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How to Make a Good Confession (3)

Most of know ways to avoid something we do not like. Few of us recognize how easily we do it. Did you know that you can avoid confessing your sins while still going to confession? No, I did not say you can "not confess" your sins, but that you can "avoid" confessing them. How does one avoid confessing? After all, when we go to confession the whole point is to state verbally our sins so that the priest can grant us an absolution.

Here are a few examples of "avoiding" an actual confession of sins:

1) "I have a tendency to . . . "

2) "I struggle with . . . "

3) "I might have . . . "

Let me comment briefly on each. 1) A "tendency" is not a sin. You need to state the sin itself, not a vague reference to an inclination to sin (which everyone has). 2) Technically, struggling with a sin is a good thing. If you are actually "struggling" it means you are trying to stop. To fail to struggle and just give in is a grave sin. Most people that describe things this way mean instead that they give in regularly (just say so). 3) Either you sinned or you did not. If you really do not know if you committed something that you know is sin, then ask the priest to help you think it through ("Father, please help me understand whether this is a sin..." or "I am not sure I crossed the line into sin, but I am concerned I might have").

Another set that falls into a different category but is just as much an avoidance:

1) "I said something I shouldn't have said"

2) "I behaved wrongly"

3) "I did something inappropriate"

My comments: 1) You do not need to repeat a vulgar word, but this first statement could include a 25 word explosion of profanity to make even the worst Hollywood actor blush, or it could be a rudely stated "huh?" "I used profanity in private" or "I used profanity briefly towards my neighbor" is clear enough. 2) Like #1 this could have a number of different applications. You could be referring to homicide or a roll of the eyes. Be particular, and if you are not sure how to say it clearly without embarrassing yourself, then a good old thesaurus will do wonders. 3) Yes, once again, too vague. I (and other priests) understand it can be hard to voice certain things (we go to confession too!), but it is the voicing of it that helps us to deal with it and overcome it. Most people use the word "inappropriate" in confession to refer to a sexual sin. So be cautious: if you lead with that phrase, but that is not what you mean, then you need to qualify!

Now, at the end here, I need to make one thing very clear. You need to be specific in your confession, but that does not mean that you need to give the "gory details". Priests just need to be able to tell what you are talking about; we do not need to hear long stories or all the specifics of what happened (and if a priest does probe for lots of details you need to excuse yourself from the confessional and go find another priest; immediately!).

In conclusion, do not avoid confessing. Think it through beforehand, and look for the right terms to explain what you are speaking about. Sometimes the older words are a whole lot more specific (an old manual on self-examination can be a terrific resource). Do not hide, just confess it and open your heart to the grace of God.


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