How do you ‘Go to Confession’?
Recently I was on a clergy conference/retreat. We had a priest come to lead us for a quiet day. He suggested that after his first session we spend ten minutes in silence before exploring the themes he had given us to look at. I quickly had the sense that God was calling me to go and make my Confession with this priest, and so I did.
It had been a year since I had last made my Confession, and I’d been sort of waiting for ‘the right moment’ to go to Confession again. I have to confess (sorry!) that I really wish I could go to Confession more often. Why don’t I? Partly because I don’t always have the time to prepare and go; partly because I am reluctant, and don’t really relish the idea of telling another person exactly how I fail God and others. And I suppose it’s also because in the Church of England we have a relaxed approach to Confession: None must, all may, some should. (So, we have Confession but nobody has to do it, but anybody can if they want to, and sometimes people really should go to Confession if there’s something very serious going on…)
So why do it? In Confession (now often called the Sacrament of Reconciliation), we force ourselves to open up as much as possible to God, in the presence of another human being who helps us to really open our hearts to God, to be honest with God. And then the other person (the priest) helps us to understand that we are completely forgiven and loved by God. And the priest is bound by oath to keep what is said in Confession completely confidential, so we know we can be truly honest and open, about our big sins and our little ones.
Mostly in life we wear a mask of one sort or another. In Confession we can really let that mask drop, and be open and honest about the things we do which we don’t really want to do, the things we do which we know hurt us, or God, or our fellow human beings. And the priest can help us to reflect on what we are confessing, on any patterns or connections we might not see for ourselves. All of this can help us move forward, to grow and be better human beings and better Christians. If Confession is the only time we can be completely honest, that’s an amazing thing. And there’s an amazing energy (you could call it God’s grace) that comes out of that - energy to go forward into a new life, free from old habits, though of course this doesn’t mean we’re suddenly perfect. Instead, we’re committed to a journey, which will probably involve coming to Confession again, and again as we slowly but surely learn to do the things we really want to do, instead of the things we don’t!
When I made my confession on Monday I was again struck by the overwhelming joy of the Sacrament, joy which comes after the pain and difficulty of being really honest about my own failings and sins. When the priest pronounced the words of absolution and forgiveness, I just couldn’t stop smiling! My experience of Confession (both making my confession and hearing other people’s) is that it usually involves tears and joy: tears of sadness and relief, and joyful smiles of relief and happiness when a new start is pronounced.
If you would like to know more about Confession (especially in the Anglican tradition) this book is really helpful. Or you could just come into St Peter’s around service times and speak to one of the clergy who will happily hear your Confession either there and then, or at an arranged time. We’re very happy to talk people through the process, so you don’t need to worry about that. And you can choose to be formal and kneel, saying fixed prayers, or to be more informal and sit and have a conversation with the priest.
In any case: none must, all may, some should: all are welcome.
“Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16)
With joy in God’s love and forgiveness,