In my opinion, after the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the second greatest sacrament for Catholics. It allows us to grow closer to God and helps us receive the many graces God wants to pour out over us. Confidentiality is also guaranteed. Many non-Catholics will say, “I confess only to God and not to a man.” In charity, we should respond that our sins have even been committed against others and the Church, so asking for pardon from the Church and others through the priest is necessary.
Often people will feel ashamed of their sins and avoid the confessional because they do not want to expose what has caused their guilt and shame to a priest. Yet, the priest receives our confession with love, tenderness, and peace, forgiving on God’s behalf. When we hear God’s forgiving words from the lips of the priest in the confessional, a burden is lifted from our shoulders. Moreover, when we confess, we are assured of God’s forgiveness, regaining our peace and joy. A certain “lightness” in our chest or shoulders can be the physical manifestation of this forgiveness and restoration of peace.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is conveniently available whenever we need it (at least for most of us). And for us in recovery, God strengthens our self-control to resist the temptations that confront us, combat our faults, and break our bad habits through the gift of this important sacrament.
In Fact, Blessed Pope Paul VI and Venerable Pope Pius XII stress the great value of frequent and reverent recourse to this sacrament, even when only venial sins are in question. Pope Pius XII explains, “self-knowledge is increased, Christian humility grows, bad habits are corrected, spiritual neglect and tepidity are resisted, the conscience is purified, the will is strengthened, a salutary self-control is attained, and grace is increased in virtue of the Sacrament itself.”
As an incentive, let us look to the Saints who understood the power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation to transform us into people more like Christ.
Saint Augustine speaks about the importance of knowing ourselves well. We realize how fallen we are and how badly we need God’s help and grace to get through life by coming to know ourselves better. I can personally attest to this in the early part of my reboot and my continued recovery process related to pornography addiction. Confession, for me, has been housekeeping for the soul and it has increased my self-knowledge. It has given me a realistic perception of myself—the good and the not-so-good—which allows me to better root my identity in Christ. The confessional has helped me overcome arrogance and built up a tolerance for others’ perceived shortcomings.
According to Saint Dominic, a rapid growth in virtue can occur when we simply ask God to make us a saint, which we are implicitly doing when we turn to the confessional for the grace to be holier. Saint Dominic exhorts us to “ask Jesus to make you a saint. After all, only He can do that.” Similarly, Saint Teresa of Avila instructs us, “don’t let your sins turn into bad habits.” We help prevent our sins from turning into bad habits by frequenting the confessional often.
We can increase our self-knowledge as a result of regularly going to the confessional, and Saint Teresa of Calcutta explains that this “self-knowledge puts us on our knees, and it is indispensable for love. For knowledge of God gives love, and knowledge of self gives humility.” Pope Francis speaks directly to all of us in recovery with these simple and truthful words about how the Sacrament of Reconciliation prepares us for spiritual combat: “having faith does not mean having no difficulties, but having the strength to face them, knowing we are not alone.”
Finally, let us take heart by recalling the beautiful words of absolution that are spoken over us when we seek the Lord’s mercy, freedom, and healing in the confessional: “I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
Jesus is waiting to forgive us—all we have to do is ask in the confessional!
Aaron Walter is a lifelong Catholic and former porn addict whose ministry, NewMenRising, is dedicated to pornography addiction recovery. He is a coach, mentor, and accountability partner and is passionate about helping husbands kick their addiction and transform their lives and relationships. You can connect with him at calendly.com/aaronwaltercoachingsessions.