There are three ways to confess, two of them approved by the Church.
• The traditional way is to kneel down at a grate, where the priest cannot see you, and only be heard. This has the advantage of anonymity and is probably more hygienic than other methods.
• Since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council however, the practice of face-to-face confession has been encouraged. While this procedure may have its advantages (if you can think of any, let me know) it has the disadvantage of allowing you to see the priest’s reactions. If you’re anything like me, soon enough he will wince and squirm, or his lip curl up in disgust, and this is so very amusing that you will be tempted to go making stuff up just to see what kind of reaction you can get out of him, making what should be a sacred encounter with the Divine into yet another occasion of mischief.
• A third method is simply to write your sins on a 3x5” card and mail this to:
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Piazza del S. Uffizio, 11, 00193
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Piazza del S. Uffizio, 11, 00193
(As of 2014 correct postage would be $1.10.) While not actually approved by the Church, what priest, upon receiving this missive, would fail to give Absolution? I think the question answers itself and the $1.10 you spend in postage is penance enough already.
Choosing a Confessor
The best confessor of course is one who is deaf and will thus just nod his head and give you absolution without a lot of prying questions or disparaging comments about how “… no girl in her right mind would agree to a thing like that!”
A half-deaf confessor is not merely half-as-good as this but is in fact a whole lot worse, as he will often repeat what you have said, loudly, just to make sure he’s understood. (Who hasn’t heard Fr. Tramari ask loudly, “What do you mean, ‘for-the-nation’?”)
This leaves two kinds of confessors left, soft and hard.
The soft type come in two varieties, the Liberal Relativist, who will assure you that what you’ve done isn’t really a sin at all, and the Big Softie, who will thank you for coming to Confession as if you are doing Jesus some kind of a favor just by being there. Avoid these types, as you will come away feeling like you have washed your hands in mayonnaise.
By all means pick the hard confessor, of the type to be found in more Traditional parishes. Even though he will tell you that your sins are not only quite heinous, and that he finds them personally repugnant, but he will give you an onerous penance (weeks of fasting, painful mortifications, and lengthy pilgrimages to distant shrines are not uncommon), the advantage is that you really do feel forgiven, and that’s what this is really about.
Examination of Conscience
Now, if you just walk up to the confessional, your whole mind will just be a jumble of transgressions, half-remembered nights of drunken excess, and questions about that slip of paper in your pocket with nothing but a phone number and the notation “Let’s do that again, big boy!” No, you need to organize your thoughts so as to put your confession on a systematic basis.
What constitutes a sin is actually a complex business. Lately, a lot of “New Age” types have been pushing this notion of “Doing unto others as you would have done to you,” but this is both simplistic and misleading. After all, I know that I wouldn’t want to be tied to a table and belt whipped, but I’ll bet I couldn’t visit two or three taverns on Halsted Street before I found someone who would pay me to do just that to him. So the Church, in Her infinite wisdom, has come up with a few useful lists that cover most of the bases on sin, and you would do well to review these before confessing.
§ Four Worst Things
There are particular mortal sins that are so evil that they are said to be sins that cry to heaven for vengeance: willful murder (Gn 4:10), oppression of the poor (Ex 2:23), defrauding workers of their just wages (Jas 5:4), and the Sin of Sodom (Gn 17:20-21). Let’s look at these case by case.
• Willful murder isn’t just killing; it refers to killing in an unjustified way. Naturally, life being a messy business and circumstances being what they are, not all killings are unjustified. While it is self-evident that one might kill in self-defense, or to protect ones family, it is also no sin for the soldier to kill in the line of duty, nor for the workingman to exterminate his class enemy.
• Oppression of the Poor is quite possibly the most heinous of sins. In our corrupt age many loathsome practices have become not only accepted but widespread, including (but not limited to): letting out money at interest, speculating in commodities, land, or currency, “white slavery,” market manipulation, expropriation of surplus value by “investors,” and all the rest the Bible condemns!
• Defrauding workers of their just wages doesn’t refer merely to some kind of out-and-out trickery, but actually to the whole system of low minimum wages, under-employment, union busting, and “off-shoring,” that drive down wages.
• What is meant by “the Sin of Sodom” is rather opaque and has been debated for centuries by theologians and scholars. Opinions have varied from it being a rather amusing and wholesome form of contragenic coition to it being a lack of hospitality. But really, are either of these are so abhorrent as to cry to Heaven for vengeance? Perhaps the answer is to be found in the fate of Lot’s wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt. As Sodom was described as prosperous, and as the poor woman was turned into salt, which has often been used as a form of money, we can apprehend that this crime is probably that of speculating in currency.
A favorite list of probable sins is the Ten Commandments. We are all familiar with this enumeration and need not dwell on it here, except to point out that frequent mass goers are usually given a 10% discount on this list. Ask your confessor for details.
§ Other Enumerations of Sin
Many people find it useful to consult other lists of good or bad conduct. Pope Gregory’s list of Seven Deadly Sins, the Boy Scout Law, the Art of Worldly Wisdom by Baltasar Gracian, the Ten Point Program that Marx and Engels outlined in their Manifesto, Ovid’s Ars Amorata, and Satchel Paige’s six pieces of advice on How To Keep Young have all proved to be useful reviews of conduct.
Give Your Confessor A Break
Remember, he’s stuck in the box with no way out and he feels it’s his duty to give you advice, so make it easy for him. If you confess to just one thing, then he has to talk to you about that, and he’s just as embarrassed talking to you about it as you were telling him about it. So by all means, include a few sins that are easy for him to talk about. Supposing, for instance, you’ve been regularly committing a sin that involves a fellow you met on Halsted Street, every knot you learned as a Boy Scout, and a whole lot of Jergen’s Lotion. WOW — Father Thelander is bilious just thinking about it, and he certainly doesn’t want to ask a whole lot of questions about this abomination, so if you mention something else in the same confession, he’s going to talk about that instead. Vanity is always a good thing to confess. Of course, you’re not as gorgeous as me, but that probably doesn’t stop you from thinking you are, and you can confess that. I always do. Similarly, my son usually J-walks on the way to confession so that he can confess that. Be creative!
A Final Word
No matter what you’ve done the Confessional is always open, to you and God’s mercy endures forever. As our Holy Father has recently reminded us, “Don’t be afraid of confession, it’s no worse than a bad cold.” Remember the immortal words of Little Richard, “If God can save a broken-down old homosexual like me, then he can save just about anybody! Woo — Bless My Soul!”