From a reader:
I was away from the Church for nearly 20 years, and when I found my way back, the remote parish I joined often didn’t have a priest and when they did he was only there for Mass and immediately after each Sunday service had to leave. So, it was many months before I was able to make it to confession. When I finally was able to participate in the Sacrament, I came away with a heavy feeling in my heart – more guilt at being away so long, sadness at my deep sinfulness …. This was not my memory of this sacrament, as I remembered it as being uplifting and strengthening and full of light. Now I am quite reticent to return to the sacrament, even though I feel a strong desire. Any suggestions for what I can do to ease my way back into the confessional?
First, congratulations for your return to the practice of your Catholic Faith. I am very glad you had the chance to make a good confession and receive, thanks be to God, absolution.
The principle effects of the Sacrament of Penance, or of Reconciliation, are, first and foremost, to forgive you your mortal sins, and then to reconcile you with God and the Church and fellow members of the Church, and to give you strength to avoid sins in the future. It is a great thing when the sacrament also makes you feel good, but making you feel good isn’t really a main effect of the sacrament. Yes, the sacrament is intended to give you peace. As we hear in the post-Conciliar form of absolution, “may God give you pardon and peace”. I don’t think “peace” and feeling good are quite the same thing.
It may be that, as you have returned to your Faith, and you have made a first confession in a long time, and a hard confession at that, you have a healthy sense of the horror we should have for sin and a sense of pain about your past failures. That may be a good thing, if it will strengthen in you your resolve to resist sinning in the future.
I have a suspicion that this heaviness of heart will subside.
Stay close to the Church. Make good Communions. Use the confessional as often as you need to. I think you will in a short time relax once it really sinks in on the affective or emotional level – not just the intellectual level – that you really really really have been reconciled with God and the whole Church, that you have really really really been grafted back onto the Vine, who is our Lord. Just as a graft needs a little time to bond and heal into its new place, you also might just need a little time for this all to sink in.
But don’t stay away from confession because you still have a heavy heart from your past confession.
Lastly, there is nothing so bad that we little mortals can do that the infinite power of God cannot forgive so long as we ask.
About your next confession… just do it! You’ll be fine.