Today we hear from St John’s Gospel of Our Lord’s encounter with the woman caught in the act of adultery (8:1-11). The Scribes and Pharisees brought the woman and paraded her sin in front of the crowd JESUS was preaching to. They were trying to catch Him out by asking whether she should be stoned. The Law of Moses said she should be, while the Roman law reserved to itself the right to put anyone to death. So either way, they thought they would catch Him out. But of course, He was God, and no one gets one over on God. He replied, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. Our Lord here shows Himself to be a friend of sinners, but only to those who admitted they were sinners. As her accusers went on their way, Our Lord asked, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? … Neither do I condemn you”. Our Lord is not making light of sin here. On the contrary, He hated sin so much that He took all our sins upon Himself and paid the price of it on Calvary. Although the woman’s sin is forgiven, JESUS expects her to live a life of grace from now on by saying, “Go and sin no more”. And this is the attitude we should have when we come to Confession. We must have a firm purpose of amendment which means to have a strong intention to amend our lives and not carry on committing the same sins. We may fall in moments of weakness, but we can only be genuinely sorry if we have a firm intention not to sin again.
So how should we go to confession? Firstly, when you come into church, ask the Holy Spirit to help you make a good confession. Your confession should be humble, sincere and entire. Then you make an examination of conscience. There are purple leaflets at the back of the church to help you do this. Think of the Ten Commandments and of the Church’s laws and if you have violated them. Think back to your last good confession and your serious sins will stand out. You must confess all mortal sins in number and kind, and it is always good to confess venial sins too. The number of times is important to say, because there is a big difference between committing a sin once and fifty times.
Then when you enter the confessional, kneel down, which is an act of humility, and say, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. My last confession was 2 months ago”. Don’t worry about forgetting the words because there is a card on the wall to prompt you. Then you tell your sins. When telling your sins, you do not need to go into lots of unnecessary details, but you should give any circumstances that may change the nature of the sin. But only confess the things which either take away or add to the seriousness of the act. Remember, other people may be waiting to come in after you. So confess what you need to confess – no more and no less. Also, be sure to confess only your sins. Don’t make excuses by saying, “I did X because my husband or wife did Y”. When you have finished, say something like, “For these and all my sins I am heartily sorry”. The priest may give you some advice and then he will give you a penance. Then he will give you the absolution saying, “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. Make the sign of the cross as he does so. Remember it is Christ Who is absolving you. On leaving the confessional say your penance immediately in case you forget, and thank the Lord for His great mercy in this Sacrament. “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
Fr Paul Gillham, IC