Lent is fast approaching and one of the best ways to prepare for the season of reflection and penance is to attend the Catholic Sacrament of Reconciliation. The practice of Confession is important to the faithlife of Catholics, as it allows us to deepen our relationship with God by acknowledging the ways in which we distance ourselves from the Lord and seek forgiveness for these sins.
While Confession is an invaluable practice that encourages us to mature in our lives and faith through self examination, too few Catholics seek Reconciliation with regularity. According to a 2020 study from Pew Research Center, only 43% of American Catholics visit the confessional once per year. The portion of those who go to Confession multiple times per year falls as low as 17% and barely 7% go monthly.
These figures brought to mind a guide by Fr. Mike Schmitz which has been invaluable to our own Confession preparations in recent years. If there’s a priest out there who could get the faithful back into confession it’s Fr. Schmitz. With a natural charisma and conversational tones, he has led both the Bible in a Year and Catechism in a Year podcasts to #1. Today we’ll be examining one of Fr. Schmitz’s videos from seven years ago, titled “Making a Good Confession.”
Fr. Schmitz, who has barely aged a day in seven years, instructs that the first question we must ask ourselves is “Has God been #1 in your life?” and “Have you put other things ahead of God.”
The older we get, he explains, the more things we have in our life that can be put before God, but we are called to place God in the center of our lives. Admission of such a failure is essential to repairing and strengthening our relationship with God.
The priest next goes into the understanding of what a sin is. He notes that a lot of times he will hear the penitent say “Well, I try to be a good person,” or “I don’t really hurt anybody.” These are good things, but the goodness of a person has no bearing on the sins they commit. Fr. Schmitz explains:
“Sin is this: [saying] ‘God I know what you want me to do. I don’t care. I want to do what I want to do.’ It’s knowing what God wants and freely choosing to do something else.”
Fr. Schmitz advises us to take advantage of resources to examine our lives and prepare us to confess. He notes that there are “cheat sheets” that can be found with a simple internet search that can guide the faithful through the examination of conscience, made for both kids and adults. Next, he directs us to the Litany of Humility, written by Cardinal Merry del Val, which he suggests will help us identify the areas in our lives in which we have failed.
Another place where Catholics can find immeasurable potential for self examination is in the words of Christ himself. Fr. Schmitz suggests reading the Beatitudes, the eight blessings recounted by Jesus during his Sermon on the Mount, recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, and four which Jesus gifted us in his Sermon on the Plain, in the Gospel of Luke.
Finally, Fr. Schmitz directs us to the Consciousness Examen, written by St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order. Despite the name, it is a bit different than an examination of conscience. First, one must pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help us determine what needs to be confessed. Then one must go over the events of the day, identifying where we accepted the invitation of God’s grace and thanking God for these opportunities. Conversely we must identify the ways in which we rejected God’s invitation and ask his forgiveness.
All of this prep work is meant for us to reach an honest revelation about the state of our relationship with God. Confession, Schmitz explains, is not just about sin, but “it’s about living out of a relationship with God.” This is why the first question we must ask ourselves is if we have placed God in the center of our lives.
For a short video, Fr. Schmitz covers a lot of ground and gives us a lot to contemplate. His excellent guide to Confession is an invaluable resource, especially for those who may not have been to Confession for a long time. Still, all of us can find the tools to build a deeper faith and relationship with God. It is worth reflecting on Fr. Schmitz’s advice in the weeks before Lent.