Something beginning with ‘C’, and it isn’t a breakfast cereal

It’s time to tackle the ‘C’ word, and no, I’m not talking about Crispies or Cornflakes. I want to write about Confession. It’s a hard one to talk about. I’ve hung around Catholics for most of my adult life, and in all that time only one person has ever even mentioned confession.
When I started thinking about becoming Catholic, I saw confession as some sort of antiquated tradition, which most people ignored in practice, although kids were still required to confess the sweeties they stole before taking first communion.
As a Protestant, I thought that confession was one of these things which probably should have been turfed out at the Reformation, but which the Catholic church had stubbornly held onto. My problem was that if I wanted to become Catholic, I wasn’t allowed to take any special short cuts. Even though I was an adult, I would have to become like a little kiddie and go through this thing called confession. If I saw saints as an box ticking exercise, then I saw confession as a bit like seeing a doctor for an unpleasant and intrusive check-up, even though you feel perfectly well.
There were so many other things I liked about Catholicism, that I decided I was just going to have to grit my teeth and go through with it, and so I made an effort to try and find out more about confession. The first surprising fact which came up was that Martin Luther himself had recommended the practice of confession in the new church he was founding. The great Christian apologist and Anglican C. S. Lewis also practised confession regularly.
It was all very well for them to like confession, but why did I have to go? Couldn’t I just confess my sins to God? Father K’s answer was that most of us tend not to confess our sins to God. When I stopped and thought about it, he was right. I had often begged God to help me out of a difficult situation, but how often had I actually said I was sorry for the sin which had led to the mess?
Two strange things happened as I investigated Catholicism. Firstly, I began to be bothered by things which had happened years ago, and which I’d put behind me as ‘unwise choices’ or ‘mistakes’. At the time, I’d been aware that I was at best bending and sometimes breaking the rules, but, preoccupied with my own hurt, I hadn’t thought about how my actions had affected other people. I began to care about the hurt I had caused to others while only thinking about my own needs.
Secondly an accident occurred for which I was partly responsible. Someone suffered a painful and inconvenient injury, which fortunately was not serious. For quite a while, my apology was not accepted by one of the people involved. Around the same time, I became aware that a different person hadn’t forgiven me for something I had done many years before. These two situations weighed very heavily on me, and I began to feel that it would be a great relief to go to confession and hear someone pronouncing absolution. When one of these situations was resolved, the relief of being forgiven was absolutely incredible.
By the time I was preparing to make first confession, I had come to see it as something strange and frightening, but absolutely necessary. When I’m brave enough, I’ll write another post about how it went for me, but first of all I think I need to write about Calvinism.


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