One of the effects of being sinners is that we are blind to our own sins. Satan wants us to believe that there is no evil in what we do. If we fall into this trap, our hearts may become hardened and insensitive to the demands of love. This is why conversion of heart is so important. In fact, it is so important that Jesus has made the symbol of His Sacred Heart, the greatest manifestation of His love for us and of the love we are to have. "Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: 'If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts... Take heed brethren, lest perhaps there be if any of you with an evil heart of unbelief...'" (Heb. 3).
God is a loving Father who desires that we see our sins, so that He can give us the grace of repentance and forgiveness. He wants us to be free. Satan, however, does not want us to see our sins. When we begin to walk in the will of the Lord, Satan will try to accuse us with our own sins, so that we will become disheartened and return to our old ways. We must learn to discern the difference: God reveals our sins to free us and forgive us; the devil hides our sins and reveals them only to lead us to despair. We should vigorously reject these thoughts. God ALWAYS forgives when there is repentance in our hearts.
The Church teaches that in order for there to be a true confession three things are necessary:
1. That you recognize and truly feel sorry for what you have done that has offended God (and/or another person) and that you desire not commit it again. 2. That you verbally confess your sins to a priest in an individual, one to one manner (you must confess any and all mortal sins). 3. That you receive from the priest and complete an act of penance, which manifests your desire to make up for what you have done wrong and to no longer do it again.
Confession: When you enter the confessional say the following: Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been (number of days, weeks, months, or years) since my last confession. Tell all your sins distinctly and finish by saying: For these and all my sins of my whole life, especially ... I am heartily sorry and I humbly ask for penance and absolution. Then listen to the priest. After he has given the penance and while he is giving you absolution, say the Act of Contrition:
Act of Contrition: Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended You, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because they offend You, my God, Who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.
Preparing for Confession
To make a good confession it is necessary to prepare yourself carefully. Ask God to give you Grace to make a thorough examination of your conscience, the courage to make a sincere and complete confession, and the strength to amend your way of life in the days to come.
Think timidly and fearfully of our weak human condition. Begin your examination from the time of your last confession; try to recall whether you omitted anything through carelessness or lapse of memory, or from fear of embarrassment. Examine yourself with the assistance of the form of self-examination according to the Ten Commandments of God which follows. It is most necessary that you be truly sorry for the sins which you have committed, and that you firmly purpose amendment of your manner of living. Embrace the story of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32).
Recall all your obligations in relation to God, your neighbor and yourself. Go through the ten commandments. Review the Sermon on the mount (Matthew 5). Read the Epistle of James and the Epistles of Paul especially Romans 12:9-21 and Ephesians 4. Also read the Epistle of Saint John.
Seek out the things you should not have done and those which you should have done but didn’t. Also examine your good deed and try to see the motivations which were behind them. Was there a self serving agenda associated with them?
Be specific in your examination. In each case try and to identify the time, place, people involved and so forth. This will help you to avoid meaningless generalities and make you aware of specific behaviors that you will want to examine to change.
Once you have competed this list, which may be lengthy, Identify the underlying pattern which show you the characteristics of your inner heart. Identify the passions which are governing your life. Find the one passion which conditions all the other actions. Once you have identified this you have found the root of your sinfulness.
Next, reflect on these sins and their root until you see clearly that each one was committed according to your own desire. Don’t listen to the excuses your mind will begin to make for you. These don’t help. Keep working on this until you are ready to honestly say, I am guilty of this and that. In this process you will feel burdened and wretched. Don’t let this get you down. Feel good that you are uncovering your sinfulness and increase your desire to uncover them all. The right feeling to have is one of regret and repentance. This will lead you to making a vow to change. Once you have completed this process you are prepared for the sacrament of confession. It is through the sacrament that all the guilt and bad feelings can be erased and you can start with a clean start on a new way of life in Christ. It is a renewal process that you need to undertake at a minimum of once a year.