This is the Sacrament of forgiveness, of God’s loving mercy and of conversion. As with the other sacraments it was instituted by Jesus Christ himself. It was on Easter Sunday when Christ first appeared to the Apostles after his Resurrection. Breathing on them, he said: “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained”.
We are all sinners and struggle in the pursuit of holiness. God gave us all free will to make our own choices and we often fail to follow his teachings or even to recognise our own sinfulness. Each time we sin, we deprive ourselves of God’s grace and distance ourselves from his love, but we can be reconciled to him by being truly sorry and asking for his forgiveness. We do this by confessing our sins to a priest who is, in this sacrament, “in persona Christi” (in the person of Christ). Jesus throughout his ministry welcomed sinners who were truly penitent. It is God, through the priest, who will forgive us and in so doing grace will be restored to our souls and we can once again try to resist sin.
Catholics as a minimum should go to confession once a year, especially during Lent as part of their spiritual preparation for Easter. The Church, however, recommends that they should receive the sacrament regularly and willingly to embrace it as a gift from a loving God. The more often a sinner examines his own conscience, the more discerning he becomes and the more likely, with the grace of the sacrament and the advice from the priest, he will be able to conquer the roots or habit of sin.
It is perfectly normal not to find it easy to confess sins. To make a good confession time needs to be taken to make a thorough examination of conscience beforehand, maybe at home or in the quiet of the church. Don’t hold anything back – sometimes this is for fear of what the priest may think. A priest either through his own experience in the confessional or during his seminary training will be able to handle pretty much anything and will have heard most things many times before. A priest wants nothing more than to be able to heal the breach between a penitent and God.