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Going to Confession

The Sacrament of Penance (or Reconciliation) is one of the seven sacraments given to the Church by Jesus to share divine mercy in our imperfect lives. Through confession of our sins and their absolution in this sacrament, we are forgiven and reconciled with God and with the community of the Church. Our relationships with God and with others, damaged by our free choices to act against the virtue of charity, are healed by the grace of Christ’s Cross and Resurrection, and applied to our very specific and

personal needs for mercy.

There are four parts to the Sacrament of Penance: contrition (sorrow for our sins); confession (naming our sins); penance (a way of making some reparation for our sins); absolution (the sacramental forgiveness of our sins). To make a good confession, we begin with a sincere examination of conscience. There are many different forms of this, but taking time to reflect on our life of faith and, identifying simply and humbly where we have made wrong choices is always a good practice. CS Lewis once wrote that if you struggle to name your faults, ask the people you live and work with; they

will tell you. Situations in our lives can be complex. Confession may be part of a more extensive spiritual conversation, but the confessor may invite you to set up an appointment to visit if more time is needed. This is not intended to dismiss or gloss over these complexities, but to allow sufficient time and attention to address them. Confession is primarily for the celebration of forgiveness, not extended spiritual direction.

It is naturally much more comfortable to talk about our successes and positive actions than our failures. Confession is not about shame or self-defeat, but a healing remedy. It looks to the past – “what I have done and what I have failed to do” – but it is oriented to the future: how I can be healed and improve as a disciple of Jesus. Sometimes people shy away from confession because it’s been a long time and they are uncertain how to do it. This is a simple outline (feel free to bring it along if you wish):

1) Begin with the Sign of the Cross. Father may say some words of welcome to confession.

2) Say: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. My last confession was ________” (name how long it has been since your last confession … for example, “two months ago” or “before Easter” or “many years”).

3) Then say: “My sins are__________________” Here, you name your sins simply. The confessor may ask for clarification if it is unclear – “I did some things wrong” – but never asks questions out of curiosity or that would implicate other people. When you have finished your confession, end by saying, “For these and all my sins, I am truly sorry.”

4) The confessor will give you a few words of advice and encouragement. He will then assign a penance to you – perhaps some prayers or good actions. He will then invite you to make an Act of Contrition.

5) Clearly and meaningfully, pray an Act of Contrition. There are many different forms that can be used; the most important thing is that you sincerely and intentionally express your sorrow for having sinned and your intention to do better in the future. One common form of the Act of Contrition:

O my God, I am sorry for all my sins because they displease You,

Who are all good and deserving of all my love.

With Your help, I will sin no more. Amen.

6) The confessor will pray the prayer of Absolution, granting you “pardon and peace” from “God, the Father of mercies.” He will conclude with words such as: “God has forgiven you; go in peace.” Respond: “Thanks be to God” and return to the church to pray in thanksgiving for God’s mercy and perhaps to pray your penance.

As I often comment: God’s mercy cannot erase our past, but it does open up a new future. What a great Christmas gift that will be.


Periodically, a scam reappears where emails purporting to be from pastors or other parish staff ask recipients to supply gift cards or cash to someone, or state something like: “I am in need of immediate help, please call me” or some such message. Know for certain that these are not authentic messages, and do not come from your clergy or members of staff (for instance, many have come from a gmail account; I do not have any such account). We do not and will not ask for such financial help, donations, or other assistance in this way. Ignore and delete such messages with a clear conscience.

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