“Do not fall into the trap of thinking you only need the sacrament when you have sinned grievously.”
For many people, the Sacrament of Reconciliation might cause stomachaches or cold sweats. Even though it is a sacrament of mercy and forgiveness, bad past experiences or scenarios made up in our heads cause us fear rather than relief. Frequently, the anxiety we impose upon ourselves is far worse than any penance given to us afterwards; many times, I have left the confessional wondering why I torture myself so much ahead of time.
On the other hand, many of us might also take the sacrament for granted. Perhaps it is too often considered only as the antidote to our falls from grace after committing mortal sin and not simply considered part of a good, active spiritual life. When we separate ourselves from God through mortal sin, we must seek his forgiveness in the sacrament. But that isn’t the only time we should seek out the sacrament.
Regular confession of venial sins helps us “progress in the life of the Spirit” in several ways (CCC 1458). Rather than view it as something that must be done when you fall into moral sin, begin to see it as something you are able to do to grow more like Christ.
Gives us grace
Like all the sacraments, the Sacrament of Reconciliation gives us grace, God’s life in our souls. But it is not only restoring the grace lost through our sins. God also gives us the grace we need to fight the very sinful tendencies that landed us in the confessional in the first place. If you’re struggling with a sin, the worst thing you can do is try to defeat it yourself. It’s a battle that won’t be won. Christ is not just offering you healing through the sacrament, He is offering you help to overcome those temptations and grow in the virtues you need most. Do you find yourself repeating the same sins in confession? Welcome to the club. Christ will forgive us more than 70×7 times. But even more than that, He’s ready to help us fight and not become complacent towards those habitual sins.
Aids us to better form and examine our consciences
We often confess the surface sins. This is especially true when we find ourselves confessing the same habitual sins. Actions like losing our temper or gossip might be easy to recognize and be contrite about, but they are caused by a deeper sin, like pride. The more often we examine our conscience (which we should do daily) and the more often we name our sins out loud and express contrition, the more light will be shed on the root sin. There’s no sense in cutting the tops off weeds; we need to dig them out by the root. If we really want to progress in the spiritual life, we need to delve deeper into our root sins and ask for God’s help eradicating them.
Helps us have mercy on others
Frequent confession opens us up to the fact that we are sinful human beings in need of mercy. The more we seek out the sacrament, the more aware we become to our need for the sacrament. We do not examine our consciences to become scrupulous (a dangerous trap that needs to be avoided as much as its reverse, presumption). Rather, we examine our consciences and seek God’s mercy because we recognize that there’s no such thing as a sin that doesn’t matter. Beware of thinking “it’s only venial,” or “it’s not so bad.” As we continually face our own sins and repeatedly receive the great gift of God’s mercy, we should become gentler towards other’s sins. Transforming into Christ means transforming into the Prodigal Father. If we beg for God’s mercy, who are we to deny it to others? Anyone holding a grudge would do well to read Matthew 18:21-35.
As we near the end of Lent, seek out this great gift of God’s mercy. Do not fall into the trap of thinking you only need the sacrament when you have sinned grievously. Rather, make frequent reception of the sacrament a part of your spiritual plan of life. It is a key part of becoming more like Christ, and truly, becoming more human. As Augustine reminds us, “Man and sinner are, so to speak, two realities: when you hear ‘man’ – this is what God has made; when you hear ‘sinners – this is what man himself has made. Destroy what you have made, so that God may save what he has made.”
If the idea of going to confession gives you a stomachache, pray to God for strength, examine your conscience, and go. Tell the priest that you’re nervous. Christ is waiting for you, not to condemn you but to free you of the burdens you have placed on yourself. And once you have confessed your sins, leave them behind. Do your penance and let them go, as He has let them go.
Do not run from his gift of mercy, nor take it for granted. Seek out frequent confession, so that you may be transformed into Christ.
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