That, how, why.
Years ago, a wise Dominican taught me these three words as a framework for thinking about confession, and they have stuck with me ever since.
That you sin: Admit that you have sinned. Saying that you are wrong can be humbling and difficult, but none of us are perfect this side of heaven. Admission is the first step toward healing. Also, shifting the emphasis in the phrase may be beneficial: That you sin. Tell your sins in confession, not those of others. Confession does not offer vicarious forgiveness.
How you sin: Identify your particular sins. Recognizing your sin is necessary in order to change. Confession of mortal sin involves number and kind: how many times and in what way. However, you don’t have to wait until you commit a mortal sin to go to confession. Even though venial sin can be forgiven in multiple ways such as reception of the Eucharist (cf. CCC 1394), confession of venial sin is strongly recommended by the Church (CCC 1458). Through regular confession, we help form our consciences and combat evil inclinations. Think of God like a good friend who keeps you accountable. He understands your personality traits and tendencies. God already knows your sins. Naming them is for your own good.
Why you sin: Consider the circumstances and reasons related to your sins. Do we avoid near occasions of sin? The conscientious recovering alcoholic does not place a bottle of liquor on the kitchen counter and pretend to practice virtue by resisting a drink every time he walks by, but instead avoids alcohol altogether. Don’t place yourself in situations where it would be easy to sin. Do we address the underlying rationale for our sins? Grasping the intentions behind our sins can help us not to fall into the same pattern over and over again.
In the sacrament of confession, God wants to take the great weight of our sin, as well as the isolation and loneliness it causes, off our backs. As the Eucharist is our spiritual food, confession is our spiritual shower: It is meant to take place on a regular basis. Just like dirt accumulates on the hood of a car, sin piles up in our daily lives, and through confession, we can wash it away.
What if our sin is big? Nothing is too great for God to forgive. Jesus forgave Peter, who denied Him three times. Jesus overcame death to rise again! He is ready and willing to forgive us our sin, if only we will bring it to Him.
What if it has been a long time? No amount of time – months, years, decades – is too long. A thousand years are as a day to Him.
Jesus invites you to give Him your sin in the confessional. Will you go to meet Him?
Br. Luke Maria Lee, O.P. | Meet the Student Brothers in Formation HERE