As a very contemplative introvert who mostly lives in my thoughts, I have trouble understanding why we have to go to confession (like most people, Catholics and non-Catholics alike). Recently though, I have had the opportunity to rethink about this misunderstood sacrament after making some important observations about people in general.
First, we have to remember that the sacraments exist for our benefit. God doesn’t need to hear us mention our sins. He already knows all of them. Instead, He wants us to mention our sins out loud for our good. ‘But why?’ you might ask.
Well, most people don’t like to think about their faults nor do they like to be told about them; but confession requires us to think about our faults including those which are not obvious to us. In doing this, we become aware of those aspects of our lives which we have to improve.
Still, this does not answer the question why we have to mention our sins out loud. ‘Why?’ people keep asking.
I think mentioning our sins out loud is a necessary step after thinking about them because when we do this our sins become real. In other words, once we verbalize them, there is no turning back. There is no way we can hide or deny them anymore unlike when we only think about them but keep them hidden in our thoughts.
I think this is why even a most introverted person like myself find it difficult to go to confession. It’s one thing to admit my faults to myself and another to mention it out loud to another person. I think sometimes I try hard to avoid sin because I don’t want to go to confession. This attitude might not work for everyone especially if it backfires and makes the person keep sinning but never go to confession, but it works for me.
Too many people focus on the difficulty of confession and point out that if God is merciful and forgiving, then we don’t have to submit to the ‘humiliation’ of confession. However, we forget that becoming perfect is a difficult process. The mercy of God and the struggle towards holiness are two different things which must never be merged when we think about confession.
To give an analogy, consider how a kind personal trainer treats an overweight client. Perhaps this client always slips back to his fattening habits and sheepishly admits every week that his pounds refuse to budge because he couldn’t resist not having a weekend binge. Perhaps he complains about the exercises and sometimes doesn’t show up at all.
Despite all these annoyances, the personal trainer does not give up. Perhaps the personal trainer shows up at the client’s house if the latter does not show up for his work-out. The personal trainer also always ‘forgives’ his client’s diet and exercise mistakes, and responds with more encouragement or, if necessary, with constructive criticism. Whatever the personal trainer does, it is for the benefit of the client for, as far as being a personal trainer is concerned, his goal is his client’s health and physical fitness.
The personal trainer’s forgiving attitude does not minimize the client’s physical difficulties in trying to lose weight, i.e. the client still has to sweat, to huff and to puff, to feel his muscles ache and his lungs tire. It is important to understand that the client still has to work to achieve his goals, and the more overweight or unfit the client is, the harder he has to work or the longer he has to struggle.
God is our personal trainer for our soul’s health and fitness, and we are His clients. His forgiving attitude does not minimize the spiritual difficulties we have to go through. All it does is encourage us to help us when we think we can’t go on.
I think confession is like the extra gym session you have to do after breaking a diet rule, say, binging on junk food last weekend. Meanwhile, the Eucharist and daily prayers are the regular exercise sessions done for the maintenance of health and fitness. God is that extra-cheerful personal trainer who never fails to encourage us and admire our progress.