Here are some general guidelines for going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Before everything else– RELAX, BE AT PEACE! The priest is not there to intimidate you, judge you, or tell you that you’re doing it wrong. The priest will help you, especially if he sees that you’re nervous. The priest is on YOUR SIDE (so is God, for that matter!).
At the Last Supper, Jesus gave Judas all kinds of chances to admit of his sin, so that he could show is mercy to Judas. But Judas wouldn’t repent, and even to his death, he refused to ask forgiveness of God for what he had done. Peter, on the other hand, wept with repentance after his denial of the Lord, and Jesus restored him.
The parable of “The Prodigal Son” shows God’s eagerness to forgive his wayward children, if only they would wake up from their moral sleep and come back to Him–and He restores us in our relationship to Him. The sacrament of Reconciliation, it has been said, is also like a 2nd (or 3rd, or 4th, or 70x7th) baptism–wherein we are washed clean of the sins of our life, and made anew through Christ as beloved sons and daughters of God the Father.
On the evening of His Resurrection, Jesus breathed on the Apostles, giving them the Holy Spirit “for the forgiveness of sins.” The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Unity, of Communion, and of Reconciliation with the Father.
Perhaps in decades gone by there were horror stories of people being yelled at in the confessional. That doesn’t happen, at least not here. “Do not be afraid.” The confessional is not the forum of God’s wrath–it is the forum of God’s mercy. To help you be prepared to enter into the Sacrament of Reconciliation (or Penance, or Confession, it’s all the same Sacrament), try these tips…
There is a tool called the “Examination of Conscience”, described above. There are a number of different kinds of Examinations. Many are based on the Ten Commandments, some are based on the Seven Capital Sins, and there are many others. Here are some given below.
This used to be on the USCCB (US Bishops) website. Fr. Kelley often uses this one:
This is a version (also based on the Ten Commandments) provided by Jim Gontis, Diocesan Director of Religious Education:
Here is another one that Fr. Wolfe often uses in his ministry:
If you need more encouragement or information, try this video from Fr. Mike Schmitz, from the CHOSEN program–Ascension Press’ course of preparation for the Sacrament of Confirmation. Between the YouTube video and the additional related links, you will hopefully find enough to allay your fears and return to the God who is Love, and come to know more profoundly his incredible love and mercy toward you.