I have to admit, I’ve always been hesitant about reconciliation. My mom or one of my friends will ask if I’ve been to confession recently, and I get this terrible anxious feeling in my stomach. There’s something about telling a priest all my sins that just terrifies me. I’ve been this way even since my first confession, and I was in second grade then, so I didn’t even have anything to confess, really.
It used to be so bad that I would omit certain sins, just skip over some things in the confessional, either out of embarrassment or out of fear that the priest would tell someone about it. Looking back, it seems ridiculous that I would think the priest would go around telling people my sins. If the priest discloses anything confided to him during reconciliation, the punishment is severe. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 1467) cites the Code of Cannon Law (no. 1388.1) in addressing this issue, which states, “A confessor who directly violates the seal of confession incurs an automatic excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; if he does so only indirectly, he is to be punished in accord with the seriousness of the offense.”
From the severity of the punishment, we can see how sacred the sacramental seal of confession is in the eyes of the Church. Instant excommunication if he breaks the seal of confession directly. When a priest hears a confession, he literally can’t tell anyone what the confessor says, even to save his own life. This is because he is “in persona Christi,” or in the person of Christ. This means that the priest is acting in the person of Christ anytime he facilitates reconciliation.
My personal attitude toward reconciliation changed during the Steubenville Mid-America conference, the summer between my 10th and 11th grade years. They were offering reconciliation, a sacrament I had not partaken in since before my confirmation in eighth grade. I was terrified to go, as always, but I gained some courage because there were thousands of kids going to confession. What would make me stand out to a priest if he were to hear hundreds of confessions in a short span of time? I took my place in line and performed my examination of conscience while I waited. I was dead set on confessing everything, even the sins I was most embarrassed about, because those also happen to be the sins that weigh the heaviest on my soul.
I had a helpful little card that explained all the steps of reconciliation, which I had of course forgotten, and provided a short examination of conscience and a copy of the Act of Contrition. I stepped into a huge ballroom filled with priests, everyone talking quietly so no one would hear each other’s sins. A man met me at the door to direct me to a priest. The man then said, “You’ll be seated with the archbishop, I hope that’s OK.”
All the confidence I had mustered up was lost. Telling my sins to a priest would be hard enough, but an archbishop? That terrible anxious feeling in my stomach had returned, and I slowly made my way to where the archbishop was seated. I proceeded to tell him, in a very shaky voice, that it had been a year or so since my last confession. Then I started with the sins.
I was surprised to see his reaction when I was finished. I didn’t know what I expected, but the archbishop gave me a look of genuine understanding. He told me that he had struggled with some of the same sins, and this blew my mind. This man, an archbishop, a model of holiness, had the same sins as me weighing on his soul. I said my Act of Contrition, and he proceeded to give me my penance. He also gave me a miraculous medal that had the image of the Virgin Mary on it, and this would later serve as a constant reminder for me to make the right decisions.
My encounter with the archbishop taught me something important. My religious role models (bishops, priests, people at my CYM) were sinners just like me. We struggle with a lot of the same issues, but the difference between their stellar relationship with God and my subpar one was reconciliation. If I would only have the motivation and courage that they have, I could grow and be made new in my relationship with Christ.
I’m still not the best about going to confession. I only went about five or six times last year, but I’m still making improvements. Reconciliation is a constant process; we’re always sinning and being tempted, but God is always ready to forgive us. Matthew 18:21-22 reads, “Then Peter approaching asked him, ‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I say to you, not seven times but 77 times.’”
The number seven is representative of infinity in Scripture, so Jesus is really telling Peter to forgive his brother as many times as is needed.
I speak from experience here — life is a lot more bearable when we share our troubles with someone. And there’s no one better to share our troubles with than God.
Michael Broadwater is a senior at Catholic High School in Little Rock. He attends Christ the King Church in Little Rock.
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