For the longest time, growing up as a Presbyterian, I had no idea what the Sacrament of Confession was, or what it meant.
In fact, I don’t even think I heard about the concept or really thought about it deeply until I decided to become Catholic in college. Now it’s an immovable and absolutely necessary part of my spiritual life that I can’t imagine living without.
Growing up Presbyterian
I was always a devoted Christian, or tried to be. Even during my formative years when Sunday school was the only time I was really exposed to "the spiritual" or anything relating to Jesus Christ, I always had a longing to do what God wanted me to do.
That, of course, ebbed and flowed as I matured. “What God wanted me to do” was fuzzy and vague at best all through middle school and high school, so I tend to think I did the best I could with what little knowledge and formation I had. I certainly believed that I had a “personal relationship” with Christ. But worship, back then, meant singing hymns on Sunday. Reconciliation (confession, if you will) meant asking God for forgiveness on my own time. And communion was a once-a-month, symbolic memorial of the Lord’s Supper.
I knew nothing of Catholicism, other than what I’d heard other people talk about. Something about how Catholics “worshipped saints and Mary” (that stereotype is alive and well). Something about how they used beads to pray. Something about how they had to confess their sins to a priest.
In college, all the misconceptions and preconceived ideas I had about Catholicism were challenged head on when I met someone who actually practiced Catholicism and could point to where his beliefs were in Scripture. When I challenged his beliefs and demanded evidence, I was shocked to discover that the Catholic Bible he used had several more books than my King James Version. This was the beginning of unearthing everything else I realized I didn’t know about Christ and His Church.
The story of how I encountered Christ in the Eucharist through Adoration and the Mass are topics for an entirely different blog post. But suffice it to say that the words of John 6 (“My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink”) rang in my heart and mind so loudly that I couldn’t ignore them and demanded answers from everyone I could find who I thought could help me understand.
If Christ was speaking symbolically in John 6, why did so many of His followers leave because of this “hard saying”? I found myself, after months of searching and praying and wanting nothing but the Truth, saying with Peter, “Lord to whom shall I go? You have the words of eternal life; and I have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” And in the fall of 2013 I enrolled in RCIA to convert to Catholicism.
My First Confession
Part of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults is preparation for the Sacrament of Confession. Because I found myself so deeply fascinated by the Eucharist and set on preparing my heart to receive the Lord in His Body and Blood, I didn’t have any reservations about doing what needed to be done in order to get to that point. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t very apprehensive about my first Confession.
I carried with me the words of Christ to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19), knowing that the priest would be speaking in persona Christi -- or in the person of Christ.
I didn’t approach the confessional with shame, but with readiness to turn over every sin I carried my entire life up to that point to God, laying it at the foot of the Cross. As I looked at the crucifix as the priest prayed the words of absolution (a practice I still continue every time I go to confession) I felt a burden lifted from my shoulders, knowing that I was truly free.
Why I Need Confession Now
Since then, I’ve continued to go to confession at least once a month. Aside from the fact that we’re obligated to go to confession at least once a year, confession is an immovable sacrament in my spiritual life that I find I benefit from receiving regularly. It helps me talk through difficult crosses with a priest, and has helped me to eliminate or work on eliminating recurring sins over time.
The words of absolution are also particularly comforting and encouraging, and are a constant reminder of God’s mercy. My confessor frequently reminds me he gives easy penances because there is nothing we can do to earn God’s mercy.
This is, I think, the Sacrament of Confession summed up eloquently. There is nothing we can do to make God love us more or less -- but the Sacrament of Confession is the way for us to make our souls right with God, and to open ourselves up to receive the mercy He is waiting to freely give.
Sarah Coffey is a convert to Catholicism and is the owner of Coffey Copy + Content, LLC. She has written on finance, marriage, NFP, and mental health from a Catholic perspective for Grotto Network, Blessed is She, and Busted Halo. You can read more of her writing here.