For many Catholics, the sacrament of Reconciliation is a treasure – a sacrament of mercy that brings peace to the mind and the soul. But how can we go deeper into this sacrament? How can we have a “better” Confession? This is a question that Father Matthew Spencer, OSJ often receives, so recently on St. Joseph’s Workshop, he shared what he sees as the first step to a better Confession. He said:
“When people ask me how to make a better Confession, the first step, in my opinion, is to make a good Examination of Conscience. Because when you enter the confessional, that’s not when it begins. That’s when the liturgical part of it begins, but Confession itself begins much earlier than that. The whole process of the need to be forgiven begins with the prompting of the Holy Spirit leading us to repentance, leading us to turn away from our sins, and then leading us to reflect on our sins.
If you go to Confession without taking the time to do that, of course you’re going to list a couple of things and think, ‘I’m a pretty good person. I’m alright.’ And I believe that you are a good person, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t areas where you really need God’s help, His healing, and His mercy.
It begins with a good Examination of Conscience to get to that point. And what do I mean by an Examination of Conscience? It’s a way that we reflect on our lives to help us become aware of the sins we have committed. One I printed out many years back is one by Fr. John Trigilio … it’s very similar to what we’ve used for centuries in the Church, which is using the 10 Commandments as a way to reflect.
But sometimes it’s hard if you just list the 10 Commandments. You think, ‘Well, I’ve never killed anybody. So I can just pass up that particular commandment.’ But that commandment, if you stop to think about it, could mean a lot of different things. You can reflect a lot on the different ways in which you hurt people.
I just recently had the opportunity to hear the Confessions of many priests. I regularly will hear the Confessions of priests, and to me it’s an amazing, edifying experience. Not because all of us priests are out there being super holy – all of us have our mistakes, and we’re human beings, and we sadly are falling down also. But it’s because priests have this privileged awareness of sin in their own life because they see sin in other people’s lives.
So every priest, it seems, has this deep awareness of that Examination of Conscience that is necessary. And I have to say that it’s definitely the norm, and it’s really edifying to me to have priests who are so aware of the mercy that they need, and they’re coming to that sacrament for the mercy that comes only from God.
And that is inspiring to me, but makes me realize that it is a privilege that we have as priests. It’s one of the benefits of being able to have that humble service to hear people’s confessions – that it makes us aware of our own sins in our lives.
I can tell you, there have been many confessions I’ve heard and then said, ‘My goodness, I really need to learn from this person, who is so aware of their particular sins. And I need to deepen my awareness of my own sins.’ In the mind of the priest it creates this new awareness, this new realization, of how much, on the one hand, God loves us; and how much, also, we need His mercy. How much we need His assistance and His help.
So when you think back to the last time you went to Confession, maybe it’s time to also think when was the last time you did a really good Examination of Conscience. And when I say that, I mean take half an hour, even if it’s been only a few weeks. You don’t always need that much time if it’s only been a few weeks. If you get into the habit of going to Confession every few weeks, you’re more aware.
You don’t always need to take a long amount of time to examine your conscience, but take time! Dedicate time before you go to Confession to do it. And you will see an amazing flowering in your spiritual life, and in the graces that you are able to grasp and put into action in your life. Because those graces are overflowing in your life when you go to Confession. You can’t stymie the flow of God’s grace that He wants to pour out upon you. But you can decide how much of that you’re going to put into practice in your life.
When you go into Confession with a deeper awareness and appreciation and understanding of your own sinfulness, then you come out of Confession with a greater awareness of how much God loves you, how much He cares for you, how much He desires your healing and your forgiveness.”
Listen to the full segment below:
St. Joseph’s Workshop with Father Matthew Spencer airs weekdays from 9:00 – 10:00 a.m. Pacific on Immaculate Heart Radio.