A post over at Fr. Z's place got me to thinking about confession. Since we're heading into Lent, I though I type out some random thoughts on the subject. . .
1). Confession is all about receiving the forgiveness we have all already been given. We cannot earn forgiveness by works, attitude, or even confession itself; if we could, it would be a wage not a grace (i.e. a gift).
2). Penance is not a punishment for sin. Completing the penance you've been given is a sign that you have received God's forgiveness and resolved not to sin again. This is why I always assign sin-appropriate psalms as penance.
3). Priests rarely remember the sins of individual penitents. Some believe that this is a grace from God given so that the confessor is spared the difficulty of carrying around the memories of sin. Sounds good to me. Frankly, I think the explanation is more mundane: priests have heard it all and sin is boring.
4). Explaining your sins in the confessional is unnecessary and time-consuming. Just say what you did and leave it at that. If more info is needed, your confessor will ask. Explanations generally come across as attempts to excuse the sin.
5). Ask for counsel if you need it. Most experienced confessors will know when counsel is needed, but it never hurts to ask. Just keep in mind that there are others waiting to confess!
6). This is your confession, so stick to your sins. You cannot confess for your kids, your spouse, your neighbors, etc. And please avoid using your confession time to complain about your kids, your spouse, your neighbors, etc.
7). Faithfully assisting at Mass (actually participating) absolves venial sins. Why else would we recite the Confiteor and the celebrant pray for our absolution?
8). If you are unsure about whether or not X is a sin, ask. Remember: mortal sins are acts of disobedience that "kill charity" in your heart. You cannot sin mortally through accident or ignorance. Don't turn a venial sin into a mortal "just in case."
9). Keep your eye on the clock and the line. Make a thorough confession but balance your thoroughness with economy. Others are waiting. One way to do this (if there's a long line) is to stick to your mortal sins and save the venial sins for Mass.
10). Tell your confessor that you will pray for him. . .and then go out there and pray for him!
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