Be Not Afraid: My Journey Back to Confession

By Brian Hennessey

“Confession is an act of honesty and courage. An act of entrusting ourselves, beyond sin, to the mercy of a loving and forgiving God.” - Pope Saint John Paul II


This month marks 10 years since I went back to Confession for the first time in many years. 

During my time away from the sacrament, I usually didn’t put too much thought into going. I knew I should go eventually, but mostly figured I would “get right with God” when I was older, or some time before I died at least. I had plenty of time.

But what happened about a year before my return to Confession had a profound impact on me. At the end of 2009, my best friend’s younger brother, who was also my friend and one of the most likable guys I knew, died suddenly in a car accident. He was 21. I was devastated, at a loss, and trying to make sense of it all. I hoped he was ok, and from talking with his family, I started to see God’s love and mercy at work. They told me some amazing things that happened in the days and hours leading up to his unexpected death. Two of them in particular struck me the most. I learned that his devout and concerned mom had just been praying a novena for him. Even more profound, he had gone to Confession just hours before the accident.

This all got me thinking more seriously about my own imminent death, whenever that might be, and I started asking myself if I would really be prepared to face God when the time came. Deep down, I knew I wasn’t. I had committed serious sins, and continued to, but hadn’t gone to Confession in years. I wish I could say that this realization prompted me to head to the confessional as soon as I could, but it didn’t. I was too afraid. I was terrified to tell a priest all the bad I had done, and I was maybe even more scared of what reconciling with God would mean for all the other parts of my life. I knew that if I was sincerely sorry for my sins, I would need to change a lot, and I wasn’t sure I was ready to commit to that. 

So for the next year, the call to repair my relationship with God was persistent, and I was often reminded of my best friend’s brother—but out of fear, I did my best to distract myself, to make excuses, and justify my sins. I gave myself plenty of reasons why I didn’t need to change or go to Confession. “I’m not that bad of a person. There are way worse people than me. I’ve never killed anyone. I’m nice to people. I go to church. What I’m doing is normal in this day and age. God understands the times I live in.”

Then one night sitting at home in January of 2011, I started having overwhelming thoughts of how unfulfilled I was—my life brought a lot of fun, excitement, and comfort, but those things came and went in spurts and never brought me lasting peace. I was anxious, irritable, and restless. Yet again, the call to change my ways and reconcile with the Lord was front of mind, but still again I sought to dismiss it.

While all of this internal conflict was going on, I decided to put on some music. My brother had just gotten a Mumford & Sons album for Christmas and said it was good. I knew nothing about the band or album, but figured it would make for good background music—maybe a good distraction from my struggles. So as I fought again not to get too close to God, the first song, Sigh No More, started to play. “Serve God” were the first two words of the song and convicted me right away. Then the chorus came—Love, it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free. Be more like the man you were made to be. The next track, The Cave, belts out in hope—I will change my ways. I’ll know my name as it’s called again. The song, Roll Away Your Stone, talks about a newly impassioned soul.  Awake My Soul states over and over Awake my soul, Awake my soul…You were made to meet your Maker. 

I couldn’t ignore His call anymore. Not one to cry listening to music, tears were rolling down my face. I was at a crossroads and I knew it. It was obvious God was speaking to me through this music, and I gave up fighting Him. I finally made a commitment to get to Confession as soon as I could, and to be serious about trying to avoid sin—to change my ways, and be more like the man I was made to be—and to do it now.

When Saturday came, I did a thorough examination of my conscience and headed to church. I was maybe more nervous than I’d ever been in my life, but I confessed all of the sins I could think of. There were some serious sins in particular that I really struggled with saying out loud, but I did it. Nothing I said caused the priest to yell or shame me. I realized I had no reason to be scared. He had heard it all I’m sure. Father gave me some words of wisdom and my penance, I said an Act of Contrition, and then he said these beautiful words of forgiveness—

God, the Father of mercies through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

I floated out of the confessional and through the parking lot to my car. I felt as light as a feather, like a massive weight had been lifted off my chest. No anxiety. No more fear. True peace. I knew I’d been forgiven.

A lot has changed in ten years since then. My lifestyle and relationships did have to change, but have only been for the better. Confession has been a regular part of my life ever since I mustered up the courage to go back, and each time I go it renews me and leads me closer to God. My life has had much more joy and peace, and much less anxiety, irritability, and restlessness. My relationships have become more real and more loving.

For those who have been away from Confession, and know God is calling you back to Him—take courage! Be not afraid. We know we’re called to meet our Maker, but we don’t know when. Let’s be prepared and listen to the voice deep down that speaks the truth, that knows reconciling with God is the last thing we should put off, no matter how scared we are to go—the voice that calls us to entrust ourselves, beyond sin, to the mercy of our loving and forgiving God.

January 10, 2021 - 12:19pm

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