How to Make an Awesome Confession

Everybody’s looking to improve their game, right? Well, after hearing thousands and thousands of confessions, I thought I’d craft a post on how you can make your next confession even better.

I should note before I begin that every confession is great, and that there’s no such thing as a “bad” confession as long as you’ve come to the Sacrament with a contrite heart. So if you read these tips and think to yourself, “I’ve been making some bad confessions!,” fear not: it’s pretty hard to do, unless you don’t take any of it seriously.

I should also note that the first tip largely assume you’re in a confessional box — a “sin bin,” as I call it — at a designated time, standing in line and waiting for your turn. There is at least one other way to make an awesome confession, which I address near the end of this post.


Tip #1 – The Devil’s in the Details.

The awesome confessions I hear begin something like this:

“Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It has been two weeks since my last confession. I accuse myself of the following: I lied twice, I hosted uncharitable thoughts against my neighbor six times, I have failed on numerous occasions to be charitable to my husband…”

What’s lacking here is the word — indeed, even the sentiment of the word — “because.” Whenever you confess, the reasons for your failures aren’t pertinent to your confession. However, they are pertinent to the spiritual life; sin, like any other imperfect thought, any other emotion we have, should prompt rational discourse. The “because” matters to us because the ultimate aim is growth in holiness, which is only obtainable if we understand the reasons behind our failure. Strictly speaking, however, the “because” is not important within the context of confession.

In fact, I’d even venture so far as to say that the “because” is potentially harmful in confession. When we discuss how we lack charity towards a neighbor, for example, the tendency is to exonerate ourselves, or to lessen our own culpability somehow:

“I lacked charity towards my neighbor because it’s just so hard to get along with them when they keep their yard looking like a scene from Animal House.”

The tendency with humankind from the Fall forward has been to scapegoat, to create allibi: “She made me do it!,” says Adam. Of course, God sees through the bologna Adam tells himself. Within the context of the Sacrament with our souls laid bare, we should be on guard against the temptation to justify ourselves.

Traditionally, this is known as confession by “number and kind.” There’s something beautiful in a simplistic declaration of guilt. When we list number and kind, we say, “I did this!” and nothing else matters. We escape the temptation to feel sorry for ourselves when we courageously take responsibility for what we’ve done, the details be damned — literally.


Tip #2 – Your Sins Are Boring.

I’m as guilty of it as you are: every one of us thinks our sins are the worst in the world. We come in and confess them with a hesitant nervousness, as if what we’ve done is the worst the priest will ever hear.

I know that feeling as a penitent, even when — on an intellectual level — I know there’s nothing extraordinary about how I’ve sinned.

But as a priest, I also know this: sin is boring. It’s humdrum. It’s the most common thing in the world. There’s no sin you could possibly reveal that would cause me to raise an eyebrow, or start throwing things around, or get me angry. In order to do that, I’d have to turn a blind eye to my own sin, and it’s always before me. Nothing you say in that confessional should cause you any anxiety to simply kick out there. I may throw out a challenge for you, but that’s always in the form of encouragement rather than me being surprised or moved in any way.

You know what causes my eyebrows to perk up in the confessional? Virtue. Whenever someone mentions how they’ve made progress in an area, or when they note how they’ve grown in a certain way, that’s extraordinary. That’s interesting!

The point here: if you realize that your sins will make me yawn long before they’re going to shock or surprise me, then you’ll relax and make an awesome confession.


Tip #3 – Make Use of a Guided, “Spiritual Direction” Confession.

As promised above, I thought I’d talk a little bit about where Tip #1 does not necessarily apply: within the context of a guided, spiritual direction-type confession.

Usually, these are not going to take place within the context of your parish’s regular confession times. They’re the “by appointment only” types, which every priest should be open to scheduling in addition to the regularly scheduled time he spends in the sin bin.

