Confession: A Catholic roadmap to fight injustice
Updated: Jun 8
The call for the Christian to care about social justice is nothing new. To care for the naked, the hungry, the imprisoned, the widow, the oprhan-- Jesus says when you care for these, you care for me. The issue right now is: how? Social media mob pressure is leaving many well-intentioned people unsure of the "correct" next step. There is a real risk of people feeling "damned if I do, damned if I don't, so I give up." Nope. Not an option. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are hurting. Take a breath, say a prayer, and ask what you are being called to do.
For Catholics, we have a guide. One that many of us are very familiar with. And the beauty of this guide is that it can incorporate whatever other ideas/suggestions you are seeing-- with clarity, discernment, and conviction. I’m talking about the sacrament of reconciliation, aka: confession.
1: Pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Prior to any preparatory step for the sacrament of reconciliation, it's recommended Catholics pray for the Holy Spirit to guide the process.
The current fight against racial injustice gained powerful momentum around Pentecost. This is no coincidence; we need the Third Person of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit guides, comforts, convicts, and corrects. If you are open, movement will happen.
Two Catholic women began a movement known as Rend Your Hearts. 19 days of fasting and praying from June 1 to Juneteenth (June 19th). This invitation to pray is foundational to any action steps that follow.
If you've ever prepared for confession without asking for the Holy Spirit's guidance-- or without doing an examination of conscience (next step)-- you personally know the difference this step makes.
Come, Holy Spirit.
2. Examination of Conscience
This is a big step for many. A hard, exhausting, and crucial step.
We spend a full year preparing kids for how to examine their conscience before confession. It is humbling and sometimes painful, if you do it right.
We must examine our collective and individual conscience with tolerating injustice.
How? Well, the Church speaks often of a well-formed conscience. This means learning and formation, guided by the Holy Spirit, in order to take an accurate self-inventory.
For a social justice issue, this may include (but is not limited to):
Education through research articles
Sit at the feet of others and learn (follow them on social media, listen to their podcast interviews, etc.)
Do your own personal work, if needed, for trauma/depression/anxiety. If you don't understand your own story, you will struggle even more to honor someone else's.
Look up what you don't understand. There may be new terms, a different lens to consider a particular event, or even reading the work of someone you likely disagree with to broaden your understanding.
In preparing for confession, situations arise where we may think "was that REALLY a sin?" and need to ask or seek clarification. Kids preparing for confession are constantly working through what certain things mean. They may not recognize something as a sin for the first few years, then they grow and learn and begin to hold themselves accountable to their new knowledge. The same thing happens when we unpack issues of injustice. New terms, new concepts, new ideas that require clarification and new understanding.
-Dig in to the WHY. There is a valid question that comes up when someone new joins the fight for justice. "Why now? This isn't a new problem. Why do you care now?"
"Arise, O Sleeper."
Were you asleep?
Unaffected because of your homogenous town?
Personally untouched because no one in your personal life experienced that injustice?
Maybe you have been passionate for another cause close to your personal life. In my case, it's people with disabilities because my brother was profoundly disabled. For others touched by human trafficking, that has taken over their effort and mental space. The point of acknowledging that is not to say "I am absolved because I was doing this other good" but to realize I KNOW how to fight and advocate. This is a muscle I've exercised. I need humility and education right now, and then this advocacy muscle can be put to work in a new arena.
Note: This is not an excuse. It is key to digging up a root issue. "I am distracted by unimportant things." paves the way to change and be aware. If you don't identify the why, it's more likely to sneak back in and lull you to complacency.
There's also an issue with shame that creeps in. Because Satan's gameplan is always to deceive and then accuse.
Deception: "The media is just blowing this out of proportion. That person was actually a criminal. There's not a real problem here."
Racism is a sin. The Evil one wants to see it fester and spread. As soon as awareness of this is present and there is a desire to change, the accusation comes in.
Accusation: "What kind of person are you anyway? You haven't care about them until now. No one wants someone like you to be a part of this movement."
