How to Prepare for Confession
Advice given by Saint Theophan the recluse from his well known book Path to Salvation.
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).
When I disobeyed in ignorance Thy fatherly glory, I wasted in iniquities the riches that Thou gavest me. Wherefore, I cry to Thee with the voice of the prodigal son, saying, I have sinned before Thee, O compassionate Father, receive me repentant, and make me as one of Thy hired servants.
You must take time to know your sins. This can not be taken for granted as most of us are blind to our sinfulness. Make up a sheet with the Commandments of God on one side and your life on the other. Examine the differences.
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 that shows 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. This is true metanoia or repentance.
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.