:
And here’s one by Father Powell:
Writing about the Rosary is still not coming as easily as I’d expected! So again, I will start with the basics and share some simple things I’ve learned. This time we’ll look at how to get into the habit of meditating on the Mysteries while praying the Rosary.
1. Move your mouth. My first breakthrough, so simple it’s almost silly, was to move my mouth. Part of the Rosary is verbal prayer (the cycle of Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, etc). Let your mouth take charge of those. Let your mind, your inner voice, your inner senses, be devoted to the Mysteries. You might stumble over the words–or at least feel like you’re stumbling–but before long, it will be pretty automatic, just like moving the beads through your fingers. That’s not to say that the verbal prayers are not important. The verbal prayers provide a rhythm that helps bring your entire person into harmony and wholeness. We are both body and soul. The Rosary utilizes both. Using your body fully helps you also use your mind fully at the same time.
2. Use a guide. At first, I couldn’t just “wing it.” I couldn’t just dive into the Mysteries on my own. Sometimes I still have trouble with it–sometimes I am easily distracted by other things. So even now, I find it helpful to have a guide, something to focus on. It could be a book or other written guide. It could be images. Usually, you can find both side by side. I’ve already mentioned the Rosary Center’s how-to page. Here are some other sources I’ve found helpful:
Father Peyton’s Rosary Prayer Book. One of my very first Rosary books, and still a favorite. Scores of meditations, each on a theme that can help you draw connections between the lives of Christ and Mary and your own.
The Rosary: a Journey to the Beloved by Gary Jensen. This beautiful little book is an excellent introduction! I really loved the artwork selections for each mystery. They really spoke to me. This book also seeks to make the Rosary accessible to non-Catholics, so if you are not Catholic, I recommend this one!
The Virtual Rosary. This is a computer program you can download for free. It provides meditations for each Hail Mary, along with illustrations. You can choose from a few different sets of meditations and images. It also provides the text for each verbal prayer, which is helpful if you’re just beginning.
3. Don’t get discouraged by distractions. They’re going to pop up. I don’t think anybody is immune to them. Stay calm. Don’t throw up your hands and give up. If you find yourself thinking over your grocery list or what’s on TV tonight, then just take a few deep breaths and try to refocus on the divine Mysteries (this is where a guide can come in really handy). But sometimes distractions can be a blessing in disguise. Sometimes I find myself thinking about somebody or some situation that could actually use some prayers. And so I lift them up and focus my prayers on them. It is a great act of charity to pray for others… our Lord and Lady won’t mind!
4. Simple is good. Meditating on the Mysteries of the Rosary could bring about earth-shattering insights that could change the world forever. You could find yourself dazzled and knocked off your horse like Saul on the road to Damascus. But… probably not. And that’s OK! Oh, you will be changed, and, through you, the world too. But it will happen gently, gradually, and from the inside out. Simplicity is at the heart of the Rosary, just as it is at the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Let your meditations be simple too.
One of my usual strategies is just to ask myself, “What is Jesus saying to me in this Mystery?” Or, “What is Mary saying to me in this Mystery?” Sometimes I even think about what some of the other people involved might say to me. Such as Elizabeth in The Visitation, Simeon or Anna in The Presentation in the Temple, St. Mary Magdalene in The Resurrection, Veronica in the Carrying of the Cross, St. Joseph in The Nativity of the Lord. I just put myself right there in the Mystery and listen. And I’m usually amazed at what I hear!
I hope these few little points help! I’m sure others will offer their own advice and ideas–please chime in!
What is the very first step to winning any war? Is it not simply to know that you are war?
Bishop Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, knows it and doesn’t hesitate to say it. In April, he made it the theme of his address to the 2009 Gospel of Life Convention:
We are at war.
Harsh as this may sound it is true – but it is not new. This war to which I refer did not begin in just the last several months, although new battles are underway – and they bring an intensity and urgency to our efforts that may rival any time in the past.
But it is correct to acknowledge that you and I are warriors – members of the Church on earth – often called the Church Militant. Those who have gone ahead of us have already completed their earthly battles. Some make up the Church Triumphant – Saints in heaven who surround and support us still – tremendous allies in the battle for our eternal salvation; and the Church Suffering (souls in purgatory who depend on our prayers and meritorious works and suffrages).
But we are the Church on Earth – The Church Militant. We are engaged in a constant warfare with Satan, with the glamour of evil, and the lure of false truths and empty promises. If we fail to realize how constantly these forces work against us, we are more likely to fall, and even chance forfeiting God’s gift of eternal life.
He is refreshingly frank about what it means and what it costs to wage this war:
What will happen to us if we take up this war in faithfulness?
Do you really want to know? You will be hated by some powerful people. You may be rejected by those whose approval you most desire. You will be loved and supported by some and this will be a wonderful encouragement. You will be misunderstood by many – and this can be very painful. After you have suffered a little in your battle, some will tell you that you have done nothing – or that you have done it the wrong way.
Yes, if you push – others will “push back.” We should always be very careful to obey the law. But, regardless, some will threaten you with legal action, and law suits cost money and you may suffer that difficult hardship. In the end, dear friends, if we err let it be on the side of life. Life! 4000 human lives a day!
