‘Burden lifted’ — how confession changed the direction of my life

Special to Catholic Times

My sophomore year of college, a fraternity buddy invited me to a retreat, and I begrudgingly agreed to go. I’m really glad I went, because I went to confession for the first time in a long time. After confessing all my sins and by the Grace of God holding nothing back, I remember a brief silence — was the priest mad? Was he going to tell me I should leave the retreat? I still remember looking up and him smiling, then he said, “Burden lifted,” and offered me penance and absolution. That encounter with God’s mercy changed the whole direction of my life. I wanted to get to know Jesus after that, and I wanted others to know Him and His Mercy.  

In today’s world, if you want a guide on how to go to confession, you can Google it and find lots of great resources or check out pages the previous pages in this magazine. I’d recommend doing that because it will help you know what to say and how to reflect on your life in a way that will prepare you. Next, find the website for a Catholic church near you. It will list confession times available.

When you come into the confessional, especially if has been years or decades and you have foregotten the process, have no fear! Ask the priest to help you, and he will.  

Here are a few things other things we all need to be reminded of when going to confession:

  1. Be direct and totally honest. You will not scandalize or startle a priest, no matter what you bring to the confessional. My favorite description of a priest is “God’s garbage man.” Name your sins specifically and tell the priest how many times they happened.  You are good and created in God’s image, let the garbage man take care of the sins.
  1. The priest will never reveal your sins. Ever. Every Catholic priest is bound by what is called the “seal of confession.” He would go to jail or even give his life before he revealed anything said in confession. Under no circumstances is the seal permitted to be broken.  
  1. Think of confession like a car wash: If you ever take your car through the mud, you get it to the wash right away. Or if it’s just been a while, it’s still good to take it to the wash. If you believe yourself to be in a state of serious sin, be brave and go to confession right away. Or, if it’s just been several months (or years or decades), it’s still good to go and totally appropriate to bring smaller things as well — these are called venial sins. Just be sure to confess anything you know to be seriously sinful.

God wants to offer us His mercy. He literally died to do so. Go to confession and don’t worry about doing it perfectly or how long it has been. I try to go every couple weeks, and honestly, I still get nervous most the time, so I just take a deep breath and remember the words of the priest when he told me, “Burden lifted.”

  • Father Rob Johnson is pastor of Mother of Perpetual Help Parish in Maryville, chaplain at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and associate vocations director for the Alton Deanery. 

Watch an easy step-by-step instruction video with Father Rob Johnson on how to go to confession!

The most watched video on the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois’ YouTube Channel is a video of Father Rob Johnson and Andrew Hansen (editor of Catholic Times) explaining how to go to confession in an easy-to-understand and step-by-step presentation. Check it out here!