What are some things that American adults are afraid of? Well, there’s an IRS audit; that’s scary. And most people cringe at the thought of going to the dentist. But for Catholics, high on the list of frightening things is going to Confession — or as it’s called now, the sacrament of Reconciliation. In fact, if given the choice between going to Confession or having a tooth drilled without any Novocain, most American Catholics would say, “Let’s get it over with, Doc,” and then open their mouths wide.
Now, of course, most adult Catholics don’t come right out and admit they are afraid of going to Confession. Instead they often say something like, “I haven’t committed any serious sins, so I don’t need to go.” However, Confession is not just for serious sins; it’s for all sins, even the little minor venial sins most people commit on a daily basis. Here’s something interesting: both Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II went to Confession at least once a week. And we say we don’t need to go because we don’t sin? Uh huh, sure.
Other people offer this explanation: “Well, I can confess my sins directly to God in prayer. I don’t need that formalized ritual the Church invented.” The thing is, the Church didn’t invent Confession. The Lord Himself gave this wonderful grace-filled sacrament to the Church as a means for people to have their sins truly forgiven — and just as important, for them to KNOW their sins are truly forgiven.
Even modern psychology acknowledges there is something emotionally liberating about telling your failings out loud to another person. It really “gets it off your chest” when you speak it audibly to someone else. Many folks who ask God for forgiveness in prayer, without the benefit of the sacrament of Reconciliation, end up confessing the same old sin over and over again. In their hearts they really aren’t sure whether God has forgiven them. In comparison, people who take ten minutes to go to Confession walk out truly free. The grace they receive from the sacrament lets them KNOW that God has indeed forgiven their sins. What a relief!
If most Catholic adults are honest, they will admit they don’t go to Confession because it frightens them. Let's take, for example, a friend of mine, a successful middle-aged businessman, who makes dozens of tough decisions each day and has to deal with other people in a firm, no-nonsense manner. At the mere thought of going to Confession, however, he suddenly turns into Jell-O. In his mind, he is transformed into the same insecure seven-year-old who made his first Confession decades ago, and who at the time was absolutely convinced the priest on the other side of the screen was eight feet tall, five-hundred pounds, with sharp fangs and laser beams for eyeballs, who was gleefully waiting to hear the nasty things a seven-year-old boy did so he could fire those laser beams and turn the quivering child into a pile of smoldering cinders. OK, well, everyone has his or her own nightmarish scenario. I suspect this scenario is not only accurate for me — um, I mean, my friend — but is also fairly accurate for many other people.
If the seven-year-old nightmare scenario is how you envision the sacrament of Reconciliation, you are in for a real surprise. Nowadays the priests are compassionate and understanding, and I have it on good authority that hardly any of them have laser beam eyeballs anymore.
Because so few people go to Confession these days, the priests are delighted when someone comes to receive forgiveness. They are there to help and to be the conduit that allows God’s healing grace to flow into you.
If you give Confession a try, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. And you won’t even need any Novocain.