Since childhood I have approached the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation with some fear and uncertainty. Not unlike many other Catholics I wonder, “Am I doing it right? Have I remembered everything I ought to confess? How long has it been since my last confession?”
I ought to go more often, and not because of any legal prescription. In fact, like the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is an opportunity to draw near to God.
I desire to draw near to God, so I was heartened by some words of gentle encouragement about making a good confession in a book by the French Jesuit Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade. Fr. de Caussade is best known for his authorship of the spiritual classic Abandonment to Divine Providence. From 1733–1740, de Caussade served as spiritual director to the Nuns of the Visitation at Nancy, France. He wrote many letters to the sisters full of sage advice about surrendering the soul to the will of God. Of confession, he says to one of the sisters:
With regard to confession, be firmly convinced that you need not trouble about it, either on account of your miseries or of your sins. St. Francis of Sales says that after sorrow for sin there should be peace. This then is what you ought to aim at, and above all you should be full of great confidence in the infinite goodness of God, remembering that His mercy is greater than any of His works, that He glories in forgiving us, but cannot prove His generosity if we are wanting in confidence. He loves simplicity, candor, and uprightness, go to Him therefore with perfect confidence, in spite of all your weakness, misery, and unfaithfulness.
I need not trouble about confession but have confidence in the infinite goodness of God. That is good news.
That is what the Church has always taught, of course, but I forget. My inclination, sinner that I am, is to put myself at the center when God wants to be there—in the heart of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and in my heart. Fr. de Caussade reminds us that God’s mercy is greater than our sin or our fear. God longs to forgive us.
How might we avail ourselves of de Caussade’s advice to draw us more deeply into relationship with God through the Sacrament of Reconciliation?
- As I reflect on my sins in preparation for the sacrament, am I also reflecting on the great mercy of God?
- Do I speak of my sins with “simplicity, candor, and uprightness,” that is, am I prepared to name my sins with boldness and brevity, not dwelling unnecessarily on the story of what is past?
- Do I approach God in the sacrament with utter confidence that God’s infinite mercy is bigger—much bigger!—than my sin?
Chris Sullivan is a writer, speaker, and spiritual director-in-training. Chris works within her own Roman Catholic faith community as well as in interdenominational Christian ministry in the areas of faith formation, training, and emotional and spiritual healing work. Chris lives in the Denver metropolitan area with her husband of 20 years and their three children. She blogs at Living the Truth in Love.