Mr. Shaun McAfee, O.P. is the author of Reform Yourself! and other books, is the founder and editor of EpicPew.com, and contributes to many online Catholic resources. He holds a Masters in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. Shaun has made his temporary profession as a Lay Dominican and temporarily lives in Italy.
Confession is difficult for everyone. So I’ve laid out some simple principles on how to make this very demanding and taxing event a bit easier, with the hope that by the time you exit the confessional, you feel better about yourself. That’s the point right? Let’s get started.
(1) First things first: find a good distraction
Facebook, Clash of Clans, Instagram, heck even a selfie in line is completely appropriate. In this time of intense stress, you need the support of your electronic and virtual stimuli to make sure you don’t completely fall apart. Prayer apps? Examination of conscience website? Retire those now. Before making a confession you should be in a total state of denial, which is why the Bible says “deny yourself” or something along those lines.
(2) Be quick and mumble
Get started as fast as possible, taking the below points into consideration. The stuff about the last time you confessed, fuhgettaboutit. That’s irrelevant. Making the sign of the cross? Superstitious and outdated. Your best bet is to to get through the confession as quickly as possible, skipping over details that might be pitfalls to your reputation, or just might keep you in that little box any moment longer than absolutely necessary.
(3) Get defensive
You’re in confession. All the pressure is on you, so why answer questions about your when that judgy priest starts to be a judgy priest? It’s your confession—who is he to judge? When that priest starts to give you advice on how to overcome temptation, interrupt him. If he wants to know more about you, deny him. Bottom line here is to not humble yourself, but to lift yourself up in confidence in yourself. Protect your reputation and you’ll be set.
(4) Seek praise
Know a lot of big Catholic words? Know some awesome quotes? Can you finish a priest’s sentences fairly well? Good. When he begins to applaud your intense spiritual braggadocio, let him go on and on, and find clever ways to make sure he’s talking to the real deal in his flock. Rehearse and dictate all the good things you did since your last confession—they call it the “humble brag”—so that you can offset any possible embarrassment that comes from admitting you did anything wrong. Get all the praise you can to make sure that when his flips that light back for the next guy, he knows a saint just walked out the door.
Oh, and, while we’re on it: praise others? Don’t even think about it. Total buzzkill.
(5) Use broad language to disguise what you’ve done wrong
Think you’ve committed a pretty bad sin? Don’t worry, confessing said sin can be a cinch if you know how to do it right. All sins fit into a larger category. Did you use the Lord’s name in vain? Just tell the priest you cussed. Look at pornography? Soften the blow by just telling him you committed a sexual sin. He will usually not prod, usually, so you’ll be fine. The point is: if you’re ashamed of what you’ve done and it’s too hard to confess—which is totally not the point—it’s easier if you lump your sins into a heaping ball of generalizations.
(6) Point out what other people did to contribute to your sins
If there’s something you can say to make sure you bring other people into the confessional with you, do it. It’s the best way to make sure the priest realizes that you are not solely responsible for your sin. It’s also a great way to make yourself look better—which gets you more sacrament points.
(7) Confess the sins of others
This is another great strategy to make sure you get the priest on your side. He has to deal with bad Catholics all day long, so it will be refreshing for him to know there is at least one saint in his parish. That whole “speck in the eye” thing doesn’t really apply in the confessional, so don’t worry about it. Like the previous point, if you, when confessing your ever so trivial sins, can show that there’s a lot worse people out there than you, then that priest will be much more willing to give you absolution.
(8) Be unsatisfied with your confession
Always look back after you exit the confessional, especially after you receive absolution, and realize you could have said more, you could have said it better, and you definitely missed several sins. Oh, and if you didn’t make sure the priest knows you’re a good person, you should probably regret that, too. Even better: have doubts that that absolution wasn’t enough.
Follow these points to be sure to get the most out of the confessional. Remember: it’s all about you, how you feel afterward, and just getting it over with.