If you’ve ever been hospitalized, you know the indignities of the hospital gown. It’s flimsy and open at the back, which means it’s pretty tough to retain any sense of decency or decorum.
It’s all by design, of course, because clinicians — nurses, doctors, surgeons — require ready access to our anatomy in order to assess, diagnose, and treat our physical problems. Upon admission, we might balk at disrobing and then donning the revealing wrap, but if we expect our caregivers to do their job — facilitating our healing and wholeness — it’s in our best interests to bare our bodies to them.
I can’t think of a better analogy for what it was like for me to go to confession for the first time when I was 25. I learned that the only way to heal is to open things up to let fresh air and light in, to shed our guard and expose to God (through the priest) what ails our souls. As St. Jerome explained, “The medicine cannot heal what it does not know.” The Lord wants to heal us, but it’s up to us to show him where it hurts.
I made my first confession during Holy Week and I was terrified. I was in Chicago took the “L” downtown to St. Peter’s in the Loop. All the way there, I mulled over my quarter-century of moral gaffes and lapses, trying to organize them in my mind so that I could tick them off for the priest in an orderly fashion.
Plus, I kept checking my cheat-sheet with the prayers on it: “Bless me, father, for I have sinned,” it read. “This is my first confession.” (Should I tell him how old I am? Should I tell him I’m joining the Church? Will he figure that out?) After the priest offered the prayer of absolution, there’d be an Act of Contrition: “O my God, I’m heartily sorry for having offended you… (What if I forget something? Will it count if I don’t mention all my sins?)… I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace, to sin no more….” (How firm does that resolve have to be? What if I blow this — can I still join the Church?)
None of that mattered, of course — what a relief. When I sat across from Father Robert, I barely got out the “Bless me” part before I started blubbering. He was patient and kind, and he gave me time to collect myself before urging me on. What I’d hoped would be a structured recitation of rebellion turned into a sprawling mess of false starts, awkward pauses, and blurts.
Mercifully, Father Robert put me at my ease. “Just tell what you’re sorry for,” he said. “Do the best you can.” Truly, he echoed the voice of Jesus, which is the whole idea. The priest is a sacramental stand-in for our saving Lord, a “sign and instrument of God’s merciful love for the sinner,” in the words of the Catechism.
There is no better time to make a confession than during Holy Week, especially if you haven’t been in a while. This is the culmination of our Lenten journey, and even if you haven’t been walking that path, your Easter will be just that much richer for it. This is a time when the Church touches the deepest, most fundamental mystery of faith — Jesus’ saving death and resurrection. It’s never too late to take a step toward that mystery and away from anything holding you back from the person you were created to be.
You might recoil from the idea because you’re afraid of doing it wrong. Or perhaps you’re reluctant to expose all your wounds. Go anyway. If you know you’re sorry for things in your past, and you’re committed to avoiding those same things in the future, then you’re ready. Don’t worry about the mechanics; don’t fret about leaving stuff out. Think of it as another first confession. Come clean, as best you can, and allow the medicine of grace to heal your whole life.
You won’t regret it.