Confessions of a cradle Catholic

As a Catholic baptised as a baby, one tends to take all the rules and regulations of the Catholic Church for granted

Feb 02, 2024

On the fence - Jacelyn Johnson

As a Catholic baptised as a baby, one tends to take all the rules and regulations of the Catholic Church for granted. I was born into a staunch Catholic family, who did all things Catholic by the book, went for catechism for at least 10 years, and knew all the prayers, responses and hymns by heart before I could even read.

While most teenagers, and young adults were out partying and dabbling in the latest in music, movies and fashion, I was one of those who hung out at church, doing everything from plays, to musicals, to feast days, to reading, OHP girl, decorating the whole church, the works. The church was my playground. However, this was my social life, not in any way spiritual.

It wasn’t until my early 20s that I started questioning religion, and the practices of the Church. I started questioning the meaning of the prayers that easily came out of my mouth without thinking… I started wondering where in the Bible did this prayer or ritual come from, and somehow amidst these doubts, with career and different priorities, I literally strayed from the church for a while.

Do we still need to go for confession?
Being a cradle Catholic, who somewhat loves the Catholic Church, but struggle to find a balance between doing everything the Church says you should do, and doing what I think is necessary (or rather just what I feel like doing), I find myself having taken bits and pieces of the Church’s teachings that makes sense, and not worry too much about the multitude of traditional and ancient teachings of the Church which does not seem practical at this day and age. For example, I absolutely do not feel sinful or guilty if I do not attend weekly Masses, or Masses on days of obligation.

If that wasn’t bad enough, I recently sat through an RCIA session which was on the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Apparently, not going for confession is also a sin, and you should not be going up to receive Holy Communion at Mass if you have not gone for confession. I have probably not gone for confession since my Confirmation, or perhaps a church camp shortly after that time — that comes up to about a good 20 years. It has never crossed my mind that I needed to go for confession. The thought of going into a confessional and uttering the words ‘Bless me Father for I have sinned,’ sounds almost too grave and dramatic for my comfort.

Why? This got me thinking — is it because our definition of sins has changed, or have become diluted — and a lot of what constitutes a ‘sin’ are pretty acceptable by general standards. I mean, I may be a little more obliged to go for confession if I did something really, really bad, but my laundry list of benign misbehaviours have very little impact on my moral conscience. In fact, I actually asked the priest ‘what if you have no sins?’ and the response was, ‘that in itself is a sin — the sin of pride!’
What constitutes sin?

The Catholic Church defines sin as ‘an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to eternal law’ (CCC 1849) and a rejection of God’s love and the refusal of an opportunity to accept God’s love and to pass it on to others. (CCC 1850)

The Bible has various examples of sins peppered throughout different eras, delivered by prophets of the time, each focusing on the need for those ‘sins’ or rather ‘acts of immorality’ to be addressed in the given period, or aimed at a specific audience. Most of the grave acts of sin would be a crime if committed today, punishable by law, given that the law of the church formed the law of the land.

However, that RCIA session got me pondering on what exactly is a sin for the normal person. Let’s say that normal person is me — I swear, I do not attend Mass regularly, I will fight for the rights of my gay friends, I will stand up for the person who needs to have an abortion, I do not believe I should be denied contraceptives, and I very often use the name of God in vain (OMG!) — well, if I were to go to confession with this list of sins, I would not be able to keep up with the ‘I promise to not sin again.’

That said, I do acknowledge sin as being that time I got angry and shouted at my husband, or that time I ignored a friend’s plea for help, or that time I spoke ill of someone for absolutely no reason, or judged another person, or said something that intentionally or unintentionally caused hurt to another person, or neglected my responsibilities as a daughter, a sister, a wife, a friend, an employee or a member of the community.

Perhaps if I shift my thinking about sin as living in accordance to a set of rules, and all the ‘thou shalt nots,’ to reflecting on if I have embraced a culture of loving and giving in all my actions, words, thoughts and deeds across all my relationships, it would create a more constructive self-examination of my transgressions. I would feel extremely guilty if I have failed to be that loving and giving person to everyone around me – and I would want to be absolved from these kind of sins.

Absolution and penance are given so you can reflect on your sins, with the aim of not repeating them again. It makes sense if I go for confession and talk about my failure to be a kind person, and come out feeling free, and to move forward being conscious to always exude kindness to everyone around me.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that one must confess serious sins at least once a year (CCC 1457). I must admit, I never knew this. Not even from my standard 3 class in catechism when they taught us about original sin, mortal sin and venial sin.

Having pondered on the practice of Confession, and of course coming to understand how confessions are carried out these days, I have come to have a different view of the whole process. I used to think, why should one confess their sins to another human being, it should be between us and God, just like how a prayer would work.

I now see Confession as, for lack of a better word, free therapy. You would pay a lot of money to have a 30-minute session with a therapist, who would just ask you a few questions, and provide you no solutions —they are just there to listen. The confessional provides Catholics this opportunity, a listening ear that you could vent all your thoughts, good or evil, talk about your anger and frustrations. I don’t know if the priest would provide a solution, but at the very least, you will be absolved of your sins, or guilt, or anger, and come out feeling lighter and free.

The practice of penance and absolution (which comes with confession) is not confined to Catholics. Polytheistic religions, Hinduism and Buddhism do perform rituals as penance to obtain absolution — the concept is the same, to be free of guilt, and continue living a life free of entanglements to sin, but also to do good in the world.

The act of going for confession, may be driven by guilt, for some, with the promise of redemption. I would personally view confession as an annual check and balance to keep on top of things, generally and spirituality, as the act of being able to have an open and free conversation, by humbling yourself and admitting your weaknesses to another person would psychologically make one stronger and more confident in their daily lives, and to be able to live your true self, even when no one is looking.

That said, looks like, I will be going for confession this Lenten season — for my husband who is currently attending RCIA, and will be going for his first confession before Easter, but mostly, for myself.

(Jacelyn Johnson enjoys the occasional religious discourse and says it as it is, in an attempt to diffuse stereotypical observations.)

Total Comments:1

Justin Janath[email protected]
Thank you for the article. Resonates to me on a very personal level