Lent and Easter
in the Domestic Church




Going to Confession

Peter Fournier and Catherine Fournier

Page 20 in "Lent and Easter in the Domestic Church"

Lent and Easter in the Domestic Church

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When my husband and I visited Rome in October of the Millennium Jubilee Year, we decided to let the Holy Spirit be our tour guide. Rather than get drawn into the stress of keeping to an itinerary, we just wandered and saw what God wanted to show us.

We made only a few requests of our "tour guide". We wanted to go to confession at Saint Peter's and to attend a Mass there too. On our first visit (we spent a total of three days there), we found that an entire arm of the huge cross of Saint Peter's floorplan was dedicated to confessions-with confessionals lining the walls, all marked with the languages of the priest attending, and rows of pews in the middle.

I knelt in front of a huge painting of the Crucifixion and prepared myself with an examination of conscience. I grew steadily more and more nervous. When a woman left and walked away from a confessional marked English, I jumped to my feet and hurried over. I knew if I waited any longer, I would be too nervous to make a good confession.

For all that, when I was finally kneeling inside the confessional, my mind went completely blank. I managed to stammer out, "I am sorry, Father, I am so nervous, I do not know what to say." A rich Irish accent answered me, "Oh, stop. You will make me nervous next." I laughed, relaxed immediately, and made my confession.

If you were to ask someone to name a Lenten practice off the top of his head, about half would answer, "Going without candy/ chocolate/coffee." The other half would probably suggest, "Going to confession."

The season of Lent is a time of penitential preparation for the sorrow of Good Friday and the joy of Easter Sunday. It is a natural time to begin or continue a habit of regular confession because this is a natural extension of the practice of external and internal fasts and of spiritual change (CCC 1440-49). Fasts and change require self-awareness, self-examination, and a sincere desire to reform. They also encourage awareness and sorrow for the moments when we do not follow Christ's example.

First admitting and then confessing our sins can be a painful yet liberating experience. Forgiveness and absolution give us the strength and courage to try again. A careful examination of conscience is essential for a good, complete confession (see CCC 1454).

An Examination of Conscience

An examination of conscience is a series of questions, intended to trigger our memory or lead our thoughts to a deeper understanding of our actions, in order to hand them over to God. Most examinations of conscience use the Ten Commandments as a starting point or organizational structure for the series of questions, since they are the clearest expression of God's wishes for our life.

The Ten Commandments of God

  1. I am the Lord your God; you shall not have strange gods before Me.
  2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
  3. Remember to keep holy the Lord's day.
  4. Honor your father and your mother.
  5. You shall not kill.
  6. You shall not commit adultery.
  7. You shall not steal.
  8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  9. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.
  10. You shall not covet your neighbor's goods.

In everyday life and especially with respect to the sacrament of confession, it is important that we form a clear and correct conscience. A properly formed conscience will help us in discerning whether we have obeyed God's commandments and how we can improve in submission to God's will. We must cultivate a judgment of ourselves that is both aware of offenses against the divine will and, at the same time, alert to the lies of the evil one.

A priest friend of our family recommended a highly effective way to distinguish thoughts, actions, and attitudes that are the result of a properly ordered conscience. It is characteristic of God and His angels to give true happiness and spiritual joy. It is similarly characteristic of the evil one to disrupt or destroy such happiness and consolation by proposing false reasonings, subtleties, and continual deceptions.

What can we conclude from this? That the more we try to please God in our lives, the more He will give us a deep interior peacefulness. We should suspect a temptation from the evil one when we find ourselves chronically worried or anxious or disturbed, no matter how pious or righteous the source of the worry or anxiety may appear to be. So one basic virtue on which we should daily examine ourselves is peace of soul. We should ask ourselves, "Have I given in to worry or anxiety?" "Have I allowed myself to get discouraged?" A good practice is to pronounce the name "Jesus" when we find ourselves getting despondent or to say a short aspiration, such as "My Jesus, I trust in You", whenever we become dejected over something.

There are many examinations of conscience. Some are written specifically for women or men, for workers or religious, or for young or old. Others take a more general approach, seeking to be of service to all. Here are two such examinations of conscience, first for adults and then for children. May we all grow closer to Christ and meet each other at His Throne!

Prayer before Confession

O God, give me the vision to see myself as You see me.
O Jesus, give me the grace to be truly sorry for my sins.
O Holy Spirit, give me the ability to express my contrition.
O Mary, help me to make a good confession.
Amen.