An approaching new year is everyone’s favorite time to make resolutions. We’re filled with hope, anticipation, and a little bit of “next year will be my best year ever!” As we celebrate the birth of Jesus and look forward to the promise of starting fresh, it is a fitting time to look ahead and make plans.
We love to make resolutions. But confessions? Not so much.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is one of the most cleansing, grace-filled experiences of our faith, yet ask Catholics the last time they went to confession and all of a sudden, they get very sheepish.
I’ll admit, when a new year rolls around, I start “should-ing” myself — I should do this, I should start that. And for most of my life, Confession felt like one of those things I should do, without any real enthusiasm or true appreciation for it.
I want to recognize Confession for the blessing that it is. So, before making a resolution for 2021, let’s make a Confession of 2020.
If we never face the weaknesses that are leading us down the wrong path or the ugliness we’ve created, how will we ever have the self-awareness and motivation to do things differently? How can we ever change to move forward?
Through his death and resurrection, Jesus freed us from sin. Period. The Sacrament of Reconciliation reaffirms this every time, and God offers us his mercy in a special way. If we only understood the grace available to us through this Sacrament, we would be running to the confessional every chance we got.
For me, Confession used to be an obligation to fulfill at least twice a year during Advent and Lent. But about two years ago, I made the commitment to try and go to Confession every three months as a “tune up.” I do as much for my car – why not my soul? Slowly, it has become a treasured practice.
Of course, COVID has changed the experience of going to Confession. Many parishes are not ready to do in-person confessions, or perhaps you do not feel safe attending if they do. If either is the case, you can still do a thorough examination of conscience. Take the time to self-reflect on how you have sinned “in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do.”
Making a confession to God, even if it’s not with a priest present, is an act of humility. It’s admitting that we’re not perfect and we could’ve done better. Be honest with yourself and dig deep. Then, bring it all to Jesus. Tell him your sins; ask for his mercy; promise to do better. While it’s not a Sacrament, it’s certainly a helpful spiritual exercise.
I like to do a lectio divina of Luke 7:36-50. I imagine myself washing Jesus’ feet with my tears of utter gratitude and love. Then I imagine him looking into my eyes and saying, “Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace.” There are plenty of other Bible stories you can contemplate to envision his overflowing mercy on your life.
Sometimes, it’s hard to know where we went wrong. So often on my faith journey I ask myself, “Am I doing this right?” When I was a kid, I’d think how great it would be to get periodic report cards from God (yes, I was that student) – Prayer time, A; Acts of mercy, B-; Forgiving others, C+. Then at least I’d know where I stood. Sadly, it doesn’t work that way.
An examination of conscience is as close as I’ll get. Humbly asking the Holy Spirit to open my eyes to discern my actions, thoughts, and feelings will help me know if I’m on the right track. Going to Confession will give me the freedom that I seek, that we were made for.
Trust me, there’s plenty from 2020 I’m thrilled to leave behind. If I carry anything with me into the new year, I want it to be the feeling of God’s total, loving mercy. Only then will I feel truly ready to make my resolutions for 2021.