“Going to confession is hard — hard when you have sins to confess and hard when you haven’t,” Dorothy Day wrote in her autobiography. I agree. I have a question, though. What about when you are confessing the exact same, repeated sin for seemingly the millionth time in a row? To me, this is the hardest. Not only are we emotionally vulnerable and honest with another person in the confessional, but now we have the added embarrassment of admitting to constant failure. I feel as though I’m squandering the grace of the sacrament by falling back into the same old crimes.
When I made my very first confession at the tender, innocent age of 30 years old, I had quite a laundry list of items to confess. It was a fraught experience, and I remember devising a strategy for how to confuse the priest by hitting him with my really big sins first and then numbing him with a litany of smaller sins. I hoped by the time I got to the end he would’ve forgotten how I started. It’s funny, though, confessors almost never respond to what I say in a way that I would’ve guessed. This first confession was a challenging exercise but in the end I found it liberating. For the first time in my life, I told another person who I really am and the priest didn’t run away screaming. In fact, he didn’t seem fazed by my dark secrets at all.
A surprising development is that each subsequent confession doesn’t get any easier as I prepare for it. I’m self-conscious to a fault, so I over-think everything. Here’s what goes through my mind: “I know even if I don’t want to that I’m going to commit this sin again and, knowing this, it’s hypocritical to ask forgiveness.” I suspect I’m not alone in thinking this.
Don’t give in to this thought. Go to confession.
Even if our repeated sins represent a failure, they do force us to rely on God. We don’t become saints through sheer willpower. We become saints by the grace of God, and he’s bound and determined to drag us over the finish line to victory. We’re weak, but He is strong.
God never tires of forgiving us, even for the same sin over and over. It’s a form of pride to think that we’re too good to ever sin again, or that we can easily overcome sin without God’s help.
Miracles do happen! Even if you’re pretty sure this isn’t the last time a particular sin will need to be named in the confessional, that doesn’t mean you’re being hypocritical when you promise to leave it behind forever during the act of contrition. I know that, one day, I truly will confess each sin for the very last time. Maybe this won’t happen until spending some quality time in purgatory, but maybe it will happen at my next confession. Who knows? With God all things are possible.
Father Rennier is parochial administrator of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in St. Louis. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision for the reception of Anglicans and Episcopalians into full communion with the Catholic Church. He and his wife, Amber, have five children.