This week’s Register tells the story of the many bishops who are finding innovative ways to promote confession. Here are seven ways laypeople can follow their example and promote confession ourselves in our daily lives.
1. Go regularly yourself. Our examples evangelize more than we know. When we go regularly to confession, God finds a way to make the action count for more than ourselves. And sometimes priests can be tempted to give up waiting in a confessional for penitents that never come. If you give them some business, you will help ensure that they’ll continue to make themselves available.
Quick tip: A friendly “Thanks for being here for us, Father,” doesn’t hurt, either.
2. Bring your family — children, grandchildren or close nephews and nieces. Children need to go to confession, too. Some writers have stressed the negative aspects of childhood confession — being lined up in their Catholic schools and “forced to think of things to feel guilty about.” It needn’t be like that. Confession can give children a place to unburden themselves without fear, and a place to get kindly adult advice when they are worried about speaking to their parents. Many families make confession an outing, followed up with ice cream or coffee.
Quick tip: An examination of conscience for children is available at NCRegister.com — click “Resources” then “Confessional Guides.”
3. Mention it. We often think of confession as unmentionable. It’s true that we shouldn’t normally repeat what we’ve said in confession, and it’s true that priests can’t repeat much of what goes on in the confessional. But there’s no reason we can’t tell people that we have gone to confession. If we don’t, aren’t we tacitly suggesting that there is something shameful and dark about this joyful, healthy sacrament?
Quick tip: The offhand comment, “I won’t be able to make it until later, because I want to get to confession,” can be more convicting than a theological discourse. And since confession is a significant event in our lives, it’s an appropriate answer to the question “What did you do last weekend?”
4. Learn, and spread the knowledge. There are many books and pamphlets on confession. Many priests recommend Father Richard Rego’s booklet on confession, A Guide to Conscience. Scott Hahn’s Lord Have Mercy: The Healing Power of Confession is a longer treatment of the subject. (To order either, go to CUF.org and search “Confession.” Find both at the bottom of “Faith Facts: First Confession before First Communion.”)
Quick tip: The Register’s own reader-friendly, “How and Why to Go to Confession” is available for free at NCRegister.com. Click on “Resources” then “How to Be a Catholic Guides.”
5. Follow the Pope. Someone asked Pope Benedict XVI why we should go to confession regularly if we always seem to be confessing the same sins anyway. He answered, “It is true: Our sins are always the same, but we clean our homes, our rooms, at least once a week, even if the dirt is always the same; in order to live in cleanliness, in order to start again. Otherwise, the dirt might not be seen, but it builds up.
“Something similar can be said about the soul, for me myself: If I never go to confession, my soul is neglected and in the end I am always pleased with myself and no longer understand that I must always work hard to improve, that I must make progress. And this cleansing of the soul that Jesus gives us in the sacrament of confession helps us to make our consciences more alert, more open, and hence, it also helps us to mature spiritually and as human persons. Therefore, two things: Confession is only necessary in the case of a serious sin, but it is very helpful to confess regularly in order to foster the cleanliness and beauty of the soul and to mature day by day in life.”
6. Children: Use your power. Parents should lead the way to virtuous living — as one priest put it, the failure to take children to Sunday Mass and confession is spiritual child abuse. But children have led their families into all sorts of healthy practices, from recycling to quitting smoking. Many parents rediscover confession through their children.
When a girl asked Pope Benedict if she could take the initiative in leading her parents back to the sacraments, he told her: “I would think so, of course, with great love and great respect for your parents, because they certainly have a lot to do. However, with a daughter’s respect and love, you could say to them: ‘Dear Mommy, dear Daddy, it is so important for us all, even for you, to meet Jesus. This encounter enriches us. It is an important element in our lives. Let’s find a little time together, we can find an opportunity. Perhaps there is also a possibility where Grandma lives.”
7. Mention it as a kind of “excuse.” If someone invited you on a walk through mud, you’d say, “No thanks, I don’t want to have to clean my shoes and clothes.” When someone begins to engage in denigrating gossip or wants you to watch an objectionable movie or suggests plans that make it impossible to go to Mass on Sunday, the same answer is available. “No thanks. I would to have to figure out how to get to confession again before my regularly scheduled time!”