‘Fess Up!

'Fess Up!
What makes confession so good for the soul?
Paul Thigpen

© 1995 by Paul Thigpen

It's a scenario every parent recognizes: You discover through evidence of some sort or another that your child has done wrong. She knows she did it, and she knows that you know she did it. But before the two of you can make any progress in setting things right, one very important event has to take place.

She has to 'fess up.

As parents we know how important it is that our kids "come clean" by telling us when they've done wrong. If we look more closely at the reasons why, we'll begin to understand why we ourselves need to make sacramental Confession a regular habit.

The good fruits of confession

1. Confession is a form of telling the truth. Loyalty to the truth, however costly, is the foundation for all moral growth. So if that money your teen spent on the movie was secretly swiped from your wallet, she needs to admit it. To refuse to confess is to deny the truth by silence.

2. The truth of confession is chastening and humbling. When your child hangs her head and stammers, "Yes, I took the money," her admission presses her to recognize an important reality about herself: She makes mistakes and needs help to avoid making them.

3. Confession gives opportunity to say she's sorry for what she's done and to resolve that she'll avoid doing it again. Simply admitting that she took the money isn't enough. If she tries to justify her behavior — "Sure, I took the money, but hey, you've got lots more, so what's the problem?" — then her confession is hollow. Instead, she needs to agree with you that what she did was wrong. Without that agreement, there can be no genuine change of heart, no intention to behave rightly in the future.

4. Confession allows an acknowledgement of the justice of the consequences following misbehavior. Only when your child admits the wrongness of what she's done can she admit the rightness of what you must do to discipline her (such as suspending privileges) and what she must do to make things right (earning money to pay you back what she stole). Confession thus prepares her for correction.

5. Confession makes it possible to receive forgiveness. Your child's offense has, to use an old expression, "come between" the two of you. Even if, regardless of her attitude, you're willing to put that offense behind you instead, she still needs actively to receive your forgiveness if the pardon is to be effective.

Think of a criminal doing time behind bars for a felony. Suppose the governor decides to grant him pardon. What if the prisoner is never told about the governor's clemency, or he refuses to accept the pardon? The result is the same as if mercy had never been offered: The prisoner remains incarcerated.

6. Confession makes possible the cleansing of your child's relationship with you. The wrongdoing has flawed your friendship, distancing her from you and damaging your trust in her. Her confession puts the two of you in a position to restore and strengthen your relationship.

7. Confession brings peace of heart and mind. In a sense, this benefit is the fruit of all the other effects of confession. Once your child admits to wrongdoing; recognizes the truth about herself; expresses remorse with a resolve to change; accepts the responsibilities of discipline and restitution; receives forgiveness; and restores her friendship with you, then the burden of guilt can be lifted. Shame and fear give way to peace inside.

All God's children need to 'fess up

In all these ways, we see just how necessary confession is for spiritual and moral growth. We parents have our own wrongs to confess; and every reason we can give why our children should 'fess up applies to us as well. We have a heavenly Father who wants to make us morally clean and spiritually mature — who wants to make us holy like Himself — so we can deepen our friendship with Him. Since we tend to fail again and again, He's gone so far as to give the Church a sacrament designed especially to help us set things right.

Like our children, we parents desperately need the cleansing, liberating power of confession. Whether we're weary from toting around the heavy load of some grave sin, or simply tired out from the accumulated weight of less serious offenses, we should head for the confessional, and do it often. If we're willing to tell the truth there and agree with God about ourselves, we can be transformed by gaining deeper humility and wisdom, grace to grow morally and spiritually, a closer walk with our Father in heaven — and the wonderful peace that all these rewards can bring.