By Jeannine Marino
Everyone has favorite saints: Saints whose writings inspire us, whose charity compels us to give more of ourselves, or whose miraculous deeds leave us in awe. But the saints that are my favorites are the sinners; the ones who really needed a little extra help from the Holy Spirit in order to make it to heaven. Take St. Augustine of Hippo, for example. He partied in his youth, hung out with the wrong crowd, lived with a mistress for fifteen years and fathered a child outside of marriage. If Augustine could do all that, and still experience the mercy and love of God and make it to heaven, then surely we can as well. All Augustine had to do was repent, ask for forgiveness, and turn his life back to God.
Thankfully, the Church has provided us with an easy way to get right with God- namely, the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, or 'Confession.' The Sacrament of Penance is a wonderful gift- a gift of forgiveness, mercy, peace and love. We enter the confessional burdened with our sins and misdeeds, and we leave filled with God's grace.
It's true, Confession can be difficult. No one wants to admit faults, especially to another person. But, the priest isn’t just another person: He represents Christ. As Christ’s minister, the priest not only forgives sins, but also offers absolution. And it isn't just lay people who experience this Sacrament: priests and bishops go to confession, too! The bishops even purposely re-committed themselves to going to Confession this Lent in their recent Pastoral Invitation: God’s Gift of Forgiveness: A Pastoral Exhortation on the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.
Has it been a while since your last confession? Do you have questions about the Sacrament? Maybe you're worrying: "I can’t remember the words…I have committed too many sins, God will never forgive me...What's the Sacrament even called? Is it Penance, Reconciliation or Confession?" Don’t worry, we have all had these questions! To help you prepare for the Sacrament, the USCCB has created some resources, including a short Q&A on the Sacrament, a Step by Step How To Guide (page two of the pdf), an Examination of Conscience and other helpful aids on our Rediscovering the Sacrament of Confession page.
Jeannine Marino is assistant director of the USCCB Secretariat on Evangelization and Catechesis.