The first step in making a good confession is an examination of conscience that walks us through the Ten Commandments or other listings of sins. The examination of conscience asks penetrating questions that helps us to know ourselves and recognize our faults. If we do not examine our conscience, we may fail to realize our sins and weaknesses.
The church requiring us to confess sins that may be mortal in nature, as well as their frequency helps the confessor to assess the seriousness of our situation. We should confess all other sins, but they are forgiven even if we forget to confess them. If we remember a mortal sin after we exit the confessional, we are forgiven, but we should confess that sin at our next confession. If we have intentionally withheld the confessing of a mortal sin, this in itself is a sin of sacrilege, and must be confessed. We need only trust God’s mercy and relieve ourselves of all spiritual burdens. The grace, freedom and joy received from this sacrament far outweighs the difficulty in confessing our sins.
Once inside the confessional with the priest, we begin by saying, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It has been (weeks, months or years) since my last confession.” We begin to tell the priest our sins. After confessing all sins, it is a good idea to say something to the effect, “For these sins and all my sins that I cannot remember, I am truly sorry.”
It is strongly recommended to offer the penance given to us by the priest immediately after leaving the confessional. While in the confessional, the sacramental nature of the priest’s absolution offers us God’s own forgiveness, which eliminates the eternal punishment for our sin.
Eternal punishment refers to hell — the punishment of eternal death warranted for the entire human race due to Adam and Eve’s sin. This is what is forgiven by the sacrament; however, the temporal punishment remains. This refers to our attachment to created realities over God. These attachments need to be rehabilitated by God’s grace. This is what happens when we offer the penance of the priest, and any other sacrifices and mortifications that we practice. This is how we overcome our disordered desires for placing the love of things above the love of God.
Next Issue: Refresher on the difference between mortal and venial sin.