The Short Key to Making a Good Confession is to start by making a good Examination of Conscience. An examination of conscience is the act of looking prayerfully into our hearts to ask how we have hurt our relationships with God and other people through our thoughts, words, and actions. We reflect on the The Ten Commandments and the teachings of the Church. The questions below help us in our examination of conscience.
My Relationship With God
What steps am I taking to help me grow closer to God and to others? Do I turn to God often during the day, especially when I am tempted?
Do I participate at Church with attention and devotion on Sundays and holy days? Do I pray often and read the Bible?
Do I use God’s name and the names of Jesus, Mary, and the saints with love and reverence?
My Relationships With Family, Friends, and Neighbors
Have I set a bad example through my words or actions? Do I treat others fairly? Do I spread stories that hurt other people?
Am I loving of those in my family? Am I respectful of my neighbors, my friends, and those in authority?
Do I show respect for my body and for the bodies of others? Do I keep away from forms of entertainment that do not respect God’s gift of sexuality?
Have I taken or damaged anything that did not belong to me? Have I cheated, copied homework, or lied?
Do I quarrel with others just so I can get my own way? Do I insult others to try to make them think they are less than I am? Do I hold grudges and try to hurt people who I think have hurt me?
King David’s Examine
King David knew this principle well. Psalm 51 is reported to be his confessional Psalm following his sin with Bathsheba and it’s the scripture model the church follows for making a good contrition. “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” He knew his sin and against whom he sinned, as is the case with most of us when we do the same and sin. But David does something here in his confessional example that is worth taking notice of. His confession is not just an acknowledgment of his sins, but is also his recognition of the power one receives from confessing it. He writes,
“RESTORE to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. THEN I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will RETURN to you.”
Confession isn’t just about recognition, it’s about RESTORATION – of oneself and others and above all our relationship to God. When we neglect to keep our Spiritual house in order by making excuses for our lack of confession, we aren’t just hurting ourselves. We are delaying the process of restoration for ourselves and others. Why would we want to delay the joy of our salvation any longer?
If we hope to see restoration of the world by our example and teaching in Christ, we have to partner with God through our confession, no excuses.
When’s the last time you confessed your sins to God? If you’re having trouble remembering any, the short list above may be a good place to begin your examine. But if you are interested in Making a Good Confession, I invite you to examine the Long Key that follows.
The Long Key – Why Sacramental Confession?
Sacramental confession is no formality. It is a decisive stage in the long process of our moral conversion. It is the key to peace of mind and improvement. But, in order to obtain these benefits, we must be clear about some fundamental truths and apply them to our personal situation.
1. God loves us immensely and wants our eternal happiness.
2. We can enjoy this eternal happiness only if we use our freedom to live according to His will.
3. Any refusal to behave according to God’s will is a SIN, the gravity of which depends on:
▪ The action that we do or omit,
▪ Our degree of awareness, our intention and degree of freedom, and
▪ The circumstances.
4. As a refusal to respond to God’s love, sin is an act of ingratitude, pride and rebellion against Him.
5. Whenever we sin we turn away from God, and we give ourselves or other creatures the attention and love that should be directed to Him alone.
6. In so doing we cause a damage to our selves and to others because we upset the order established by the Creator.
7. In His divine love, God is always willing to forgive us. He actually never ceases to call us back to Him and to proper behavior.
8. If we want to enjoy God’s forgiveness, we must respond to His invitation to:
▪ stop sinning,
▪ abandon situations of sin, and
▪ return to Him with a contrite heart.
9. We must also seek His forgiveness through the ministry of the Church, according to Jesus’ mind when he gave the Apostles the power to forgive sins (see Jn 20:22f).
10. The reception of God’s forgiveness through the sacrament of Penance brings about in us a real spiritual resurrection: we rise again to a new life of grace. Through this sacrament we are reconciled with God, with the Church with our neighbor and with ourselves.
The most important thing is not to “go to confession,” but “to make a good confession,” i.e.,
1. to approach this sacrament sincerely sorry for our sins;
2. to confess them in all humility and honesty;
3. to be ready to make amends for them;
4. to be determined to avoid committing sin in the future, and to live according to God’s will.
In order to do all this, an essential step is to make a thorough examination of conscience. This includes:
1. becoming aware of the gravity and number of one’s sins, either in thoughts, words or deeds, whether they consist in something wrong that we havecommitted, or in something good that we should have done and which we failed to do (sins of omission);
2. realizing that, by our sins, we have offended God, have renewed the cause of Jesus Christ’s suffering and death, and caused harm to our neighbor and ourselves.
Valuable helps in making a good examination of conscience are:
1. prayer to the Holy Spirit for enlightenment and sincerity;
2. reading of some pertinent Scripture passage which helps us rediscover the gravity of our sinfulness, the greatness of God’s love for us and his readiness to forgive us;
3. going over sets of questions concerning our duties to God, our neighbor and ourselves.
