As we enter Holy Week, I’ve been thinking about all my friends and readers who are going through RCIA this year to be confirmed this Easter. Are you afraid about making your first Confession? I was. I was terrified. I was so excited to be confirmed, but the anxiety of making that first Confession loomed over me. It felt like an excruciating torture I was going to have to endure before being accepted into the Church.
I remember so vividly coming to the end of the Penance service during Lent, lining up for the confessional and trembling. Most cradle Catholics I know are surprised to hear how scared I was, but they also haven’t ever carried 25 years of unconfessed sin around. It’s a tad intimidating.
One of my anxieties was just the shame of telling someone out loud everything horrible I had done. As I waited for my turn, I realized my perspective was off. Jesus already knew. He already knew everything. And he was the only one that mattered. But I was still afraid that I would chicken out. That I would hold back the worst things because I was too ashamed to speak them out loud. There was a statue of Our Lady right next to my spot in line. I asked her to pray for me. “Please give me the courage to make a true, full confession. Don’t let me knowingly hold anything back. Please, please, help me.” My hands shook. The people in front of me in line were chatting together about this and that and I was baffled by their nonchalance. Why aren’t they scared? I wondered, as my knees knocked.
When it was my turn, my stomach lurched. I knelt. My voice trembled. The tears came. It all tumbled out: my sin, my selfishness, my failures. Then I heard the priest’s voice. Not words of condemnation, but encouragement. Not despair, but grace. He told me my penance. I prayed the prayer of contrition and heard the words of absolution. Then: Go in peace. And let me tell you, I did. When you get to leave 25 years of guilt behind you, you go in peace.
I left and knelt in the church to complete my penance. Ask for Jesus’ blessing on you and your family. That’s it? Is that even a penance? I wondered. Sounds more like a gift. That’s not nearly enough to make up for what I’ve done! I thought as I looked up at the crucifix above the altar. It’s not enough. Was the answer. You can’t make up for what you’ve done. I made up for what you’ve done. Just like this. On the Cross. This is all my gift to you. I love you this much.
Can we understand God’s love and mercy if we don’t face our sin? Can we rejoice over our salvation if we don’t realize what we’ve been saved from?
I had been wrong about Confession. It wasn’t a humiliating hoop God was making me jump through. It was a gift offered out of His love. He didn’t want me to bear the weight of my guilt any more. He wanted me to offer it to him, to let it go, to be reconciled, to live in grace. He wanted to give me the chance to be free from sin, to receive his mercy and love.
Now when I hear someone is about to make their first confession, I am so excited for them. The joy, the peace, the beauty of it. During this lenten season when I go to Confession before Holy Week, I won’t tremble in fear like I did the first time, three years ago. I will tremble instead at the weight of God’s mercy. Behold! God’s love for you.
Haley Stewart is a Catholic convert, writer, speaker, wife and mother of three. Check out her blog, Carrots for Michaelmas where this article first appeared. It is reprinted here with kind permission. She and her husband Daniel are the authors of the books Feast! Real Food, Reflections and Simple Living for the Christian Year and More Feasts! Celebrating Saints and Seasons With Simple Real Food Recipes.