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The Catholic Faith in Slow Motion (no. 57)

From One Sinner to Another: How To Confess Your Sins
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins (1 John 1:8). . . . For the sake of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20).
     Some Catholics never go to the Sacrament of Confession. Never. Some were not well taught about the importance of confession and its empowering grace. Maybe they don't know that a Catholic is bound by one of the five precepts of the Church to confess serious sins at least once a year (see last week's article). Then, there are some Catholics who truly desire the comfort of confession and often think about going. But they have neglected it so long that they are afraid they no longer know “how to do it”. Some are so burdened with their load of guilt that they feel they cannot bear the shame. If there is even a chance that any of these Catholics among us will be encouraged by a few brief instructions and assurances, it's certainly worthwhile to offer them. 
First, it is important to know that confessing one's sins in personal prayer before God is a daily form of penance for all Christians. Every mass begins with a penitential rite. The Catechism teaches us that prayer, giving alms, acts of love toward those in need, fasting, spending time reading Holy Scripture—all these may be offered as acts of penance. It is the confession of sins to a priest in the simple liturgy of confession and forgiveness that is the sacramental form of penance, often called the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
“Reconciliation” speaks of reconnecting, restoring broken relationships. The word “sin” means an action or attitude that alienates us from others—from God, from our neighbor, from self, and from the Body of Christ, the Church. We all know of course that relationships can be injured by “what we have done and what we have failed to”. Every sin is, in some sense, a failure of love. But there are some kinds of sin (the Church calls them “grave” sins) that, by their very nature, threaten to deny and forfeit our communion with God and with his Church. The seriousness of these sins requires a sacramental confession and forgiveness. Failing to participate in the mass on Sundays and other holy days of obligation are grave sins. Sacrilegious words and actions, adultery, sexual relations outside the covenant of marriage, and any action that denies the sacredness of human life: these are other examples.
There are five aspects or parts to sacramental confession. (1) Examination of conscience. This  takes place beforehand, preparing you to honestly acknowledge your sins. (2) Confessing (naming) your sins with complete honesty before the pries. (3) Penance. The priest will then assign a simple penance for you to do. Usually it is to be done immediately after you leave the confessional, before you leave the church. (4) Contrition. You will be asked to speak an act of contrition, expressing your sorrow, accepting your penance, and resolving to honestly fight against all sins. (5) Absolution. The priest will then speak the words of God's forgiveness, recalling the mercy of God expressed in the sacrificial love of Christ. You walk away forgiven.
The Catechism teaches us that, from the human side of this encounter, true contrition is at the very heart of matter. You can see why. An insincere apology is a truly ugly thing. One popular form of the act of contrition is as follows. It expresses well the deeply personal nature of the sacrament. O my God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart. In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against you, whom I should love above all things. I promise,with the help of your grace, to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid all that leads me to sin. My savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for me. O my God, have mercy on me.                                        

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