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Lent has begun. It’s the time to fast, pray and give alms. These 40 days are also a good opportunity to better understand the sacrament of reconciliation.
BY Eddie O’Neill
begun. It’s the time to fast, pray and give alms. These 40 days are also a good
opportunity to better understand the sacrament of reconciliation.
The key to making a good confession
is knowing oneself, says Chicago’s Father Peter Armenio, a priest of Opus Dei.
“Self-knowledge is the building block for contrition. I can’t be sorry unless I
know myself,” says the priest who spends long hours each week hearing
He explains that honesty and the
Holy Spirit will help us come to know the dominant area where we fall again and
“No one escapes this life without a
dominant defect. With that, we should always be working at them,” he shares.
“The more we are humble and the more we are cognizant of our weakness before
God, the better we are operating in the spiritual life.”
As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his
2010 Lenten Message, “Conversion to Christ, believing in the Gospel, ultimately
means this: to exit the illusion of self-sufficiency in order to discover and
accept one’s own need — the need of others and God, the need of his forgiveness
and his friendship.”
Father Chris Collins, a priest
studying for his doctorate in theology at Boston College, recommends a regular
examination of conscience to assist with self-knowledge.
As a Jesuit, Father Collins is well
versed in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
In the 16th century, Ignatius founded the Jesuits and wrote the Spiritual
Exercises, a 30-day program of meditations, prayers and consideration
of one’s life and relationship with God.
“The examination of conscience
should be seen in light of what St. Ignatius called the First Principle and
Foundation,” explains Father Collins. “It states that: ‘Humans are created to
praise, reverence and serve God our Lord.’ A daily examination of our minds and
hearts is a way of staying in touch with how we are doing on that path.”
St. Ignatius advocated examination
of conscience twice a day, at midday and evening. The Spanish saint also
stressed the need for a regular particular examen: looking at one weak area.
“If I’m working on anger or
impatience, then let that be my focus for my daily examen. When did I fall into
anger? When could I have gotten angry but didn’t? It is just as important that
we honor God for the progress that we are making in avoiding our sin,” Father
By using these spiritual practices
consistently, the sacrament of reconciliation truly becomes a healing experience
between us and the Lord.
“What is important in all of this,”
explains Father Collins, “is that the examination of ourselves does not become a project of private
perfectionism but rather a way of working on our relationship with God in Christ
and his body the Church.”
In Milwaukee, Ellen Mary Raster
knows the benefits of monthly confession in her own life over the past 15
“When I first went to confession,”
the 42-year-old mother of six explains, “I was much more attuned to the
emotional aspects of the confession. For example, who was the priest? What did
he say? How did I feel before and after? Now, my focus is more on the mercy
that Jesus makes available to me. There is also a more profound sorrow for my
lack of love which causes me to hurt him who deserves everything I can give.”
Don’t Be Discouraged
times, confessing the same sins can become discouraging. When those feelings
arise, Raster recognizes who’s at work. “If confessing the same sin over and
over again gets to me, then I am allowing the devil to do his work. He’s trying
to lead me down the wrong path,” she says.
solution to overcome discouragement is asking Jesus to help her not take
herself too seriously: “Doing this also helps me to concentrate more on his
beauty and less on the ugliness of my sins.”
the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Father Kris Stubna says real conversion takes time.
Father Stubna, who serves as the secretary for education in the diocese, says
that every encounter in reconciliation becomes a step forward in the spiritual
may seem to some people that we are saying the same things over and over, but
each encounter in that sacramental moment we are acquiring grace, and we are
meeting the Lord face to face,” he says. “I think being able to make a good and
holy confession grows out of a person’s relationship with the Church. To make a
good confession isn’t about that singular moment, but above it is about our
relationship with God.”
the Catechism states in No. 1468: “The whole power of the sacrament of penance
consists in restoring us to God’s grace and joining us with him in an intimate
Eddie O’Neill writes
from Green Bay, Wisconsin.