Confessions: Types of Confessions – A Spiritual Reflection
Two weeks ago I celebrated my 60th birthday. First, I want to thank all of you who were so kind and generous in sending cards or gifts. I must say that some of the cards and gifts seemed a bit “fishy” to me. Not sure what that meant but … whatever. Next, I want to publicly thank those who put together our little parish celebration on Saturday after the 5:00 Mass, as well as those “well-wishers” who came by. A nice time seemed to be had by all. Finally, let me express my gratitude to all of you for your kind wishes and generosity. As is my custom, I added any birthday or Easter cards that I received to my “prayer basket.” I routinely pull three cards during Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer from this basket, and pray for the people who sent me those cards.
Did you know that there are different types of Confession? Swiss theological Adrienne von Spyer describes several in her book, Confession.
The first type is a “confession of conversion.” In a confession of conversion, the grace of the sacrament transforms the life of a penitent. Suddenly they see their life in the context of an explicit personal mission. This type of “confession experience” seems to occur in one of two ways.
The first way is when this type of graced confession strikes one like lightning. The nature of the spiritual maturity of the penitent doesn’t seem to matter. It can strike a hardened sinner, a luke-warm Catholic or someone who has been striving for further spiritual perfection. The second form is less dramatic. One can actually ask for it, solicit it or anticipate it. The penitent brings together everything sinful in their life. The penitent hopes that a particular grace and illumination received during the sacrament will cure them of any indifference to their faith. In this way, they gain a sense that their faith life has now changed.
When this grace is bestowed, the experience can be highly emotional. The penitent should immediately make a follow-up appointment to meet with the confessor again. This can be within the context of the sacrament or outside of the confessional.
A good confessor is key in a confession of conversion. Such a confessor will be aware that the penitent might become overwhelmed by the experience. The penitent might believe that they are totally incapable of changing and overcoming all of their spiritual hindrances. Thus, an astute confessor will sense that something different has occurred during this confession. First, the confessor will insist on a follow-up appointment. The confessor will also need to explain that the on-going conversation experience will be a mundane, day-to-day challenge. Hence, the penitent’s conversion confession “experience” will probably not repeat itself. The penitent cannot expect the same tangible level of grace to be experienced in later confessions.
Finally, this type of confessional experience is not without a purpose. The penitent cannot let the situation pass without making a few essential decisions about the future. They must respond by approaching future confessions with particular attentiveness. They must also discuss upon what long-term purpose the Lord is encouraging the penitent to embark. Finally, a conversation confession has an immediate mission. This mission involves the penitent encouraging and helping other people to partake of the sacrament.
In his book, The Light is on for You, Cardinal Donald Wuerl describes another “type” of confession. This is a call to a deep, complete and thorough examination of conscience together with a total and complete confession of all past sins. Adrienne von Speyr calls this a “general confession.” Von Speyr writes that three “motivating factors” can prompt such a confession. The first motivating factor can be that the penitent wishes to close a chapter on their life and move forward in a new direction. The wish to draw a line whereby the confessor can see the whole life of the penitent, offer insight into the past and guidance about the future. The second motivating factor can reside in the confessor. The priest might know a regular penitent whom the priest feels should be guided differently or further. In such cases, the priest has heard snippets or excerpts from the penitent’s life and needs greater clarity and deeper insight. The priest-confessor senses that the penitent is ready for a deeper relationship with Christ. However, some items need to be clarified and discussed first. The third motivating factor is when a penitent has decided to enter the seminary or a religious order. This new state of life demands a comprehensive act of conclusion and a new obedience – a complete opening-up to what the new life will entail.
Von Speyr writes that “general confessions” are not without their challenges and dangers. We will discuss these next week.