Allow me to just say a few words about why the sacrament of confession is a truly wonderful thing.
I went to confession today. I'm not the type of Catholic to go every six weeks, as I've heard prescribed by the Church, but I do try to make it a handful of times a year. Seeing as how I could throw a hamsteak out my window and hit my church with it, I really have no excuse for not going more often than that. But today I knew it was time. There were some particular sins on my heart that needed to see the light of day, so when 3:30 came around, instead of going to Target to buy black tights and a gallon of milk like I wanted to do, I headed on over to the church basement. Whenever I walk to confession, I feel nervous and (frankly, sometimes) a little bit resentful that this is something I "have" to do, and there suddenly seem to be a thousand reasons why I don't really need to go. But then of course I always do, and like everyone tells you, I always feel better afterwards.
Today was a little different, though. Because of my burdensome sins (and no, I'm not going to tell you what they were…but, you know, feel free to speculate) I felt extravagantly nervous. It's a good thing there were only two people in line ahead of me, because my heart was pounding like a jackhammer and instead of praying about my sin, I was praying that I wouldn't throw up all over the church basement carpet. Somehow I'm always afraid someone's going to hear what I've done and treat me ungraciously, despite all my prior experience to the contrary.
So thank God for Father Charlie, the pastor of our church, St. Timothy's. He was a key player in our journey into Catholicism, and it is a huge blessing to have him leading our congregation. Going to confession today, I was actually hoping he wouldn't be my confessor because he knows me fairly well. (There's something to be said for anonymity when you're exposing yourself at your worst.) Well, God knows best, and lo and behold, when I walked into the confession room, there he was. But the moment I saw him and recognized the grace in his face, I knew things would be okay and I wouldn't be vomiting all over his priest-y closed-toe shoes. It's a funny thing, but uncovering my most hard-core sins actually led to the best confession I've ever had. Father Charlie's response to my sin was compassionate and real, just like Jesus' response to our sin. He neither minimized nor came down too harshly on my wrongdoing, but talked to me fairly and honestly about it. He gave me practical counsel for resisting and overcoming these sins.
We all want to hear God's voice, especially in the midst of our own guilt, and God isn't always going to speak in an audible voice. So often I believe he uses humans as his mouthpieces, and that's why (when done well) confession is so helpful. It allows a seasoned counselor to speak words of wisdom and comfort that we might not otherwise hear, even in prayer. And in the end, it gives us the promise of hearing an audible voice assure us that we are forgiven, that God's grace is greater than any of our sins.
I am always so sorry to hear about the negative experiences some people have had with confession. Stories of shaming and harsh, useless penances break my heart because, especially after today, I know what a comfort and a sweet relief confession can be. (Sort of like when you hear stories of terrible parenting and you think, "But these are the people who are supposed to love this child!") When I think of an experience of confession like today's, though, I am reminded of the definition of a sacrament: an outward sign instituted by Christ to impart grace. That's a pretty awesome gift.
Maybe you should give it a try. ;)