December 26, 2014
How often do I have to go to confession?
The wording of such questions, I hope, is not too revealing to our Lord.
This notion that we “have” to go to Mass or confession, if you really think about it, is quite an insult to Him. In truth, we “get” to go to Mass and confession. These are great privileges!
In concern to confession, Canon Law spells out that all the faithful who have reached the age of discretion are bound faithfully to confess their grave sins at least once a year. (Can. 989)
So, if it is a matter of “having” to go, you have your answer.
For the record, Canon Law also spells out that each of the faithful is obliged to receive holy Communion at least once a year. (Can. 920)
So, even though we are obligated to participate in Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, this does not automatically commit us to the privilege of receiving holy Communion. In fact, if we are conscious of grave sin we may not receive holy Communion without having been to sacramental confession. (Can. 916)
So, if you are in a state of grave sin, it is a good idea to get to confession ASAP.
Even when we are without grave sin, the Catechism of the Catholic Church strongly recommends the confession of everday faults (venial sins). “The regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit. By receiving more frequently, through this sacrament, the gift of the Father’s mercy, we are spurred to be merciful as He is merciful.” (CCC1458)
There is confusion regarding confession as being for “big sinners,” which it is. But, the sacrament of penance is also for tremendous lovers! For those who are striving to love God with their whole heart, whole mind and whole soul, their regular celebration of this sacrament is most precious to our Father.
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta would go to confession once a week. St. John Paul II is rumored to have gone every day! They did this, not so that we could tell pious stories about them or that we might attempt to imitate them without having really much to say when we go. The example of these great saints are there to help us realize how some hearts are so open to the purification of God, that they are eager to come to Him with their every stain so that they might continue to strive to live in union with Him.
As a rule of thumb for the frequency of going to confession, I use the analogy of an automobile.
If you take your car in once a year to get serviced, it will not run as efficiently as when you take it in for a regular oil change. The same principle applies to our soul. It runs much more smoothly with a regular cleansing. If there are no major accidents (grave sin), then coming in every couple of months is a good routine to follow. Perhaps once during Advent, once during Lent, then another in the summer and fall is a good plan.
I know that it is time for me to go in for confession when I find myself getting less patient with people, forming quicker judgments, becoming less virtuous, or feeling burdened and labored by life in general. Then, it is time for this sick person to come to the doctor and receive the medicine only He can give to bring me back to good health.
Perhaps one day, our souls will run as smoothly as the souls of Bl. Teresa of Calcutta or St. John Paul II. What will certainly help us along the way is to heed our Lord’s command to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Mt. 4:17)
Fr. Sattler is pastor of the Church of St. Anne in Bismarck.