What if I suffer greatly trying to change this tragic trajectory – through prayerful, legal, peaceful means? It is in God’s hands, and you and I are warriors for the victory of life. The stakes in terms of human life are high. The stakes in terms of human souls are even higher.
Fortunately, he also gives very practical and encouraging advice on how to survive:
How do we arm ourselves for what is first and foremost a supernatural war?
First: Unless we are living in God’s life we should not go near this battle. I don’t care if you are the strongest and most brilliant and clever person on the planet. The devil – as he has shown over and over again – will turn you inside out. If you are not fortified by the sacraments – frequent confession and worthy Holy Communion – you cannot succeed in an ultimately supernatural battle. We must live – no longer ourselves – but Christ in us. Be always in the state of grace.
Pray. Be a prayer warrior. One modern day saint said when you are going out to try to change someone’s heart determine to make your effort 80 % prayer and 20% words or actions. Prayer defeats the devil. Prayer aligns us with Christ. Pray for the abortionist. Pray for the legislator. Pray for the mother (and father and other family members). Pray for the child in the womb. Pray for yourself and allow God to guide you. Pray that you will be a warrior of faithfulness and love and mercy. Remember that God often chooses the foolish to shame those who are clever.
Use the symbols and instruments of our devotion. Arm yourself with the rosary. Protect yourself with the scapular or a blessed medal. Ask for a blessing as a sign of unity in the Church in what we do: unity with the Holy Father, with your bishop, with your pastor. What I am supposed to do as bishop (teach and lead, and sanctify) I must, in turn, delegate in proper measure to my pastors. They, in turn, need you as soldiers.
Don’t worry very much about numbers. If you read the accounts of the Old Testament battles, over and over again God used a tiny misfit army to overthrow a legion 1000 times its size. In this way it is so much clearer that God is fighting the battle. We are only His instruments.
I especially like this last point about numbers. And the part about God using the foolish to shame the clever. That inspires a bit more confidence in me! ;)
Bishop Finn took up this emphasis on warfare again in responding to Debacle Day. From an interview with The Catholic Key:
As a country we want to see an end to racial prejudice. We want a more secure peace in the world. We want sound economic justice for people. So we can’t give up on working with the administration.
But we’re fighting for our lives – literally. We are attempting to protect real unborn children by the thousands. We’re fighting for the right to exercise a rightly-formed conscientious difference with public policy. We shouldn’t underestimate the danger of dragging our feet in this effort, or taking a “wait and see” approach. If we are not ready to make a frontal attack on the protection of conscience rights, the overturning of Roe v’ Wade, and the primacy of authentic marriage, we will lose in these areas. I think the rug is already being pulled out from under us. If we sit back and allow ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of peace and cooperation in regards to these things, then we will lose these battles and, later, wonder why.
The Catholic Key Blog, by the way, is probably the best source for keeping up with this extremely active and outspoken bishop, as well as other news and commentary.
He is definitely a man to watch! God bless him!
I write and talk pretty often about Confession and what a tremendous blessing it is to me. I’ve come in contact with quite a few people who experience great difficulty with going to Confession. So I thought I would try to address such difficulties.
The most common difficulty seems to be shame. “I’m too ashamed to go to Confession!” I would say that if you are ashamed of having sinned, it’s a good sign! It means your conscience is functioning properly. You are probably feeling very drawn to go to Confession–you know it’s the right thing to do. You probably know that it will restore you to the peace and love that can only come from being in a good relationship with God. But how to get past the shame or other anxieties?
Here are two things that have always helped me:
1. Examine your conscience and pray the Act of Contrition every day. At the end of each day, look back over the day and think about whether there were ways in which you may have rejected God, and/or ways in which you might have hurt or neglected another person. If so, then take responsibility for them–that is the first step toward repentance and reconciliation. And pray an Act of Contrition. We know this prayer as being part of the Confession rite itself, but we should be praying it every day! Here is the version I use:
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishments, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.
Note the last sentence: you are resolving, with God’s help, to confess your sins. Do you think God will ignore such a prayer, or refuse His help? Praying this prayer each day will help you get to Confession and overcome any obstacles you encounter. God Himself will bring you!
2. Pray to St. Michael and your guardian angel. There is only one person in this entire universe who has anything to gain by your not going to Confession, and that is Satan. He and his demons will do whatever they can to keep you away from the confessional. But God has given us very special helpers for dealing with demons–remember the holy angels, and call upon them! Ask them to be your escorts and keep those evil angels at bay. The holy angels are mighty and powerful, and they know better than any other creature how to deal with demons!
Do both of these things each day, and before long, you’ll not be able to restrain yourself from the Sacrament! Or, at the very least, they will help clear your path and get you moving in the right direction.
Will you still have jitters or bothersome feelings about going to Confession? Yes, you most likely will. I generally still get nerves about going to Confession, even though I go pretty frequently. But it doesn’t matter–it simply doesn’t matter. It has no power over me any more. And it will lose its power over you, too. All the feelings that may seem so huge and powerful now will soon shrink to their actual size–to practically nothing! That’s because you will have your eyes set on something much better and much more important–reconciliation with your Heavenly Father!
I do hope these brief thoughts are helpful. Remember: I love Confession, and I love talking about it, so, if you have any other Confession-related questions or concerns you’d like my take on, please let me know! :)