The Three Essential Parts of a Good Confession.
By Fr. Daniel Pinell
Now that we have explored the history of the discipline of confession, who has the authority to forgive sins, and why we would practice private confession, we will explore the three things necessary for a good confession. In short, to prepare for a good confession, we need an examination of conscience, sorrow, and a determination to avoid sin. Let’s explore each of them in more detail.
In an examination of conscience, we invite God’s loving presence in our lives to show us the areas we need His forgiveness and healing. During this examination, we must deal with specific sins, and not just vague categories of sin. It is not enough to say, for example, “oops, I kind of made a mistake in the 6th commandment department. My bad God!” No! We have to be specific as we can! I did this and that. We are to call out our sins, even the embarrassing ones! A generalized confession, like the ones we have in the liturgy, may save us some face, but it may not bring the inner healing we seek. Also, it is far too easy to avoid our real guilt when doing a general confession. Now, it is also important to avoid another extreme here and obsess about remembering every single sin we have ever committed. That would be exhausting! God knows our sins better than we know it ourselves. If we come to Him with contrite hearts, He will forgive even those sins we forgot we committed!
Speaking of contrition, sorrow is also very important for a good confession. Sorrow is more than just an emotion, though emotions may be involved here. Sorrow, or contrition of heart, is an abhorrence of having sinned. It is a deep regret at having offended the heart of the Father. Sorrow is something that we choose before it is something that we feel. It has to do more with our wills than with our emotions. In fact, being sorrowful only in our emotions without a godly sorrow will destroy our confession. Confession will then be reduced to a therapeutic, unloading of guilt that falls short of profound regret.
Finally, a determination to avoid sin is the third essential for a good confession. When preparing for a good confession we are asking God for a yearning for holy living. What we seek from God, after all, in preparing for our confession, is the will to be delivered from our sin. Intrinsic in our desire to be freed from our sins is a true determination to not sin again with the help of God’s grace. We are called to be free so we can pursue a life of holiness.
Now that you know a little bit more about the discipline of confession, I want to encourage you to engage in this practice. Seek a priest and schedule a private confession. Private confession is not required to receive forgiveness of sins from God, but it can be a powerful tool for healing and growth in Christ. If this is what you desire, the discipline of confession can be a grace of God’s mercy for you!