The purpose of such a confession is to solicit more feedback and spiritual help from the priest, perhaps asking him for tips or areas of guidance in one or more areas. These kind of confessions take longer, but they’re extremely helpful when we’re facing some kind of spiritual impasse. These confessions allow you to go into the level of detail that just isn’t possible during a regularly scheduled confession time. I find them to be personally helpful myself, and take advantage of this form with regularity.


So there you have it: three simple tips to make your confessions awesome. As previously stated, every confession is a wonderful thing, but we can always hope for continued growth!


The Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas

I’ve been drawn to the above painting (Valazquez’s Temptation of St. Thomas Aquinas) for quite some time. During his family imprisonment for daring to take up the black and white habit, his brothers schemed to tempt him away from virtue with a lady of ill repute (upper left). Instead, Aquinas chased her out of the room and burnt a cross into the door with an implement from his fireplace (lower left). Aquinas is left with his consolation: God, and the reason which made Him obtainable.

St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for an increase in the world’s will to strive after virtue and reason.


This Saturday, I was ordained a priest.

It’s been difficult to put a finger on what to say about it, exactly. I originally began blogging to explore the discernment process, a theme I more-or-less stayed true to through my three projects, Saint Some Days, Fiat: Discerning God’s Call, and here at Quid Sit? And now that my vocational discernment has come to its conclusion, I find myself overwhelmed by a number of thoughts and emotions that are difficult to accurately describe outside the context of prayer.

People ask me if I feel any different, which is another difficult thing to answer. Of course I feel different, but how I feel different  is impossible to put down in words.

I think I can describe one part of it, though.

When my brothers and I hit the marble during the Litany of Saints, it struck me that everything I’d experienced — the good, the bad, and the ugly — all of it was leading up to that very moment. It struck me that I’m a worm and no man, and here I am, on the floor, no more than a speck of dust in the cosmos, acknowledging that fact. I acknowledged that God has called me to do something that I alone cannot do. I felt very small.

Then I stood up. I did not stand because I thought myself worthy of such gift or responsibility. I stood to receive the bishop’s hands because God called, and I knew — in that very moment — that the God who willed such a thing for me would always give me the grace to live up to my ordination.

And it’s been all thanksgiving ever since.

Love This Picture…

…because it reminds us that we all carry each other’s burdens.

One Week To Go…

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.”
But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, `I am only a youth’;
for to all to whom I send you you shall go,
and whatever I command you you shall speak.
Be not afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.”
Then the LORD put forth his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.
See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to break down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”

- Jeremiah 1:5-10

Where Did iBreviary Go?

If you use the Apple iPhone/iPod/iTouch app iBreviary, you’ve likely encountered the following message:

L’applicazione è in fase di aggiornamento e non sarà utilizzabile per circa una settimana. Ci scusiamo per il disagio ma stiamo lavorando per una nuovissima versione, contenente grandi novità!
E’ in arrivo… iBreviaryPRO!

In the likely event that your Italian is as good as my Klingon, this roughly translates to:

The application is being updated and will not be usable for about a week. We apologize for the inconveinience, but we are working on a new version, containing great news! It’s coming… iBreviaryPRO!

Until then, hang in there. As a friend of mine (also a transitional deacon) told me, he’s blown the dust off of his paper copy and is good to go.

Why Christmas in the Heart Works

Add my name to the list of those initially skeptical about a Bob Dylan Christmas album. Dylan’s work over the past decade is masterful because of how it showcases his skill for lyricism in such a way that his trademark sandpaper-and-glue voice becomes an asset rather than a hindrance. The listener can identify with the aging bard as he looks back at life, reflecting upon successes, failures, and the mysteries we mere mortals never quite pin down, though they hound us nonetheless. Dylan’s recent albums have received critical acclaim, sold relatively well, and still frequently work their way to the top of my playlist. How, then, can this Dylan pull off a Christmas album, a genre better suited for the likes of Nat King Cole or Bing Crosby? It didn’t seem possible. As a dedicated admirer who will purchase anything Bob puts out, the possibility that this album would end up in my dad’s basement gathering dust seemed less depressing when I learned that all of Dylan’s royalties for Christmas in the Heart will go to Feeding America, in perpetuity.