Before the examination of consciences, select and read just one of the following:
Is 1:16-18; Jer 3:12b-14a; Ez18:23.30b-32; Sir 28:2-7
Mt 5:17-19; Mt 5:20-24. 27-48; Mt 7:1-5; Mt 25:31-46; Lk 15:1-7; Lk 15:11-32; Lk 19:1-10; Jn 20:19-23; 1Cor 13:1-7; Eph 4:17-20.25-32.5:1-7; Eph 5:1-7; Eph 5:8-15.19.20-21; Phil 4:8-9; Col 3:1-10; Col3:12-17; Col 3:18-21; Rev 3:20
Reflect prayerfully on the Word of God you have just read.
There are several ways to make a good examination of conscience.
A rather common one consists in reviewing our life in the light of the Ten Commandments and see if, how often, and how gravely we have failed to keep them.
Another way consists in reflecting on the basic Christian virtues (e.g.: faith, hope, love of God and neighbor, patience, purity, honesty, etc.), and see if we have practiced them or not.
There are also other ways to make an examination of conscience, but what isessential is to place ourselves in the presence of Almighty God and ask ourselves, in total honesty, if He is pleased with us, and if not, why?
◦ When did I make my last confession? Was it a “good confession”?
◦ Did I make any special promise to the Lord on that occasion? Did I keep that promise?
◦ Did I commit any grave or mortal sin since my last confession?
1. You shall have no false gods before me.
▪ Is God the most important reality in my life?
▪ Did I entertain doubts about my faith?
▪ Did I read books or watch shows/movies against my faith?
▪ Am I superstitious? Do I believe in fortune-telling, astrology, palm-reading, witchcraft?
▪ Have I always trusted in the Lord, especially in the midst of adversities and trials?
▪ Are there any “minor gods” in my life: money, pleasures, success, popularity, power?
2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
▪ Did I use the name of God disrespectfully?
▪ Did I curse?
▪ Did I keep the promises I made to God?
▪ Did I speak disrespectfully of Jesus, Mary and the other Saints?
3. Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.
▪ Did I participate devoutly and punctually in the Sunday Service?
▪ Did I pray regularly every day, at least in the morning and the evening?
▪ Did I read some passage from Sacred Scripture every day?
▪ How interested am I in knowing my faith better and helping others (including my friends, officemates/classmates and relatives) do so?
4. Honor your father and mother (for children).
▪ Did I fail to show love to my parents and other relatives?
▪ Was I disrespectful or disobedient to them?
▪ Did I help them when I could?
▪ Did I disappoint them? How?
▪ Did I respect my teachers, my parish priest and other persons in authority?
▪ Did I respect the rules of my school?
▪ Did I raise my children with selfness love and real concern?
▪ Was I too hard or too lenient with them?
▪ Did I give them bad example in the way I spoke or acted?
▪ Did I fail to lead them with my good example?
▪ Did I see to it that my children get the proper religious instruction and are actively involved in our Christian community and organizations?
▪ Did I motivate them for a committed life in the church and society?
5. You shall not kill.
▪ Did I hurt anybody with my words or actions?
▪ Did I refuse to help people in need when I had the opportunity and the means to do so?
▪ Did I spread negative rumors about others?
▪ Did I give bad examples?
▪ Did I do my best to make up for it?
▪ Did I keep grudges?
▪ Did I apologize promptly and sincerely?
▪ Was I instrumental in leading others to sin through my words or actions?
▪ Was I respectful of other people’s opinions and beliefs?
▪ Did I take anybody’s life?
▪ Did I cause any physical injury or moral loss to others?
▪ Did I do my best to make up for it?
▪ Did I enroll in any violent organization?
▪ Did I approve or consent to, recommend, seek or actively take part in abortion?
▪ Did I contribute to the pollution of the environment?
▪ Did I take care of my physical and mental health?
▪ Did I smoke, drink immoderately, use harmful drugs, or do anything that harms my health or the health or others?
6. You shall not commit impure actions &
7. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.
▪ Did I look at immodest pictures, shows, films…or read books an other publications that arouse in me sexual fantasies and may lead me to sin against chastity?
▪ Did I entertain immodest thoughts or consent to impure desires?
▪ Did I commit any impure actions by myself or with others?
▪ Was I prudent and reserved in dealing with people of the opposite sex, whether married or not?
▪ Did I engage in conversations or jokes that could lead myself and other to commit sins against purity?
▪ Did I engage in premarital sex?
(For married people)
▪ Was I faithful to my wife/husband, both in my thoughts and behavior?
▪ Did I take pills or use artificial means to avoid pregnancy?
▪ Did I encourage others to do so?
▪ Did I use marriage to express my selfless love for my wife/husband, or just to satisfy my sexual urges?
8. You shall not steal &
9. You shall not covet your neighbor’s property.
▪ Was I respectful of other people’s property?
▪ Did I damage public property?
▪ Did I steal anything?
▪ Did return what I stole, or offer adequate compensation?
▪ Did I cheat in school or in business? Was I honest in my work, performing my duty in the best possible way?
▪ Was I fair in paying my employees, my taxes and other dues?
