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How To Make a Good Roman Catholic Confession
The Sacrament of Reconciliation
The Sacrament of Reconciliation (or Penance), popularly referred to as "making one's confession," is the sacrament by which Jesus, through the absolution of a priest, forgives sins committed after Baptism and brings about reconciliation with God and with the Church. It has many dimensions, however. This sacrament is by turns described as "Penance," "Confession," or "Reconciliation."
When it is described as "Penance," it expresses our sinful nature, our acknowledgement that we are sinners, and, through this sacrament, our penitential turning back to God, the Father (in much the same way as our own children might turn back to us and sorrowfully acknowledge their wrong-doing).
When it is described as "Confession," it expresses one of the essential aspects of this sacrament: the confessing of sins to a priest.
The term "Reconciliation" expresses the outcome of this sacrament: our reunion with God and our celebration of His reconciling love.
What Is a "Good" Confession?
A "good" confession is rooted in three essential elements:
- showing true contrition
- confessing all one's sins
- satisfaction or penance
Types of Contrition, Perfect and Imperfect
There are two types of contrition: perfect and imperfect. The difference between these two types lies in their motives, or the reasons behind the contrition. In both instances, the sinner, or penitent, is sorry for his/her sins because sins are an offense against God. However, in imperfect contrition, the reason for it is fear of the justice, or wrath, of God and of the punishment which our sins deserve. Perfect contrition is driven by the goodness of God, which makes us love Him above all else for His own sake...and to be sorry that we have offended Him.
Perfect contrition removes all sins, even mortal sins...and even without the sacrament of Reconciliation.
How To Make Confession
There are five steps to making a confession:
- Preparation: examining your conscience
- Confession of sins to a priest
- Making a resolution not to sin again
- Receiving absolution
- Making penance
In confessing your sins to a priest, you must not conceal any sins, especially mortal ones. Concealing a mortal sin renders the confession invalid and sinful (and makes all your future confessions invalid and sinful, too) - until that sin is confessed.
How To Make an Examination of Conscience
An examination of conscience is a reasonable effort to recall the sins committed since your last confession. But, there are two dangers to avoid: carelessness or lack of effort but also anxiety and excessive soul-searching.
A good examination of conscience should also be concerned with the performance of good works. Ask yourself questions, such as "Did I help my neighbor in time of need?" or "Did I always speak kindly to (and about) others?" A true Christian not only tries to avoid sin but also to manifest love of God and neighbor.
Why Make Confession?
As the saying goes, "confession is good for the soul." In fact, the Catholic Cathechism states that "confession of sins, even from a simply human point of view, frees us and facilitates our reconciliation with others" (CCC 1455). Personal confession to a priest helps sinners (all of us, in the Roman Catholic view) amend their ways and grow in the love of God. It helps us regain balance.