Haven’t Been to Confession in Years? Priest Provides 3 Great Ways to Prepare Your Heart This Advent

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“Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths,” St. John the Baptist said as he repeated Isaiah’s words. (Luke 3:4)

John the Baptist calls us to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord and to be ready for Christ’s arrival, not only in a general way into the world, but also in a particular way into each one of our hearts.

This voice crying out in the wilderness is telling us to be alert, ready, and prepared–to make straight our paths, for the Lord is coming, the Lamb of God is coming, Christ is coming!

The best way prepare for Jesus’ coming is take advantage of the sacrament of Reconciliation this Advent season. This is something we are all called to do.

If you feel that calling and desire to go to Confession during this Advent season, it’s important to prepare for receiving this wonderful sacrament.

Here are three ways in which we can do that:

1) Be prepared before going into the confessional

Central to our preparation before going to confession is an examination of conscience

In other words, we reflect on how long it’s been since our last Confession and what kind of sins we have committed during that time.

Don’t worry, you are not the only sinner out there! Every one of us struggles with temptation and sin.

As a newly ordained priest and confessor, I have learned that many people struggle with the same kinds of sins.

One of the devil’s tactics in keeping us in our sinful ways is making us think that we are alone. But this is a lie. We are not alone in our fight against temptation and sin.

All of us are called to examine ourselves and see where we have failed to do the Lord’s will in our lives.

2) Be prepared during confession

As we enter the confessional and begin the sacrament, we can prepare ourselves by opening our hearts to God’s love, mercy, and grace that He pours upon us through His priest.

In his book Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales wrote about the importance of listening to the priest in the confessional:

“Go to your confessor; open your heart to him; reveal to him all the recesses of your soul, and accept the advice he [the priest] gives you with the utmost humility and simplicity.

“God has infinite love for obedience. He often makes profitable the counsels we take from others, especially [from] those who guide our souls [our priests].”

In this way, we can be ready to be formed by the priest’s advice and by the Holy Spirit working in our hearts in that sacramental moment.

3) Be prepared after Confession

How can we be prepared after our Confession?

We can prepare to do penance and understand that we are strengthened to turn away from sin.

It is important to do the penance the priest gives us (like praying so many Our Fathers or Hail Marys), but we shouldn’t think that penance is a condition for God’s mercy.

God’s forgiveness is limitless and doesn’t depend on our doing penance.

However, penances help us to make satisfaction for our sin and help us to re-establish good, holy habits. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1494)

In addition to penance, God gives us the grace in this sacrament not to sin again.

While this sacrament is about confessing our sins and offering our failings to God, it’s also about receiving the strength and the grace to be better Christians, to be better followers of Christ.

And of course, we are imperfect human beings, who will eventually fail again and again. But we have God’s constant love, mercy, and forgiveness to help us along our spiritual journeys.

Preparing for confession can help us prepare for Christ’s coming this Christmas season.

We can prepare before going to Confession by examining our conscience, during Confession by being open to the Holy Spirit’s work through the priest, and after Confession in our resolve not to sin again and to cooperate with God’s wonderful grace.

Let us ask for the grace to run forth to be reconciled with God through the sacrament of Reconciliation so our hearts may be truly prepared for Christ’s coming at Christmas. 

[See also: 5 Conditions for a Good Confession Every Catholic Needs to Know, In One Infographic]

[See also: 6 Things You Should Do While You’re Waiting in Line for Confession]

Fr. Stephen Elser
Fr. Stephen Elser is the pastor at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Pocahontas, Ark. At just 27 years old, he was ordained in June of 2018. He also loves music, and plays the piano, saxophone, and organ.