Apology AcceptedCatholics are less than 2% of the population in Norway, and there are only nine priests in our diocese, which means one does not have much choice of confessors. When I was at a meeting in Ireland, and it occurred to me that I could ask one of the abbots present to hear my confession.There was really nothing special about our celebration of the rite, but that’s the point. A Catholic priest and penitent celebrating the sacrament is like putting on an old pair of shoes—they fit, and you just wear them, even if it’s been a long time since you last had them on. A sacred rite is a vehicle which carries me to where I’m supposed to be. In this case the sacrament of reconciliation brought me to a point of repentance and conversion. It was in the act of expressing sorrow for my sin that the grace of contrition began to flow into me. If the abbot had omitted that part, the ensuing conversion would not have happened. I got a big grace from this ordinary celebration of the confession and forgiveness of sin.I became a Catholic largely because of liturgy. It seemed to me the Catholic Church took the Incarnation seriously by involving our senses in the celebration of sacraments. Little things carry big graces. The wetness of holy water, the smell of wax, seeing a crucifix, hungering for God, the absence of the organ during the Triduum—all these sense perceptions can become vehicles for perceiving the divine. So when I celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I like to kneel for the whole rite. It helps me to feel sorrow for sin when I can express my need for pardon in my body. I appreciate it when the priest lays his hands on my head for absolution, and I like to extend my hands to receive it, in a gesture which reminds me that God’s forgiveness is all grace, all gift, all abundant mercy.At the beginning of Lent, forty days seems like such a long haul. But we humans need that space of time to get into it, to prepare the ground for conversion and then to allow the Spirit to work in us. The Church knows what she’s doing: To require Catholics to make a confession at least during the Lent/Easter cycle is a support to God’s working in us even while we resist change. It was "still dark" when Mary Magdalene came to the tomb, though the resurrection had already occurred. God can work even while we still feel the darkness of sin. The victory is already won. The challenge is to let the light of Christ in, into the darker areas of our soul.It is a help to have one confessor, rather than reciting the same list of sins to different priests. The roots of confession are in monasticism, the spiritual direction relationship between an experienced abbot and a younger monk. The purpose of the monk’s revealing his thoughts to the elder was to help the monk make spiritual progress. Something happens in the disciple as one hears oneself articulate one’s own sins. The penitent becomes more real by another human being’s acceptance in the light of truth. I suspect that for many of us, our faith needs to grow up, and our confessions need to grow up. We have to push beyond our comfort zone and confess our most shameful secrets, ignoring our humiliation and embarrassment, if we are to open the deeper recesses of our soul to the healing of Jesus.It is part of the mystery of free will that we can in fact keep God out. Because I want to let Christ’s light penetrate as deeply as it can, I want to be as open with my confessor as I can. I have started bringing my dreams to confession, even though dreams are pre-voluntary and so not really culpable. I am not an expert in dream analysis, but I think there is something to the theory that everything in the dream is a part of the dreamer. If there are disturbing elements in the dream, this may be an area that I want to open to God’s light, healing, and conversion.The rite of confession also teaches us how to deal with disruption in our relationships with other human beings as well as with God. An apology is never wasted. Sometimes the simple words "I’m sorry" can be the beginning of a whole new relationship.Yet it is often not enough to apologize. Perhaps this is the key step in my relationship with another: I need to show firm purpose of amendment by making some effort at reparation. What can I do to help the healing along or to change my attitude?Believe in the peace proclaimed at the end of the rite. Go and live like a forgiven person! Go and be Christ in the world!(Sidebar) The unexamined life is not worth living.How does one prepare to make a confession? In the monastery, we have two five-minute periods a day in which to examine our conscience: one after midday prayer, and one after the last prayer of the day.When we were novices, we were exhorted to examine our consciences by a section of the Rule of St Benedict, for example, Chapter 4 (72 tools of good works) or Chapter 7 (12 steps of humility). One can reflect over whatever "rule" one lives by. Married people could use their marriage vows as their examen. Any Christian can use the ten commandments or the Sermon on the Mount.It is a big plus if you can set aside three to five minutes at midday and/or before retiring to let the events of the day surface in your consciousness. What has been the quality of my relationships and conversations in the past six hours? How have I furthered life in others, or have I been a negative influence? Is there a predominant emotion which may be God trying to break through into my awareness of something in my life that needs attending to? What can I do better the next time I have an exchange with that person? Over time, a pattern may emerge which one wants to manifest to one’s confessor. The important thing is fidelity to the examen, in order to live at a deeper level of consciousness.A former USC editor, Cistercian nun Sheryl Frances Chen is currently chantress at Tautra Mariakloster on an island in the Trondheim fjord. The newly built monastery was completed in July, 2006 (www.tautra.no). Reprinted by permission of U.S. Catholic magazine, uscatholic.org.