Overcoming Confession Anxiety
Struggling while carrying too much guilt? Let go of your baggage. Go to confession!
The Sacrament of Penance is amazing. It is one of the sacraments with the most names. Some call it confession. “It is called the sacrament of confession , since the disclosure or confession of sins to a priest is an essential element of this sacrament. In a profound sense it is also a ‘confession’ - acknowledgment and praise - of the holiness of God and of his mercy toward sinful man.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1424) Others call it penance. We can call it the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is a sacrament of conversion. It is a sacrament of healing. However, it can also cause a lot of nerves for people. If you experience confession anxiety, how can you overcome that?
Go early, go often
First, maybe this means you should go more often. As a confessor, I often encounter people who have not been to confession in quite a while. They are nervous, uncertain about the rite, unsure of their sins. Some people ramble on, perhaps because they have not made a good examination of conscience. Some are unaware about what is sin, and what is merely circumstance. Nerves get to us, and some of us speak a little too much when we are nervous. So, if you feel nervous when going to confession, think about going more often.
Ask for help
Second, ask for help. As a priest, I try to pick up when a penitent (official name for the person receiving forgiveness through the sacrament) is nervous or unsure. I might offer help. “Would you like help making your confession?” But I have a confession to make: I probably miss some. I might be tired, or bored, or anxious about my own time commitments. When you ask the priest for help, it might help him focus in again on what is going on. When you ask the priest for help, you are sure to get it. The priest has to be careful to not ask too much, but sometimes just getting a reminder about some basic areas of sin can jog our memory and get us talking about how we have hurt our relationship with God through our sins.
Third, pray beforehand. There are special prayers for a priest before hearing confessions. As we prepare ourselves as penitents, we can also make use of prayer. One of the most beautiful and perfect prayers is the Our Father. When we pray the Our Father, we enter into communion with Jesus Christ who taught this prayer to the disciples. It is good for us to repeat the words. “Forgive us, as we forgive others.” These are challenging words that should get us ready for confession.
Fourth, invite Mary to go with you. Mary is a good mother. She want to accompany you in your anxious moments, including confession. Sometimes, a visit to Mary is all we need to calm our nerves. When is the last time that you prayed to Mary before confession. You can invite her to go to confession with you, but plug her ears so she does not hear your laundry list of sins.
The Sacrament of Confession is a great opportunity to grow in holiness. It can also help to ease some mental and emotional struggles we are going through. But it should never complicate our lives more. Some people that are suffering from mental obsessions might find it especially hard to go to confession in such a way that is freeing of their souls. This is a great thing to bring up in Spiritual Direction. Jesus wants us to confess our sins so we can be freed, not so that we can be down on ourselves and condemn ourselves for our moral failings.
Confession, Penance, Reconciliation, Conversion – whatever we call this sacrament, it is fundamentally a sacrament of healing. We come as sick people, sick because we have sinned. Confession is an opportunity to be healed of our woundedness and to restore our identity in Christ. We do not have to be anxious, since we are approaching the King of Kings, who – when he hears about our sins – decides to die on the Cross for us. This is always my greatest motivator for approaching the sacrament with peace and with joy. God is not merely waiting for you; he is walking down the road to you, waiting to welcome you home. Get rid of your baggage. Let go and let God!