Fr. Philip Neri’s Ten Commandments for a Good Lenten Confession:
1. Thou shall know that thy presence in the confessional is the wondrous work of the Holy Spirit. That’s right. If you find yourself in the Box with Father, you are there first because the Holy Spirit prompted you to go. You agreed to follow that prompt, but like all forms of prayer and charitable work, the human person requires a little graced nudge. So, go into your confession confident that you are there by the grace of God to be reconcile to Him!
2. Thou shall not waste your time or Father’s time with obsessive-compulsive sacramental trivia such as, “OK, Father…so I was still a little drunk but I had to pee so I got up and I wasn’t all the way awake yet and I did it but is that a sin still?” Or, “Father, canon 1765.4 forbids X and I heard recently that Blessed Mary spoke to a woman in
3. Thou shall simply and clearly state your sins without excuse, explanation, or decoration. It is rather pointless to confess your sins with flourish or verbal decoration. Also, the priest really doesn’t need to know why you committed a particular sin. He’ll ask you if more info is needed.
4. Thou shall not use weasel words, dodges, or euphemisms when confessing individual sins. “Impure with self” is not a sin. Masturbation is a sin. “I watched inappropriate images on the computer and abused myself.” Do we confess inappropriate behaviors or sin? In other words, you watched porn and masturbated. Just say so.
5. Thou shall keep Penitent Drama to a minimum. Confessions can be quiet dramatic and even confusing. But confession time is not the right time to show everyone in line outside what a horrible sinner you have been and what a wonderful saint you are now. Also, Father doesn’t need to hear twenty-minutes of highly detailed narrative building up to the actual sin. This is attention-seeking behavior and a waste of precious time.
6. Thou shall not use the “face to face” option as an excuse to chit-chat with Father. Confession is not about story time nor is this option a chance to ask Father for advise on a complicated spiritual issue. Make an appointment with him for that. You have a whole lotta people waiting to see their confessor in the Box.
7. Thou shall confess thine own sins and no one else’s. This seems to be a particular problem among mothers and grandmothers of wayward children and grandchildren. Having failed to persuade said wayward child into the Box, mother or grandmother try to sneak the child’s sin past the priest. There is no vicarious confession in the church.
8. Thou shall not request of Father a confession only a few minutes before Mass begin. The time right before Mass is usually very chaotic in the sacristy and in the church. Father is preoccupied with setting up the sacramentary, placing his homily on the ambo; adjusting the speed of his fav fan, and just generally trying his best to prepare for
9. Thou shall ask questions about your assigned penance if you do not understand it. Do not leave the Box wondering what it is you are supposed to do for your penance. Just ask Father to clarify quickly his assignment. He will welcome this because it shows you are serious about the sacrament.
10. Thou shall not make a false confession in order to test Father’s orthodoxy nor record the sacrament without Father’s express approval. Yes, this has happened to me and it is a violation of just about everything we believe is holy in the Church, and I believe it constitutes a mortal sin.
Next time: Fr. Philip’s Top Ten Most Offered Pieces of Confessional Advice
UPDATE: I've added several books to the Wish List for my Lenten reading and reflection. . .this year I will focus my Lenten homilies on a "theology of the Cross."