That desire to know more is what led me to read Go in Peace: Your Guide to the Purpose and Power of Confession: 101 Questions and Answers by Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J. and Sean Brown by Ascension Press. As the title implies, the majority of the book is in question and answer format related to different aspects of Confession. However, at the end of the book, there is also a section on preparing for the Sacrament, an Examination of Conscience, the process of the Sacrament, a glossary of terms, and indulgenced prayers.
The Q&A section examined multiple layers of Confession, such as the an explanation of the Sacrament, the purpose of the Sacrament, the historical background of the Sacrament, Biblical links, the role in (or lack of) in other religions, an exploration of sin, and purgatory. The questions are listed 1-101 without necessarily being broken down into any sub-categories or having transitions between topics; although, the flow does feel logical and there are often connections back to previous discussions in order to have a more cohesive feel.
A few examples of some of the aspects that I appreciated most are:
- In question 34, there was an explanation of the Code of Canon Law (1457) calling for at least an annual confession followed by a rationale for more regular confessions. The authors stated, "Automobile engines run smoother if they have regular tune-ups by a mechanic, and teeth stay healthier if they are cleaned regularly by a dentist. So, too, the spiritual life of the soul benefits from frequent confession" (p. 32).
- When thinking about the status quo in our present day society and the recognition that there is a difference between what is acceptable in the overall general culture vs. what the church teaches, I especially loved the ideas in question 62. It talked about secular influences and the sense that sometimes we might feel like because something is so prevalent, it must not really be that bad. Fr. Pacwa shared a typical reply to those who express the sentiment of basing self-reflection off of cultural norms by stating, "You seem to be a good person, so long as you are comparing yourself to Al Capone. Once the norm for behavior is Jesus Christ, the evaluation may change" (p. 51). While my initial response was to laugh, I appreciated the reminder of what really matters and what should guide us when we are examining our conscience. Before I talked about the power of a priest as a guide because of the strong Catholic lens, rather than a lens based on current larger cultural norms. Fr. Pacwa's words here made me think back to that again, which is another reason for me to value Confession, knowing the priest will be in persona Christi and that the guidance will be in sound alignment with the Church He established for us.
- As a parent, I appreciated question 77 that focused on recommended frequency for children, as well as a rationale. Going on a regular basis "develops in them a good habit of examining their consciences, accepting responsibility for their misdeeds, and doing penance for their sins" (p. 62). I had not necessarily thought about the value in those terms, so that will help me as a parent to try to assist my girls in understanding why the Sacrament is relevant to their lives and how it can help them be better people. It is also a good reminder for me as an adult. One area where I realized I can improve is that I have noticed that as I confess I often qualify my sins or try to pair it with something positive about myself, rather than just going in and taking full ownership without trying to soften it or balance it out with positives. The excerpt that I shared from this question helps me to focus on a goal of taking ownership for my sins more fully.
Because Confession can be hard - voicing our short-comings and being vulnerable - this book is a good resource to establish why it is necessary and how it is beneficial for us. The main title Go in Peace emphasizes this.