By Amber Kinloch
Do you struggle with discerning what to confess in Confession?
I go to Confession frequently and have often wondered how I might make a better Confession. We must always mention mortal sins in kind and number (CCC 1456) and have contrition for our sins and a firm purpose of amendment. But what if you go to Confession regularly and only have venial sins to confess? Though we are not required to confess these venial sins, doing so “helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies…be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit” (CCC 1458). So far, so good.
But what precisely should we confess in regard to our venial sins? How can we draw more spiritual fruit and graces through confessing these sins? How much detail is it appropriate to give? How can we be clear and accurate, but also brief?
Enter St. Francis de Sales. Recently, I was flipping through his classic work Introduction to the Devout Life. In Part 2, Section 19, this book includes practical and concise insights on the sacrament of Confession. Though we are not required to follow all his advice, the devout practices St. Francis suggests will help us grow in love of God and make more fruitful use of this sacrament.
Precisely State Your Sin(s)
Strive to avoid generalizations such as, “I have not prayed as devoutly as I should,” “I’ve wasted time,” or “I’ve been proud.” As St. Francis explains:
“…when you say such things you say nothing definite to help your confessor know your state of conscience. Every saint in heaven and every man on earth might say the same thing if they went to confession.”
Rather, we should try to precisely state what we’ve done. Instead of saying, “I’ve wasted time,” or “I’ve been proud,” say, “I’ve wasted time reading blogs on the Internet” or “I’ve boasted about my high grades or the praise I’ve received.”
Likewise, provide other pertinent details regarding your sins. Are you impatient with everyone, or only when driving, or while talking on the phone with your elderly mother? Do you overindulge every day in food or drink, or is it only on certain occasions or when eating certain foods?
This precise confession of our sins fosters growth in humility as we avoid hiding behind the cover of generalizations. It also helps us avoid the common temptation of thinking that a certain sin we habitually commit isn’t such a big deal.
Give Your Motive(s)
Besides precisely confessing our venial sins, St. Francis encourages us to confess the “why?” behind our sins.
“Don’t be satisfied with confessing your venial sins merely as to the fact but accuse yourself of the motive that led you to commit them.”
Why have you committed the sin of pride? Are you vain, boastful, or arrogant? Was it out of a desire for praise or attention? Are you greedy because you see wealth as a form of security? Did you gossip about your neighbor because you enjoy telling stories, or was it out of bitterness or revenge? Why didn’t you pray? Was it out of laziness, or have you been struggling and feeling discouraged?
Discerning and confessing the motives behind your sins will help you pinpoint what steps you need to take to overcome them. Likewise, it will help the priest offer you better guidance.
Indicate the Duration
“Tell if you have continued for a long time in your sin, since the length of time ordinarily increases sin. There is a great difference between some passing act of vanity that has slipped into the soul for a quarter-hour and one our heart has indulged in for one, two, or three days.”
It is humbling to admit that you habitually yield to impure thoughts or criticize others in your everyday conversation, whereas you rarely overindulge in sweets. Candidness in confessing the frequency of certain sins will keep you accountable and help you focus on overcoming your deepest-rooted faults instead of smaller, infrequent ones.
Try implementing St. Francis’ advice the next time you go to Confession. It will surely help you make a better Confession and draw forth more grace from this wellspring of mercy.
Amber writes from the bunker of her living room. There she hunkers down with her laptop and a blanket while keeping an eye and ear tuned in to the activity of family life. Music set on loop keeps her energy flowing as she muses on the deeper happenings of ordinary life and what food to restock the fridge with.
Thank you and thank God for saints like Francis de Sales
Those are three most helpful suggestions for me. I hope to put them into practice.