This disc won’t be headed toward a storage bin in dad’s basement any time soon. Dylan’s absolute sincerity kept me from writing this album off after a few listens. Serious Christmas standards such as “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “Little Drummer Boy,” and “The First Noel” succeed because Dylan sings with a conviction impossible to ignore. The lighter selections (“Here Comes Santa Claus,” “Christmas Island,” Must Be Santa”) work because Dylan’s clearly having fun with the arrangements, encouraging listeners to join in the revelry.

Last week, Dylan himself confirmed the sincerity many of us have detected, while sitting for an interview with Bill Flanigan:

BF: You really give a heroic performance of O’ LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM The way you do it reminds me a little of an Irish rebel song. There’s something almost defiant in the way you sing, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” I don’t want to put you on the spot, but you sure deliver that song like a true believer.

BD: Well, I am a true believer.

Also telling is Dylan’s reaction to the Chicago Tribune analysis:

BF: The Chicago Tribune felt this record needed more irreverence. Doesn’t that miss the point?

BD: Well sure it does, that’s an irresponsible statement anyway. Isn’t there enough irreverence in the world? Who would need more? Especially at Christmas time.

Shame on the Trib, because “irreverence” is a theme foreign to Dylan’s work. His corpus contains many instances of internal struggle with God, in relationship to the individual or humanity at large, but never does he deal in flat-out irreverence. Dylan’s work is rather unidimensional as far as “God movement” is concerned: we might take a few steps back every now and again, and we might end up scratching our heads in confusion, but we’re always moving forward toward the One Who Is – and He’s always happy to see us along the way. Christmas in the Heart is less complex than Dylan’s original material, but the movement toward God is absolutely the same.

In the end, Dylan’s Christmas album reminds me of that old guy at midnight Mass. He can’t sing like the choir, but he belts it all out from memory. And it comes from the heart.

1926 Eucharistic Congress

I’m currently doing reasearch for our library on the 1927 Eucharistic Congress, held in Chicago. Below is a great summary of the event, with some great photographs. Also included is some neat video I’ve never seen anywhere else before.

The Baptism of the Lord

This Sunday marks the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

In one of the best tributes to Fr. Richard John Neuhaus I’ve seen thus far, Sean quotes the following:

And thus it became luminously clear to me as I fitfully puzzled through these questions, lying there on the hospital bed: I have already died! My death is behind me! The question of what is to happen to me now is not a question about me, but a question about Christ. And that question has been answered. “Christ is raised from the dead never to die again; death has no more dominion over him.” Therefore death has no dominion over me. At some point “it” will happen. This body will be separated from this soul, and that is a great sadness. I was not expecting it so soon. I would have, all things considered, preferred to go on as I had been for many more years. But it did not really matter that much.

I’m writing as one who has seen his fair share of death in recent times. First, my grandfather died from prostate cancer in August of 2007;  one year later to the very day, one of my best friends and college roommates lost his battle with liver cancer, at the age of 28; and finally, my mother in November, to lung cancer. She was 50.

Pretty heavy stuff for a kid who attended his first funeral a year and a half ago.

Of course, I’m able to take great comfort in Neuhaus’ reflection, especially as we approach such an awesome feast. Baptism is the moment where we die and rise again, incorporated into the Mystical Body whose head has defeated sin and death. His passing was a done deal for Fr. Neuhaus long ago, just as it is a thing of the past for all of us. And only with that in mind are we able to conclude that our pending death does “not really matter that much.”

It’s also significant that on Monday, we enter into  ordinary time once again.  Even within the context of the liturgical calendar, baptism marks an end and a beginning.

I pray that yours is a blessed one.