By Zach Krajacic
Starting on Ash Wednesday, many Catholics will begin some type of sacrifice or resolution for Lent. A great way to grow in holiness during Lent is to frequently receive the sacrament of confession (also known as reconciliation or penance). Based on my own personal experience, I have found this sacrament to be a powerful way to draw closer to Jesus.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines sacraments as “efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us” (CCC #1131). The sacrament of confession originated when Jesus told his apostles, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, whose sins you retain are retained” (John 20:23). Confession was thus common practice among the early Christians.
Yet for most of my life, confession was an unappealing part of my Catholic faith. This started to change about 10 years ago, when I felt God drawing me to this sacrament. Though nervous and fearful, I walked into the confessional after a fairly long absence, trusting that the Holy Spirit would assist me. It turned out to be a liberating experience. I literally felt God’s presence and love envelop me, producing a sublime peace and joy.
Most important, I realized there was nothing to fear, which made it easier to go to confession again. After a while, I started going to confession periodically. The more I went, the easier it became.
I now view confession as one of the most edifying parts of my Catholic faith. First and foremost, it helps to shed sinful habits. The sins we confess repeatedly begin to naturally and almost effortlessly diminish, just as repetitive drops of water slowly wear away a rock. Eventually, our attachments lose their appeal, and we take more satisfaction in being faithful to Christ and his commands than in selfish desires.
Confession makes the path to holiness much easier than it would be otherwise, like taking a ski lift up the mountain as opposed to walking. It is a fountain of grace (i.e., help from God) that provides strength in the midst of temptation, challenges and adversity. It bestows a sense of peace and serenity, a feeling of lightness and liberation. It both frees and disciplines the mind.
Thus, it should not be surprising that regular confession enhances our mental and emotional health as well. Scripture says, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16).
There are countless novelties purported to bring peace of mind, emotional balance and enhanced relationships, but that are largely ineffective. Meanwhile, many benefits accrue from experiencing God’s mercy and forgiveness in the confessional, which costs nothing and takes minimal time.
Confession is also a positive, uplifting experience. Priests are kind and understanding, and frequently offer valuable insights and advice. Most important, Jesus’ presence can be felt in the confessional, especially when we are in greatest need of his love and forgiveness.
When we seek Jesus’ mercy in confession, he is very pleased and confers on us many blessings. Yet few Catholics avail themselves of this great gift. The empty confessionals are thus like a field strewn with treasures offered at no charge, with few people coming to claim their share.
Lent is the perfect time to enrich ourselves with Christ’s grace and peace. Regular confession is not only excellent preparation for Good Friday and Easter, but a practice that will transform your life. There is nothing to fear.