In what I suspect is a universal experience among Catholics, I always get nervous in the Confession line. Despite my years of frequenting the Sacrament, there's always a bit of a pit in my stomach that eases the moment that Confession is over. While this pre-Sacrament anxiety is a momentary discomfort, I’d hate to think that it alone is keeping people away from the grace of Confession. When you consider the power of the Sacrament, what's the worst that could happen?
We all have anxiety and bear the invisible burden of guilt because our sins. These things won’t simply go away on their own. No matter how big or small our sins are, there seems to be a weight that we carry around, only realizing its presence as we leave the confessional. For whatever reason, I always feel lighter as I walk away and complete my penance. I feel like a new person because I no longer have to carry around the burden of my sins. The anxiety that I feel right before Confession is more like a gentle reminder as to why this Sacrament is so important than it is a punishment for my indiscretions. It's a tool to harness and use to make better decisions in the future and the anxiety always breaks when I've received absolution.
Naming your sins is extremely painful. Despite the absolute seal of privacy that the Sacrament affords us, we can find ourselves quibbling or struggling to find the words to name what we've done. The indictment against us is clear as day in our minds, but we struggle to verbalize it. That's because it's difficult for us to face our true selves in the Sacrament. It's hard to realize just how far we've fallen and how foolish our sins have been. Sin didn't live up to the promises that it made, and we feel dumb for falling into its trap. Use the discomfort of naming your failings as a motivation to not commit those sins again. Make it the last time that you ever have to confess that particular sin.
We let fear creep up in our mind. We fear someone outside of the confessional hearing us, the priest recognizing our voice, or even being yelled at. Yet, those fears are baseless. I've been going to Confession for almost 20 years, all across the country and around the world, and I've never been yelled at once. There were challenging Confessions, and there were uncomfortable ones, that's for sure, but I've never been scolded. When I do have a difficult Confession, I've come to regard it as it truly is, God challenging me to step up my game. While Confession is meant to be an ocean of mercy and a bath of grace, it's not meant to be an enabler. If Confession was an easy out, there'd be nothing stopping you from going out, committing the same sin again, and then coming back. It should challenge you to be a better person, and it should remind you of the vast depths of God's love. There's nothing to fear in the Sacrament.
Three minutes of discomfort in the Sacrament is a small price to pay for a do over. Better than carrying around guilt and better than falling deeper into the snare of sin, Reconciliation stands at the edge of the World, catching souls before they fall off into the abyss. Although you may never get over pre-sacramental anxiety, it is but a small reminder of the life that you're giving up in exchange for all of the love and promises of a God who loves you.