How you go to Confession says a lot about how much you love God. Do you just go through the motions, or is there an authentic repentance and a desire to improve? I hope this list of what not to do in a Confession can help you reflect about your disposition when you approach the Sacrament of Penance and inspire you to do a good Confession!
Lazy-boy Confession: Confess the same sins as last time to avoid doing a serious examination of conscience. This is a sure way to fall into mediocrity, if not an indication that you are already falling into mediocrity. Instead of putting yourself before your crucified Lord, looking upon Him with love, and allowing the blood and water gushing forth from His heart to cleanse you, you enter into His presence but turn away from Him by not taking the Sacrament seriously. Perhaps the root of the problem is that you don’t really care that He is on the Cross because of your and my sins; if you did, you would be pained by each sin you commit and examine your conscience seriously to discover how you have offended Him. (An important clarification: the fact that you sometimes commit the same sins does not mean that you are doing a lazy-boy Confession. You are human. You have certain weaknesses in your character that cause you to often fall in the same kinds of sins. Or perhaps you are fighting against a certain vice and are still falling frequently. What distinguishes a lazy-boy Confession is negligence in examining your conscience.)
Your Neighbor’s Confession: Confessing other people’s sins rather than your own. Although this most typically takes place between husband and wife or in-laws, it can also take place in the youth. You want to confess the fact that you argued with your little sister, but instead of just stating that you yelled at her, you explain what she did to you and why you were right to have reprimanded her. Confession is about humbly stating your faults in order to receive God’s forgiveness, not justifying yourself before a priest!
Gunpoint Confession: Going to Confession because everyone in your family is watching to make sure you don’t get out of it. If you come from a good Catholic family, it makes sense that your parents want you to go to Confession. However, sometimes it’s better to postpone a Confession than to do a “fake” one. Why? Because a gunpoint confession can be sacrilegious if you have no intention of leaving behind your sins or if you purposely leave out a mortal sin. Leaving the confessional with another grave sin is quite a tragedy. What I suggest, however, is that you approach the confessional and just be sincere with the priest. Tell him that you do not feel like going to Confession or do not feel ready. Who knows? Maybe he will help you do a good examination of conscience or say something that allows you to see that you really do need to go to Confession.
Babble-on Confession: Going on and on with the entire story of every sin. If your confessor has asked you, “So, where is the sin in all of this?”, you have probably fallen into doing babble-on Confessions. Try to get to the point without going into petty details. Explain the circumstances when they affect the gravity of your sin.
Emergency Confession: Only going to Confession when you have committed a mortal sin. That’s like saying, “I’ll only go to the psychologist for my depression after a suicide attempt.” Did you know that frequent Confession, even when you have not committed a mortal sin, is one of the best ways to overcome your sins and vices?
Selective Memory Confession: Purposefully omitting embarrassing sins. This is especially dangerous because if those embarrassing sins are grave, the Confession is sacrilegious, which puts another grave sin on your conscience. If the sins are venial, omitting them is not grave, but it is an awfully bad idea. Receiving absolution with the minimum disposition of repentance and a desire not to fall into the same sins objectively forgives your sins. However, if you are truly sorrowful for your offenses against God, you will truly desire to confess even those “embarrassing” venial sins. Keep in mind as well that the concept of grave sins is so foreign to our culture that we can often be convinced a mortal sin is in fact venial. For this reason, we should make an especially great effort to confess those venial sins we are tempted to leave out—in case they are graver than we thought.
Softener Confession: Leaving out important details that affect the gravity of your sins. Consider this sin: “I lost my temper.” Confessing this sin is not the same as, “I lost my temper and yelled at my mom.” Or, “I lost my temper and yelled at my mom in public.” Or, “I lost my temper, yelled at my mom in public, slammed the door in her face, and refused to speak to her for the next week.” Or, “I lost my temper, yelled at my mom in public, slammed the door in her face, and refused to speak to her for the next week, all because she refused to buy me the latest iPhone.” You don’t always have to tell the whole story behind every sin, but you do have to tell the details and circumstances that make your sins worse. Try to focus on the fact that the priest is another Christ! Would it make sense to kneel in front of Christ Himself and try to camouflage your sins? No! The Lord looks upon you as you confess your sins, hoping you will humble yourself and be sincere. Perhaps your insincerity in Confession saddens Him more than the sin itself.
Speech Impediment Confession: Murmuring your sins, hoping the confessor will not understand you well. This is like writing in bad handwriting for an exam, hoping the professor will just assume you wrote the right answer. It’s not honest. Be strong and face up to the fact that you have offended the Lord, and at the same time, put all your trust in His immense love and mercy. He’s not out to get you! He’s out to forgive you!
(Note: As I give examples of what not to do in Confession, I am focusing on problems I think most young people today may have. There are, however, examples I can give of the “other extreme,” for example, not trusting that your sins have been forgiven and repeatedly confessing a past sin. Another example would be confessing “sins” that are objectively not sins, perhaps not even imperfections.)
So what do you need for a good Confession, to sum this up? True repentance, utter sincerity, childlike trust in God’s mercy, and firm faith in the power of the Sacrament. If you have those four attitudes, you’re on the right path. If not, spend some time in Adoration and ask the Lord to grant them to you!