Monday, February 15, 2010

Because Confession is a Sacrament, and the Sacraments Make All the Difference

Frank and I are gratified by the number of comments so far on the latest post about confession. Blogging is funny: you dig and dig day after day, and then you hit a vein. It turns out, people are passionate about confession. The readers of this blog, at any rate, are uniformly passionately in favor of confession. I’ve reviewed the comments so far, and here are a few conclusions. Please feel free to add your two cents.

Catholics who go to confession mostly love it. Thank God for Warren Jewell, who writes: “I have to confess: I LOVE to confess. Confession is how I emulate (and, actually, effect) being a convert.” Think about that incredible statement for a second! Each time we confess we are, once again, a convert, whether we’re a cradle Catholic or not. We are “turning ourselves over” to God—again.

Matthew seconds Warren here: “Going regularly to confession is perhaps the single most important thing I could have done to grow closer to God. It's irreplaceable.”

Some non-Catholics “crave” confession. At least, Michelle, a non-Catholic, does. She writes: “[Confession is] something I’ve craved for years now.” And in a later comment, Michelle writes, “The two things I crave the most being a non-Catholic looking in are the Eucharist and Confession.” Hear that, Catholics? We have something that others crave!

EPG chimes in: “As a non-Catholic, I found the level of response to this post fascinating, and encouraging. The Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, has a rite for confession and reconciliation. It is, alas, little used, as far as I can see. . . . ” While that may not constitute craving, it is another non-Catholic voice regretting that his church seldom uses confession.

I am not the only Catholic who is sometimes chicken about going to confession. And it’s not only Sean’s 9-year-old daughter who is “nervous about going to confession.” An anonymous commenter writes: “I recently returned to the Sacrament after 17 years. I found that I needed to make an appointment because it had been so long and I had a lot to say and I tend to ramble anyway. But more importantly, I needed my pastor to know I was coming so that I was committed to showing up. I had made several drive-by attempts at just showing up at scheduled parish confession times, but never made it further than the parking lot.” In other words, without that appointment, Anonymous might have chickened out again: another “drive-by Catholic”!

Some Catholics still go to confession once a week. Look at the poll results so far. Of 141 participants (at this writing), 6 said they go once a week. This encourages me to try doing the same, at least during Lent. I figure that if Pope Benedict goes once a week, and Mujerlatina went every week as a child, I can do the same, right? How about you?

I’m pretty clear that our poll does not represent a random sample. Readers of this blog are probably either devout Catholics or non-Catholics interested in learning more about Catholic experience. Which is to say, I suspect that if you polled all Catholics, the number saying they go to confession “seldom or never” would be a lot higher than whatever the final poll numbers will show here.

The Church is wise to give us the option—behind a screen or face-to-face. While commenters came down on the two sides of this question, I can only conclude that how one chooses to confess is a matter of personal preference. The important things are (1) that I make a good confession, (2) that I choose the method that most supports my doing this, and (3) that I remember that confession is about the absolution I receive through the confessor, not about the social work or spiritual direction he incidentally performs for me. 

Where confession is concerned, better catechesis is needed. Another Anonymous writes: “Sometimes I wish there was a video or a recording of what a ‘really good confession’ looks and sounds like. I am definitely one of those visual learners. Of course when I went through RCIA we saw a mock demonstration but it was just a shallow laundry list of sins, not in my perception what a true confession would look like. While I attend confession a few times a year I often am not sure I am making a ‘good confession.’ I do make an examination of conscience and try to cover what I can think of, but sometimes it is a laundry list for myself, other times I share my sins and then when I talk further, I feel as if I am making excuses for my sins. For example, am I just supposed to confess my selfishness or do I state it and then share an example of how it reared its ugly head? I think sometimes I do feel the pressure of the ‘line of others outside the door’ and feel like I have to keep it short. Sometimes when I hear someone talk about their confession it makes me question, Could I be doing this better?”

This is perhaps my favorite comment because it reflects my own uncertainty as a convert. I think I should know what a good confession is, but I don’t, but I don’t want to admit it. . . .

Maria asks a final question: Why did they change the name from confession to the sacrament of reconciliation?!

And so do I: What can we do to make more Catholics go to confession more often? Your thoughts?