With Lent right around the corner, Catholics the world over are readying themselves for the season of penance and reflection by heading to confession. Recently, Aleteia featured a video from Father Mike Schmitz, of the hit Bible in a Year and Catechism in a Year podcasts, in which he advised Catholics on how to make a good confession. Now, we’re looking at another lesson from Fr. Schmitz, this time on the topic of confessing the same sins again and again.
It can be frustrating for the faithful to know that we are entering the confessional burdened by the exact same sins we confessed at our last visit. It can leave one feeling as though they have failed to uphold the promise they made to God to abstain from the very sin we repeated. This, in turn, makes the rejection of sin begin to feel like a Sisyphean endeavor with the weight of our sins like a boulder we must ceaselessly push up a hill.
The Pope recently addressed this problem, too, with an encouraging reflection:
“But Father, I do the same things always…”
And He will always do His same thing! Forgiving you, embracing you.
Similarly, Fr. Schmitz, with his natural charisma and conversational demeanor, puts these worries to rest. He begins his instruction by explaining that confessing the same sins at every visit to the confessional is actually better than if you went with a set of completely different sins. He uses baseball as an analogy:
“Say you’re a baseball player. Every time you got up there you dropped your elbow … That’s far more encouraging than if every time you got up to bat there was another thing you did wrong. One day it was elbow dropping, the next day it was hip rotation, the next day you took your eye off the ball … So you were super erratic and you had no sense of ‘What can I improve?’”
He goes on to note that we should approach confession the same way. That we identify that we commit the same sins every time gives us a clear avenue towards fixing our failures. If we had new sins to reflect upon at every visit, we wouldn’t know where to even begin. By focusing on the areas where we know we have weaknesses, we can “learn from past mistakes, so as to avoid future mistakes.”
Fr. Schmitz tells us to “take heart” if our sins are consistent, but reminds us that we still have to break out of these sinful behaviors and habits. How do we do this?
“I think one of the culprits is that many of us go to Confession because we want the relief from feeling guilty from this sin. It’s not bad, but if it stops there, we’ve short circuited God’s Grace.”
He gives an example of a Catholic who wants to go to confession purely because they wish to receive the Holy Eucharist unburdened by sin; to approach Christ with confidence and a clean slate. This falls short of true repentance, Fr. Schmitz tells us, and we are called to seek more than just forgiveness from our sins, but to repent and renounce our previous sinfulness.
“I think a lot of us might see Christianity as behavior modification … but ultimately Christianity is not about behavioral modification, it’s about repentance, or metanoia. Metanoia comes from the Greek words meta, ‘to change,’ and noia, ‘to think.’ To change my mind, to change my thinking, and to become new. I think if we keep going back to the same sins then we are content with who we are and we’re not driven to become new.”
I am guilty
In order to strive toward becoming new, Fr. Schmitz has several points of advice. First, he recommends expressly naming the sin we have committed and further taking responsibility by telling the priest “I am guilty” of this sin. This is a direct acceptance of our failure, rather than to say “I’ve been struggling” with certain sins, which is less of an outright claim of our sinfulness. He gives us an example:
“[Saying] ‘I’ve been wrestling with gossip.’ So do you mean you’re gossiping or are you struggling to not gossip? Because you haven’t confessed anything yet, all you’ve told me is that you wrestle with this. No, say ‘I am guilty of gossip.’”
He goes on to note that we don’t need to word our sins perfectly, but claiming ownership of a sin is important to the process of repenting from this sin. The second step is to be vocal in your renunciation of the sin.
“You can even say this in confession, say someone’s root sin is lust, they can say ‘In Jesus’ name I renounce the sin of lust.’ Say someone’s root sin is pride and they confess a sin that’s related to pride … say ‘In Jesus’ name I renounce the sin of pride.’ To name it like that, in Jesus’ name, to renounce it is so powerful.”
Once again, Fr. Schmitz has given us invaluable tools to prepare our hearts and minds to seek true absolution through earnest and genuine repentance. For such a short video, he has certainly given us much to think about to prepare for our own confessions in anticipation of the coming season of Lent.