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Seven Words, Six Steps

An examination of Confession for Lent

By Jason Godin

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.”

This is the perfect phrase to guide us through Lent to Easter Sunday, particularly in the Year of Mercy. To help make sure the opportunity doesn’t pass and leave you in the dust, Fathers for Good has put together a six-column series on sacramental reconciliation, all based on chapters found in How to Make a Good Confession, a 1943 classic by Father John A. Kane, currently available from Sophia Institute Press. This is the first column, with the other five to follow in the weeks leading up to and including Holy Week.

Father Kane, a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, saw the Sacrament of Reconciliation not simply as a singular moment for one to receive divine forgiveness, but “a powerful, grace-filled means to overcome sins” (p. ix, italics in original). He proposed penance as an enabling process founded on – and to be built upon perpetually – healing “attitudes of mind” and “habits of soul” (pp. ix-x). For Father Kane, sinners can’t simply stay satisfied living with their sins. They must actively aim to defeat them, at their selfish roots, a step at a time.

Consequently, making a good Confession begins with cultivating true contrition. It involves mobilizing the soul, recognizing that sin exists and has eternal consequences, and training yourself to ask God for forgiveness as part of your daily routine. Authentic contrition doesn’t begin or end when you enter the confessional. It must last an entire lifetime and, when nurtured fully, allow the light of Christ to cut through the shadow of even the darkest sins.

Remorse in this way isn’t measured according to contemporary understandings of sorrow and fear. Father Kane points to scriptural sources for the path for the penitent person to pass, using three specific terms:

Conversion – “literally, a turning” of “the soul and all its faculties from sin to complete identification with the will of God.”

Contrition – “a wounding of the entire soul, making it thereby sensitively tender and impressionable,” a condition “born of pure love of God for His own sake.”

Repentance – “the mind itself changed and transformed” with “the supernatural conquering the natural” (p. 11).

Penance, in other words, involves work and persistence. Contrition can bruise the ego, perhaps best expressed when you feel truly bad and say, “Man, I screwed up!” But Father Kane reminds us how sin also causes deep wounds that drop your soul to the ground floor of a relational faith. You experience pain with a deep spiritual sense, and realize that you hurt the one you love.

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.”

Those seven simple words can create a clarion call for conversion, and open an encounter of healing forgiveness. These words help us take the first step in confessing guilt in blunt terms, but ones refreshingly ripe with responsibility and possibility. They point to a path of pardon, peace and new life, paved with love.

Check back next week for the second step to making a good Confession: repentance founded on the tender mercy of Christ.

Jason Godin is managing editor of Fathers for Good