We stood in line, each waiting for our turn. I was both nervous and excited for my cousin, who waited ahead of me.
Nervous, because I remembered the fear I felt when, after ten years, I finally returned to the sacrament of confession.
My cousin, in her thirties also, guessed it had been twenty years for her, or since the eighth grade.
But I was far more excited than nervous. I knew from experience that letting trust overcome fear would allow the mercy of God to touch her in a transformational way.
Fear has a way of halting progress. This is especially true in a person’s spiritual journey. And there are many fears that people allow to stand in the way of going to confession. “What will the priest think of me?” Or, “God wouldn’t forgive me of that sin!” Or, “It’s been so long, I don’t know how to do it properly!”
Pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth: these are the sins that have crippled humanity since the Garden of Eden. And to whichever ones you fall prey, rest assured that the priest has heard them confessed before. He will not be shocked. And though we all fear being judged by others, as Christians, shouldn’t our fear of God be greater than our fear of man?
The Bible tells us that “fear of others becomes a snare, but the one who trusts in the LORD is safe” (Proverbs 29: 25). We have reason to trust in the Lord, because he has already proven his love to us on the cross at Calvary. It was then that he fulfilled prophecy and ensured our salvation. So long as we are repentant, our sins are forgiven, because God’s mercy surpasses his judgment, every single time. And this is what we can expect from the sacrament of reconciliation; God’s mercy and grace.
If you’re worried you won’t do it properly, just tell the priest you need him to guide you through it. For quite a while after I’d returned to the sacrament, I took notes on what sins to confess and I wrote the act of contrition so that my mind wouldn’t go blank.
Also, spend some time in prayer before you go, asking the Holy Spirit to show you what areas of your life you need to change. Jesus wants to transform you!
A few weeks after I went with her to confession, I asked my cousin if returning to the sacrament had changed anything for her. She shared that it had, in a multitude of ways.
She has noticed that she is more attuned to gossiping and negativity at her workplace. She now takes a step back when it happens and avoids engaging in it. She also noted that God has brought people of faith into her life that she can relate to. She knows she is part of a spiritual family and that God is looking out for her.
Perhaps the most beautiful grace is that she is now a great example for her son, who is receiving the sacrament of reconciliation this year.
For my own spiritual journey, the sacrament of reconciliation was a game changer. I avoided going for so long, and I missed out on so many graces during those ten years away. After returning, I have received tremendous healing and growth that I know will continue.
Pope Francis has said about confession that “the transformation of the heart that leads us to confess our sins is a gift from God … it is ‘his work.’ As we leave the confessional, we wear his strength that restores life and rekindles the enthusiasm of faith. After confession, we are reborn.”
A forgiven soul is a free soul — free to love, like Christ loved, with boundless mercy.
Kim Griffin is a member of the Parish of the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, Philadelphia.