The glory of confession
I imagine that most seven-year-old’s confessions are about the same: being mean to one’s sibling; disobeying one’s parents; being greedy at the store; stealing one’s brother’s gum balls out of his special gum ball machine that he got for his birthday that you are intensely jealous of and angry about… oh… maybe that was just me.
I can still see the miniature gum balls in the clear glass bulb on top of a red metal base sitting on top of my brother’s dresser above my head. It felt like the candy was mocking me. I wanted the gum so badly, not because it tasted good (it really didn’t) but because it was Steve’s and I was not allowed to have any unless he said so. And he had said no. I snuck upstairs, watching my back, creeping toward the machine and avoiding the spots where the floor creaked. When I deemed it was safe, I quickly reached up and turned the crank (no coins needed), grabbed the multicolored pearls out of the bottom of the machine, and moved immediately into my own bedroom next door to stuff them into my face. I was immediately hit with a wall of guilt. I had broken a Commandment with a capital C and I knew this was serious. The next time we went to Mass, I stayed behind in the pew during Holy Communion and I didn’t receive the Eucharist again until I went to confession.
Is this just an example of scrupulosity in a child who did not understand that stealing gum balls isn’t a mortal sin? I don’t think so. It is partly that, don’t get me wrong, but I think it is also a sign of something beautiful happening in my soul: an awe and respect for Christ in the Eucharist that even at a young age was strong enough to keep me in my pew while everyone else went up to the front. I did not refrain from receiving the Eucharist because I thought I was evil or going to hell. I refrained because I had committed what I understood to be a serious sin and I didn’t want to make it worse. I had no doubt that God loved me and would forgive me, I just knew that I wanted to ask him to, asap, and I did not mind waiting for the Eucharist until then.
The confessional is a sacred place of encounter with the merciful Lord. Priests are still human, so it is not perfect and abuses can and do take place there, but as a general rule, Catholics know exactly what to expect from confession—anywhere in the world. After examining your conscience, you go in, choose your side (face-to-face or behind a screen), ask for a blessing, begin with some basic facts, and then apologize to Jesus for all the things that you are aware of doing that hurt His Body. The priest may comment or ask questions (or not) before telling you something to do as a penance. You pray the Act of Contrition, and then the priest absolves you of your sins: “God the Father of mercies…” Then it’s done. You are totally free of all those sins (and all the other stuff that you are legitimately unaware of). It’s the best. As Pope Francis put it, “When one is in line to go to Confession, one feels all these things, even shame, but then when one finishes Confession one leaves free, grand, beautiful, forgiven, candid, happy. This is the beauty of Confession!” The Holy Father has spoken many times of the beauty and importance of Confession, even declaring the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy in 2015.
This is why it is particularly concerning to witness a lack of respect for this Sacrament by way of omission in discourse about the Eucharist. To my knowledge there is no authority in the Church today declaring that any sin is beyond the reach of Christ’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Confession. Yet in the current discourse about receiving the Eucharist, this simple fact is not acknowledged: all you have to do is go to confession (and mean it) to be free of sin.
Could Confession be more accessible? Absolutely. Can it be intimidating? Sure. But we are grown-ups, those of us who are implicated in the current discourse. If we are not mature enough to apologize to the Lord and his Church for our sins—or, worse, we do not think we have anything to confess—then we cannot call ourselves Jesus’ disciples. And if we are not his disciples, why do we want to receive him anyway?
The little girl who waited to go to confession before she received the Eucharist grew up to be a pretty wretched sinner, but one who, by God’s grace, still has awe and wonder for the gift of that Sacrament. I still avail myself of the opportunity to confess my sins regularly. Sometimes I feel excited to go and sometimes I dread it; sometimes the priest is lovely, sometimes it is just what I call “fast food Confession”; but every time, I receive a fresh start, a new beginning.
If you know that you have a serious sin on your soul such that you should not receive the Eucharist, and you want to receive badly enough, I think you will find the time.
 General Audience Feb. 2014
Photo by Shalone Cason on Unsplash