Deception followed by accusation. Don't fall for it. The examination of conscience isn't about shame. Humble pie is my least favorite dessert, don't get me wrong. But seeing your why with humility is the best catalyst for long-term growth. And you will likely acknowledge where your strengths can be an asset and force for change.
Some people never need to know your why. It will not ease their pain, and it is not appropriate. The point of the "why" is not to defend yourself. It is to bring a deep seeded issue in to the light so it can be transformed and used for God's glory.
The examination of conscience can be tough. Even for the most seasoned Catholics, if we are convicted to root out a new issue in our hearts through this sacrament, it is painful. It is the more laborsome step, as well. I see this being the same with learning about a new (to you) injustice issue. It will require intentional learning, reflection, and being open to having your previous views challenged and changed.
3. Pray for courage.
Back to the Rend Your Hearts prayer and fasting movement. One of the prayers is the St. Michael prayer.
"Defend us in battle."
"Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil."
I have been spiritually attacked going to confession. I anticipate similar attacks when challenging injustice that divides the body of Christ.
Satan is a chained dog. And he knows that if a person returns to Jesus with a contrite heart through confession, he has lost. But if he can bark and carry on and scare them away, he still has a chance. Likewise, if we are one as the triune Godhead is one, we will be a force for good. So he divides. And an attempt at uniting WILL absolutely threaten his dominion on earth to devour souls.
He's going to get loud. Courage and protection will be crucial prayers in this fight. Because he’s on a chain. He doesn’t have ultimate dominion. But his ability to startle, scare, and freeze people in to inaction is real.
4. Lay it at the feet of Jesus. Confess.
In the sacrament of reconciliation, we literally take it to Jesus. There is also beauty in having another human being, in a protected sacred space, hear what we've shared. There's humility in that. In the case of racial injustice, if there has been overt racism in your heart, it must be confessed. It is a sin.
It may be helpful to talk about what you've learned and how you've grown with a friend. Someone who will listen if you choose to share the embarassing parts, who will hold you accountable in the future knowing you're on this path to growth, and who will accompany you in the fight.
Take it to prayer. Write it down in a journal. Don't just let the thoughts perpetually float around in your head. Lay them down somewhere-- in the safe hands of a trusted friend, in prayer, on paper, or in some combination.
5. Listen (again)
Yes, listening was part of the examination of conscience. It circles back around.
In confession, there's often a period of time where the priest reflects thoughts, asks questions, or gives feedback. I have had experiences where the priest says something, and it becomes clear to me that he truly is acting as a instrument for Christ. He's listening and speaking Jesus' words to me. Because there was NO way he could know something so perfect or personal to speak to me without divine inspiration.
In the moments of listening, there may be valuable feedback. From a friend, from a colleague, even from a random person on the internet. A posture of receptive listening allows us to find new places we need to take back to step 1 and repeat the steps for new growth.
6. Act of Contrition/Penance
“O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, 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 Thee, my God, Who art all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.“
(My emphasis added.)
Finally, let's do some life-amending! Many jump to this as the first step. And there may be appropriate actions to take right away. But for a long term change of heart and to avoid burnout or simply falling back into old habits, the first 5 steps are important.
Within the sacrament of reconciliation, the priest will give a penance. If I confessed screaming at my kids, was on my phone for 8 hours daily, and ignoring them to scroll social media, he might say "for your penance, pray a rosary for your family." This continues the change of heart and provides another space to grow and listen.
Through the conviction of the Holy Spirit, it will be clear in what ways your life should be amended. Your action step will be unique. And that is good. It is needed.
You may be called to write to legislators.
To donate to non-profits.
To start a non-profit.
To use a platform to bring awareness.
To intentionally bring awareness in your own family.
To have uncomfortable conversations with your aunt or best friend.
To sign petitions. To share and ask others to sign petitions.
To choose a different restaurant for dinner in a different part of town.
The list is endless. And it is all needed.
7. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Catholics are encouraged to go to confession monthly. Our commitment (duty) is to go annually. This conversion process is not a one time thing.
We repeat all of these steps very regularly:
Listen (to the Holy Spirit)
Learn (Examine your conscience with the right tools)
Lay it down (Repent)
Live differently (Amend your life)