Lent starts March 8th. It is a time of contrition and repentance. It is also a common time for people to go to confession. There are lots of questions about confession and so I’d like to offer three books which may be helpful. While this post will be of most interest to my Catholic readers, Anglicans also have a sacrament of reconciliation. Protestants of a less sacramental tradition may also want to know what confession is all about and why some find it helpful.
The first one is the shortest (60 pages) so would be a quick read. It is appropriately titled How to Go to Confession When You Don’t Know How by Ann M.S. LeBlanc (Franciscan Media, 2003). LeBlanc is a forensic psychologist and a returning Catholic. Her book is light-hearted and easy to read. It is an excellent introduction to the subject and would put any one at ease who is going to confession for the first time or has been away for a while. I enjoyed her response to the thought that confession is like therapy. She writes, “Reconciliation is nothing like therapy. Nothing against therapy, I’ve had plenty and done plenty. Nowhere in therapy do you step into the arms of God. . . . The whole idea of God makes a lot of them nervous. As a result, therapy tends to stay in a certain box, whereas the sacrament of reconciliation blows up the box, makes it irrelevant, uninterested and kind of restricting.” (16)
Our second book is a little longer (163 pages) but is the most recent (2014). Written by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, it is called The Light is On For You (Word Among Us). The title of the book comes from the name of campaign that was done during Lent. “We chose the theme because we wanted to suggest a homecoming. ‘Leaving the light on’ is what family neighbors do for one another.” (19) The book also has a section at the end of each chapter called “From the Pews” with stories from people regarding their experience with confession. His chapter on “Obstacles, Real and Imagined” is excellent. Some of those treated are: “I’m embarrassed. I’m ashamed,” “I would shock Father,” “I could never look Father in the eye again afterward,” “I’ll just say ‘I’m sorry’ directly to God in the privacy of my home,” “I got yelled at the last time I went to Confession,” “It’s too hard to remember all my sins. I can’t remember what I ate for breakfast today,” “It’s been too long. I’m past the expiration date,” and more. It is full of concrete help.
The last book is the longest (191 pages) and is called 7 Secrets of Confession by Vinny Flynn (Ignatius Press, 2013). I’m often leery of books that purport to give “secrets” but I found Flynn’s book quite intriguing. They aren’t “secrets” except insofar as people are ignorant of them. He lists them as 1) Sin doesn’t change God, 2) It’s not just about forgiveness, 3) Your sin is different from my sins, 4) Confession is never really private, 5) You’ve got mail!, 6) New wine needs new skins, and 7) You have to let go of your chains. I especially enjoyed his second point where he explains that confession is more about healing than it is about forgiveness. Flynn writes that people go “wanting our sins forgiven, not realizing that He [God] wants to do much more. He wants to heal us of the attitudes, disordered desires, problems, and wounds that are causing us to keep committing those sins.” (26)
Some may wonder, “Does the Pope go to confession?” Yes, he does–every two weeks.