You Should Probably Go to Confession (Even If You're Not Catholic)

Or see a therapist. It's one or the other. Your choice.

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Confession a.k.a. Reconciliation a.k.a the Sacrament of Penance a.k.a. something I haven’t done since I was 11 is a big deal for Catholics and intimidating to non-Catholics. The basic idea is that you tell a priest about your sinfulness in exquisite detail in return for a spiritual prescription. It’s a weird experience, no doubt, but as other doctrines begin to seem outdated, confession actually feels more relevant than ever — potentially even to non-believers.

How to go to Confession:

  • You always have the option to go to confession anonymously, that is, behind a screen or face to face, if you so desire. After the priest greets you in the name of Christ, make the sign of the cross. He may choose to recite a reading from Scripture, after which you say: “Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been (state how long) since my last confession. These are my sins.” Tell your sins simply and honestly to the priest. You might even want to discuss the circumstances and the root causes of your sins and ask the priest for advice or direction. Listen to the advice the priest gives you and accept the penance from him. Then make an Act of Contrition for your sins. The priest will then dismiss you with the words of praise: “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. You respond: “For His mercy endures forever.” The priest will then conclude with: “The Lord has freed you from your sins. Go in peace.” And you respond by saying: “Thanks be to God.” * Spend some time with Our Lord thanking and praising Him for the gift of His mercy. Try to perform your penance as soon as possible.

Beforehand, you’re supposed to do an “examination of conscience,” which is really intense and long. In it, you ask yourselves questions like, “Have I been guilty of any homosexual activity?” So, ya know, still the same old Church in many ways. But, as a lapsed Catholic, I got to thinking: Could there be something good here?

I see a psychiatrist every couple of weeks and have done so for 19 years. Now, the Catholic Church doesn’t consider Confession to be psychotherapy and says so. Still, noted psychiatrists like Carl Jung have picked up on similar attributes. Why, then, would I dodge church, even after all these years, if confession holds some of the same benefits?

I was gonna go to Confession on Saturday, but my mom hit me with a heaping spoonful of Catholic guilt. I don’t practice Catholicism, I don’t go to mass — I don’t really believe in much of what the Church stands for and upon. So, going to Confession just to write about it would be sinful, I’m told. But, here’s what I know: There’s a nice framework that’s set up for thinking about decisions, talking about them, and just plain getting things off of your chest. All of those things are stellar and they’re therapeutic, to boot. It’s just that the Catholic Church gets in the way.

Aside from the homosexuality question, an examination of conscience — from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops — can include these:

  • Do I respect the life and dignity of every human person from conception through natural death?
  • Have I masturbated?

Okay, whoosh. But, then again, check these out:

  • Do I treat all workers with whom I interact with respect, no matter their position or class?
  • Do I support the rights of all workers to adequate wages, health insurance, vacation, and sick leave? Do I affirm their right to form or join unions or worker associations?
  • Do my purchasing choices take into account the hands involved in the production of what I buy? When possible, do I buy products produced by workers whose rights and dignity were respected?

Pretty cool. The masturbation stuff? Not so much. It’s the typical Catholic story these days: Some pretty good ideas peppered in with a few wild ones that’ll blow your hair back to B.C.E. Even Pope Francis couldn’t come to the States without visiting Kim Davis (in some fashion). And, so it goes with Confession. My girlfriend was telling me that the last time she went to Confession, a priest berated her for not coming more often. Way to be inclusive, guys. The Church trips over itself so much it’s a wonder it still exists.

But, I’ve had some bad experiences with therapists, too. So, I think, it boils down to the person. If you can find the right priest — the kind that won’t ask you if you’ve masturbated recently — pour your heart out to him, even if you don’t believe that Jesus was God. Talking about the stupid shit we do to each other is helpful. Just ask Carl Jung: “Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”

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