GREENVILLE, S.C. — When Christian LeBlanc tells his sixth-grade catechism class that he feels “sleek,” they know exactly what he means.
“I tell them that I feel sleek and clean because I’ve just been to confession,” said LeBlanc, an architect and columnist for AmazingCatholics.com who teaches catechism at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenville, S.C.
“I let them know that I’ve just received a new start in my life because God has forgiven my sins.”
LeBlanc also assures his students that, no matter what, God will always forgive them. Therefore, they should look forward to confession and not fear it.
“I use the story of the Prodigal Son as an example,” he said. “In spite of what the younger son had done, the father welcomes him by putting a ring on his finger and dressing him in a fine robe. Then he killed the fatted calf, and they had a feast. The level of love between the father and son was even higher after he’d come back. That’s how it is with God and us.”
LeBlanc’s method of teaching his catechism class emphasizes the importance of making a good confession, which Catholics are obligated to do at least once a year. That’s stated in the second of the seven precepts, or basic obligations, of the Catholic Church: “The second precept (‘You shall confess your sins at least once a year.’) ensures preparation for the Eucharist by the reception of the sacrament of reconciliation, which continues baptism’s work of conversion and forgiveness.”
Holy Week and Easter — including the feast of Divine Mercy — are particularly good times to make a confession, as we contemplate the passion, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. It’s also a good time to ponder anew how to make a really good confession.
Before we even step into the confessional, we need to prepare our hearts to receive the sacrament.
“Find a good examination of conscience, and prepare well,” advised Father Gaurav Shroff, parochial vicar of St. Joseph parish in Atlanta. “This is the most important thing. Confession is not a legal, mechanical thing. One has to bring one’s whole self, so to speak, and a good examination helps till the soil of the soul to receive the rain of grace.”
In order to examine our consciences well, we should invoke the help of the Holy Spirit, according to Father Shane Ian Tharp, pastor of Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in Oklahoma City.
The Spirit, he explained, is truth, light and life and reveals to us the Father and the Son. Therefore, he knows more about us than we do ourselves. Examining our consciences requires us to be starkly honest with ourselves, and the Holy Spirit is an excellent guide.
“Ask the Holy Spirit to let you see it as it really is,” he said. “He wants you to have life more abundantly, and when we sin, our life is not abundant. Ask him to renew your relationship with the Lord, so that you can regain that abundance.”
Invoking the Holy Spirit can be done simply. For example, by saying, “Help me to make a good confession.”
You also might enlist the help of your guardian angel, according to author and catechist Lisa Mladinich, founder of AmazingCatechists.com.
“It’s also helpful to ask Our Lady to guide our preparations,” she said. “She is a true mother, and she wants to help us, with gifts of grace, to draw as close as possible to her Son.”
Once in the confessional, focus on your own sins, not the sins of others.
Rather than use the time to complain about what other people have said or done to you, use the time to tell what you did that has offended God, according to Fathers Shroff and Tharp.
And don’t use the time to talk about “should haves” either.
“People usually want to tell me that they don’t do this or that enough,” said Father Tharp. “That’s not the problem. Don’t confess that you can’t pray like a monk when you’re a housewife, and don’t confess to me what you should be doing. Tell me what you are doing or what you did that is sinful.”
Additionally, Father Shroff warns against painting an unreal picture of ourselves to make our sins seem less serious.
“Don’t sugarcoat your sins by trying to provide extenuating circumstances,” he said. “This is not the same as providing the circumstances that help the priest understand the nature of the sin. Don’t worry about what the priest thinks of you. You are there to be completely and brutally honest with the Lord. That’s why he’s there!”
Catechist LeBlanc reminds his students to go into the sacrament fully prepared and ready to show evidence of penitence.
“The priest needs to know that you mean business,” he said. “For that, you need to authentically communicate your repentance.”
It’s common to confess the same sins multiple times. That’s normal, added Mladinich.
“It takes times, perseverance and much grace to break free of habitual sins, so we should try not to get discouraged,” she said. “Remember that, when the priest puts on the purple stole for hearing confessions, he kisses the gold-embroidered cross at its center, as he ‘puts on Christ’ to hear our sins. After he is finished, he removes the stole, and our sins remain in Christ. The priest lets them all go, quietly forgetting them.”
Sometimes performing the penance for our sins can be as challenging as confessing.
“It’s good advice to perform our penance right away,” said Father Shroff. “It’s so easy to forget. I have, on occasion. If it is a recitation of prayers, recite them slowly and not mindlessly, perhaps in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament or in one’s prayer corner at home. If it is a reading of Scripture, do it prayerfully and intentionally. Make the time and effort to be present and recollected.”
Finally, making a good confession requires trust in God’s mercy and forgiveness.
Emphasized Father Shroff: “His desire to forgive and save you is infinitely stronger than your desire to be forgiven and saved.”
Register correspondent Marge Fenelon writes from Cudahy, Wisconsin.