Editor's note: This is a version of the article that first appeared online in December 2014.
Father Steve Schultz, parochial vicar of Our Lady of Angels Church in Woodbridge, Virginia, offers the following tips on going to confession:
1. Prayerfully prepare! It’s considerate to those who are waiting in line behind you, especially if they need to confess before Mass in order to receive.
2. Do this preparation with an examination of conscience. Many different kinds are available. There are ones based on the Ten Commandments; the Virtues; your particular vocation; for adults; for children; etc. Two general questions should lead to specifics: In what ways did I sin? In what way(s) did I fail to do the good I ought to have?
3. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you. Think about what you’ve made friends with that keeps you from a true friendship with God. We really do Greed? Pride? Selfishness? Being lukewarm? Lust? Fear? Too much bacon? (Is that even possible?) Seriously, though, think about your sins with respect to who or what you have favored more than God.
4. Be ready to repent! “I’m done with this, that, and the other thing. I want to change, and I trust in the Lord to help me!” That should be your disposition to the sacrament. Your faith and repentance open your heart to God’s healing power!
5. Go to confession! Do it! God promises mercy; He doesn’t promise tomorrow.
6. Start by saying, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned, it has been X days/weeks/months/years/decades since my last confession and these are my sins...”
7. State your sins, in kind and in number if it is a serious sin. If it’s been a while since your last confession and you don’t remember the exact number, you can give some approximation, such as, “often,” “more than I can remember,” or “fortnightly.” Venial sins should be confessed by habit, but with serious (i.e., mortal) sin, don’t hold even a single one back! Put it all before the Lord. Trust Him. No sin is unforgivable as long as we repent.
8. It’s not necessary to tell the story of your life since your last confession, give yourself advice, or expect hours of therapy. Confession isn’t meant to change the circumstances of your life. It is meant to give you a new heart so that you can “put on” the mind of Christ.
9. You don’t have to say, “My biggest sin is...” because that is probably not your biggest sin. Your biggest sin is probably the same as mine, the same as most people: We don’t trust in God enough.
10. Nor should you say, “I need to be better about X” because your dear priest can’t tell if that is a sin of omission (something you failed to do) or commission (something you did). Further, it doesn’t sound like you’re repenting of anything.
11. Or, “and I know that’s wrong” because we know all sin is wrong.
12. Don’t tell the priest other peoples’ sins unless you want to do other peoples’ penances. “For your penance pray three Our Fathers. For your wife’s penance make a pilgrimage to Ephesus on your knees, and when you return, eat that fruitcake she made for Christmas.”
13. One last, very important “don’t.” Don’t give in to fear! There is nothing any of us can do that will make God love us any less! In confession there is no judgment, just mercy. (I probably should have led with that.)
14. When you’re finished, LAND THE PLANE. “For these and all my sins I am truly sorry,” or suchlike. If you just stop talking, the priest thinks you are still thinking or that you died. Land the plane!
15. Glorify the Lord’s mercy. If you want to be forgiven, healed, and freed, the Lord will do all that and much besides. Trust in His mercy! Know who you are: God’s daughter, God’s son!