The 6 C’s of Confession
The sacrament is key to a healthy home life
By Jeff Morrow
Two of the most powerful words in our language are “I’m sorry.” Equally important is the response, “I forgive you.” Unfortunately, both of these loving expressions are too often neglected in family life.
We’re often too proud, offended or angry to admit we were wrong. Moreover, it can be very painful and difficult to extend forgiveness. And yet, Jesus exhorts us to love our enemies (Matt 5:44) and to extend forgiveness again and again when asked (Matt 18:21-22). Indeed, when Jesus teaches the Apostles to pray, he includes the petition, “forgive us our trespasses (debts) as we forgive those who trespass against us (our debtors),” which we pray each time we recite the Our Father (Matt 6:12). Our Lord even tells a parable about how our forgiveness is contingent on how we forgive others (Matt 18:23-35). Our “enemy” is anyone who offends us, even at home where sometimes forgiveness is most difficult.
One of the best places to learn forgiveness is in the Sacrament of Confession, that great sacrament of joy. Confession is a privileged sacrament for the forgiveness of sins, and the ordinary means of obtaining pardon and healing for serious sins. In Confession, however, we not only receive forgiveness for the sins we have committed, and healing for the spiritual damage we have done to ourselves, but we also receive special grace, extra strength, for the ordinary battles we wage in the Christian life. This makes Confession an especially important sacrament for marriage and family life. In Confession, we are forgiven, and we learn how to forgive others.
In my experience, there are 6 C’s of Confession that help make this sacrament easier and more effective over the long haul.
Check – That is, check or examine your conscience. This can be done briefly every night before bed. Take a few minutes, invoke the Holy Spirit to help you review your day to see what you did well, what you did not so well, and how you can improve tomorrow. It might be useful to jot down some brief notes on sins committed, and on a concrete resolution for the next day to try to improve in some point. That way, before you go to Confession, you can review your notes since your last confession, and be better prepared to confess all of your major sins, and some minor ones that you really want to work on.
Common — That is, make Confession a common or frequent part of your life. Many of the saints as well as recent popes have recommended weekly, or at least monthly, Confession. The minimum the Church requires is once a year for serious sins, but as with anything else, the more you practice it, the better you get at it. It’s also easier to remember which sins you committed over shorter periods of a time. If we only do the bare minimum, we will miss a lot of graces and opportunities for improvement.
Contrite — You have to be sorry for your sins in order to receive the grace of the sacrament.
Complete — Our confession of sin should be complete, mentioning all of the serious sins we can recall. It isalso be beneficial to mention venial sins, because we get a special grace from the sacrament to strengthen us in our daily battles.
Clear — It is good to be clear so the priest understands what sins we have committed. Clarity helps the confession be quicker — there are other people waiting to confess — and it helps so that we don’t try to excuse ourselves.
Concise — Often, when we take a long time describing the situation, we’re trying to justify our sins or lessen them in some way. Being concise helps us to bring our sins into the light rather than hold them in the gray areas of our justifications. Rather than telling the priest all the reasons why I was in a bad mood when I got home one night, it’s much better just to confess, “I blew up at my wife.”
If we make Confession a regular part of our life, our homes will be happier and more cheerful, because we’ll be receiving the grace we need to be better husbands and wives, and better fathers and mothers. We’ll be more aware of how needy we are of God’s grace and forgiveness, and we’ll more readily ask pardon of one another, and extend forgiveness to each other. The Sacrament of Confession has enough grace to transform a sinner into a saint, and enough power to transform a bickering family into a home forgiveness, grace, and mercy.
Jeffrey Morrow holds a doctorate from the University of Dayton (Ohio) and is Assistant Professor of Theology at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey. He and his wife, Maria, have been welcoming their fourth child, due in October, for the past nine months.