▪ Was I envious of other people’s material means, or success?
▪ Did I waste time and opportunities?
▪ Was I greedy?
▪ Did I use natural resources selfishly?
10. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
▪ Did I tell lies to defend my pride or to cause damage to others?
▪ Did I give false witness in court?
▪ Did I reveal secrets which had been confided to me?
▪ Did I reveal secret faults of others?
▪ Did I accuse someone falsely?
▪ Did I judge others rashly?
▪ Am I a biased person?
▪ Am I able to balance truth and charity?
Humbly and sincerely ask the Lord’s forgiveness and the grace you need to avoid sin in the future;
◦ Try to identify the internal root causes of your sins: wrong inclinations, personal weaknesses, bad habits…and see what you can do to eliminate at least one of these “root causes.” This means: resolve to work seriously at becoming a better person by either getting rid of one serious moral defect, or by strengthening one good moral quality (virtue);
◦ Ask the Lord for the grace to make a sincere and thorough confession.
Make the sign of the cross and say:
◦ Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.
Allow the priest to give you his blessing and to add whatever exhortation he may be inspired to offer. Listen prayerfully and with an open heart, then say:
◦ My last good confession was…ago. Since then, I have committed the following sins:…
Confess your sins clearly and sincerely, starting with the most difficult or embarrassing ones.
Should you feel nervous, or uncertain about some sins, ask the priest to help you.
Remember that it is necessary to specify the number of mortal sins, together with the circumstances that add to their gravity.
When you have finished confessing all the sins that you remember, say:
◦ For these sins all the sins of my past life, especially the sins against…(mention the most important virtues, like charity, honesty, purity, etc.) I ask absolution and penance from you, Father.
The confessor will give you some pertinent advice. He will also give you an appropriate penance to be performed after the sacrament of confession. At his invitation, recite and Act of Contrition.
Why do I need a Confessor? Can’t I just confess to God myself?
King David recites his Psalm of Confession before Nathan, who at the time was installed as a priest/prophet. It is easy to believe that because of what Jesus did on the cross to make us all priests, king’s and prophets that we do not need to perform this act of contrition before another man. Nor do we need their absolution to reconcile us between God since Jesus became the Supreme Mediator. The Truth is that Confession is more than recognition, its restoration. Jesus desires your restoration! When we sin, we fall out of the restoration he bought for us on the cross. Confession with an Act of Contrition before another soul who is acting in-persona Christ or in the fullness of the priestly blessing, i.e. one who has routinely been restored by their own confession and graces of the Father is actually a beautiful gift, which is why Paul implored the early church goers to confess their sins to one another. It’s also why Jesus made an effort to be baptized by John. Though he needed no baptism, he chose to receive the blessings of God, the Holy Spirit, through his brother John. Though he needed no confession, because Jesus never sinned, it’s my belief Jesus would’ve done so to another soul, just as David did before Nathan. When we confess our sins to one who is walking in the fullness of a priestly blessing, we allow ourselves to be filled by the Holy Spirit and receive the fullness of the restoration of our souls by the power invoked through the gift of prophecy, which is the testimony of Jesus! (Rev. 19:10) Not only do we receive the restoration of the Lord by our act of Confession but we receive his mercy and blessing by the power of His words through the one we have made our confessor. To refuse confession before another is to refuse the blessing of the Father through the prophetic gift of the Holy Spirit. Now that ought to change the way you look at Confession! Not only will you receive restoration but you ought to be filled up with encouragement and joy by the bestowal of the prophetic word – direct from the Father’s Heart to you! This is what we see Nathan do for King David. Following his Contrition, Nathan tells him how God has received his Contrition, and he also gives him instruction regarding the ramifications of his sins aka his penance (2 Samuel 12:13-15).
The Act of Contrition
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. – Psalm 51:17
You can say the Act of Contrition either in your own words, or by reciting the following or a similar one:
O my God, I am heartily sorry
for having offended you.
I detest all my sins,
because I dread the loss of heaven
and the pains of hell;
but most of all because they offend you,
my God, who are all good
and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace,
to sin no more, to do penance,
and to amend my life. Amen.
After having recited the Act of Contrition, bow your head and receive the priest’s absolution with humility and gratitude. Follow his words attentively and join him in saying the closing “Amen!”
Kneel down in front of the altar or of an image of Our Lord, and thank him for the gift of this confession. Renew your resolution and ask His help to overcome future temptations.
If the penance given by the confessor consists in some prayers to be recited, say them quietly and devoutly.
Then smile at Jesus with gratitude. Risejoyful and confident for the Lord has been merciful to you. Live for Him every minute of your life, and let everybody see how wonderful it is to serve the Lord!
*excerpts on the Confessional process taken from:
“CONFESSION: THE WAY TO SPIRITUAL HEALING, GROWTH AND FREEDOM.”
Word & Life Publications
Don Bosco Compound
A. Amaiz Av. Cor C. Roces Ave.
P.O. Box 1820, MCPO
1258 Makati, Metro Manila, Philippines