by Fr. Jonathan Atchley
Sacramental confession, someone said online here, is the second sweetest religious experience next to receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist. I’m here to second that motion and offer even a further incentive. Consider this option: all of your sins, every one of them, can be forgiven—if only you make a “general confession.” Satan has tempted saints to despair in the past by calling to mind particular sins they may have forgotten. This didn’t work so well, because the same saints would rush to confess their hidden, forgotten or discarded sins they were once too embarrassed to confess. That is how they became saints. It is how we, too, reject evil and restore Christ’s reign in our hearts and lives; it is how we avoid hell and choose heaven.
What is a general confession? Simply a sacramental confession that covers the entirety of your sins. You may need to set aside a bit more time than usual to make a regular confession, maybe five or ten minutes at most and only a few times during your life. What it takes is a thorough and detailed examination of conscience, a brutal honesty with yourself and a sincere desire to have nothing come between you and Our Lord as you separate yourself from your sins and embrace penance to atone for them. The priest is there to forgive, not judge, so don’t worry about him.
But Father, you may say, aren’t all my sins already forgiven in confession? Yes, they are, if and when you’ve confessed them. I find, however, that I’ve not always been so honest with God or with myself, and out of embarrassment or shame withheld sins consciously or not. “Oh, that doesn’t need mentioning,” I’ve caught myself saying; "next time I'll include that," or “the priest should understand what I mean.” Likely the priest understands very well, and of course is sympathetic—or should be—because he is a sinner himself. But to deliberately hold back, mislead or falsify information when testifying against yourself in confession—that is when you need to make a general confession. My experience is that this should apply to everyone, everywhere. You see, the sacrament is somewhat like a trial in which Jesus finds you guilty but commutes your sentence out of mercy and compassion. But if we hold back, we deserve an even greater punishment than at first deserved. Just think of how you feel when a politician is caught baldly lying. We want someone to strangle the guy for his shameless duplicity. It takes wisdom and humility here to recognize, as when the Nathan prophet confronted King David, that “You are the [same] man!” (2 Sam 12:7-13). We should be focused on seeking righteousness by condemning ourselves, hopeful for mercy before God deals out his searing justice.
If you like good drama, short and sweet, read the Scriptural account of the prophet Elijah prevailing over the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18). That story rouses me every time I read it. And it reminds me of the kind of judgment we would do well to bring down our own sins with a general confession. Elijah stands alone before the 450 phony prophets who have left off worshiping the true God and challenges them to a duel. Of course he wins, slays the criminals (etymology of the word means “one who commits wickedness or sins”) and restores true worship in Israel. And doesn’t this illustrate the perfect scenario in which a believer calls out the wickedness in his or her own life, reestablishing order and true worship? Praise God that we have the opportunity for a general confession; may you make good use of it!