Uneasy conscience

Question: The older I get the more I think that I never properly confessed my sins over the years and that my confessions were invalid. I believe that I really don't know how to make a good confession. Please advise me.

-- Name withheld, Lancaster, Pa.

Answer: I don't think there is one of us who doesn't wonder about our confessions: Did we try to put the best face on our sins? Did we minimize them? Did we conceal the true nature of our offenses? Did we try to fool the priest?

Such questions are natural and are, in most cases, signs of a healthy conscience. Most of us muddle our way through confession; we become anxious and self-conscious, and we often have the feeling afterward that we might have left something out.

As a confessor, I find that it is very normal for people as they get older to fret about their early sins and their confessions over the years. In its extreme form this is called "scrupulosity" -- that is, an inordinate anxiety about sins and failures, and a fear that God may not have forgiven our sins after all.

The fact is God is far more loving and forgiving than we can imagine. He sees into our hearts and knows what our true intentions are. God is not like a human judge before whom we have to make a good and articulate case. He gives us the benefit of the doubt, and we need to approach confession with this sense of trust.

My advice to you is to go to confession at your convenience and tell the priest exactly what you have written to me and ask for his help. That should help clear your anxiety.

It is the responsibility of the good confessor that he assist people with their confessions and, by careful listening and dialogue, enable them to say what they want to say. The good confessor is able to help people make good confessions. My sense is that you are worrying too much.

The Kingdom of God

Question: On behalf of our RCIA group, I have a question: What exactly do we mean by "the Kingdom of God?"

-- Diane Dowd, Sandy, Utah

Answer: By "the Kingdom of God" we mean the reign, the power, the will, the presence of God. The Kingdom of God is not, of course, a place, but a realm beyond space and time, though it does have its presence within space and time also.

First, we may say that the Kingdom of God is heaven, the realm in which the Holy Trinity, the angels, saints and all those who are with God, dwell together. There, God's power and glory are realized completely, and there is nothing that is not of God.

The Christian sets his or her heart on the heavenly Kingdom of God and looks forward to the day when all are reunited therein.

Second, we may say that the Kingdom of God has its presence in the Church on earth. Theologians rightly hold that the Kingdom of God cannot be identified simply with the Church.

The Church and its people are, very obviously, far from perfect. But the reign of God is already present and at work in the sacraments and liturgy of the Church, in the proclamation and reception of the Word of God, in virtuous and holy living in the model of Christ.

Third, the Kingdom of God is present in embryonic form in all of creation. The glory of God is already manifested in the power and beauty of created things, in those impulses of the human heart that are noble and creative -- in short, in all men and women of goodwill.

The Christian vision is that, at the end of time, all creation will be drawn up into the glory of God's kingdom.

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to mfmannion@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.