The Gift of Confession in a Season of Infertility
The Sacrament of Confession is a generous gift from God, communicated to us through the Church and the ministry of the priesthood. In Confession we open our hearts to God, ask His forgiveness for our sins, and receive the grace to be more like Him. But that’s not all. As with all the Sacraments, Confession is an intimate encounter with the living God, a chance to meet Him in a mysterious but tangible way, and to be touched by Him and called to a new way of living.
As wonderful as it is, Confession can be particularly challenging for those on the path of infertility and/or loss. It may be hard for us to go to Confession because we don’t know if the priest will respond with sensitivity if we bring up the subject. Or we may resist the Sacrament because we’re carrying strong emotions that we don’t want to let out—or let go of. Perhaps we’ve felt jealous or angry at seeing a pregnancy announcement, and we feel wracked with guilt and fearful of admitting it out loud. For these reasons, and any others we can think of, examining our conscience and going to Confession in a season of infertility can be hard. But it doesn’t have to be, because God doesn’t want us to stay away from Him, His forgiveness, or His healing touch. We can’t shock or surprise Him, because He knows our hearts. Yet He’s waiting for us to unburden ourselves to Him. God is waiting for you.
How often should I go to Confession?
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 2042) and the Code of Canon Law (CIC, can. 989; CCEO, can. 719) Catholics should make the Sacrament of Confession at least once a year. This is the bare minimum, but to stay spiritually healthy—and to more positively impact our relationships with others—going more often is highly beneficial. To help you along, consider making Confession a fruitful part of your marriage by keeping a monthly or bi-monthly “date” with your spouse. Depending on Confession times, plan on going to Confession and then to brunch, or to dinner. Mark it on your calendar as a standing “date” you have together with God every month. Incorporating the Sacrament into the rhythm of your married life will strengthen your relationship with God and each other.
Preparing for Confession
The first step in preparing for Confession is to acknowledge that you need it. It may feel like you’re mustering the sheer force of your will to get in the car, drive to the church, and take your place in line, but you need God’s help to get you there, so spend some time in prayer, either at home or when you arrive at church. Ask God to strip away the layers of protection—or stubbornness—on your heart so that you can examine your thoughts and actions in an honest way. Ask Him for the grace to be spiritually open to receive the healing that He longs to give you when you lay your heart bare for Him. Say a prayer for the priest who will hear your confession, because he is in need of God’s grace and the Holy Spirit’s guidance, too.
Father, I love You, and I want to be honest and open with You, but I am afraid. Help me to believe the truth that I am Your son/daughter, and that I need not be afraid of You. Give me the courage to go to Confession and receive all the healing and grace You are waiting to pour out.
Send your Holy Spirit to my priest confessor, that he will hear my confession with sensitivity and discernment, assist me in making a good confession, and encourage me to turn to You and away from the temptation to sin.
Examining Your Conscience
Once you have decided to make your confession, it’s time to take a close look at your spiritual health. Examining your conscience is a way to look honestly at your thoughts and actions—including the ways you were thoughtless or didn’t act when you should have—and call to mind both the little (venial) sins, and any serious (mortal) sins you’ve committed. There are a lot of great resources available to help you examine your conscience, and we recommend finding one that will help you to acknowledge all your sins. In a season of infertility, however, you may want some extra help as you examine a heart filled with many complicated emotions. Before we offer some suggestions, it is important to understand that thoughts and emotions are not sinful in themselves. When we are in pain, and carrying a cross like infertility or loss that is often misunderstood and very isolating, it’s natural to perhaps have terrible thoughts cross our minds, or to experience complex emotions. Feeling angry or jealous, for example, is a real part of this struggle, but not sinful on its own. If we feed those emotions, ignore our conscience and dwell on them, speak and act uncharitably, or sever relationships because of these emotions, we are crossing the line into sinfulness, and it’s time to stop in our tracks and seek God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Confession.
A good confession won’t magically make the pain of infertility or loss go away, but it is a necessary part of restoring your relationship with God and strengthening your resolve to resist sin, and an important part of your healing. It will also strengthen the bond between you and your spouse, because we can’t make a good marriage on our own. We need God’s grace to tighten our spousal bond and sustain us.
Here are a few things to pay attention to as you examine your conscience in a season of infertility:
My relationship with God
- Have I given in to despair and the belief that God has forgotten me, does not love me, or is punishing me?
- Have I missed Mass on Sundays and/or holy days without just cause?
- Am I allowing difficulty in praying during this season to become an excuse for turning away from God?
- Does my prayer life look like bargaining with God, promising Him time in exchange for my desires?
- Out of desperation, weakness and/or lack of trust in the Lord, have I pursued medical interventions that go against God’s design for my body, the good of marriage, and the teachings of the Church (eg. IVF, surrogacy, and other Artificial Reproductive Technologies)?
- Have I felt unjustly pressured into such things by my spouse, causing feelings of resentment, distrust, or even hatred that directly affect the sacramental unity of our marriage?
My relationship with my spouse
- Do I harbor resentment toward my spouse, or blame him/her for our inability to conceive?
- Have there been times when I lacked compassion and sensitivity when my spouse was hurting or expressed his/her emotions?
- Have I been tempted to dwell on past romantic relationships, or sometimes allow myself to be preoccupied by thoughts about whether I would be a mother/father but for my spouse?
- Have I turned away from my spouse by engaging with pornography?
- Do I sometimes pressure my spouse to be intimate in order to increase our chances of conceiving, rather freely and totally giving myself out of love?
- In my desire for a child, have I objectified my spouse, seeing him/her as a means to the end of conceiving?
My relationship with others
- Have I cut off my relationship with family members or friends because of their pregnancy or life with children?
- Do I allow fleeting thoughts of jealousy or anger to fester inside myself? Do I acknowledge those emotions and deal with them, or do I purposefully dwell on them?
- When people inquire about my family size or pregnancy, when they offer “solutions,” or become intrusive in their questioning, have I responded in anger or with a lack of charity?
- Have I wished ill on anyone who has announced their pregnancy?
- Have I judged others as being less worthy of receiving a child than I?
- Am I going beyond the natural feelings of sadness and pangs of jealousy, and harboring feelings of resentment or hatred toward family, friends, or acquaintances who are pregnant or have children?
My relationship with myself
- Have I turned to unhealthy means of dealing with the stress of infertility/loss (eg. heavy drinking, drug use, pornography, etc.)?
- Infertility and loss bring about strong emotions, like anger, jealousy, deep discouragement, and more. Am I making a sincere effort to overcome these emotions when they lead to sin?
- Am I making an effort to cultivate my relationship with God through prayer and the Sacraments?
- Do I indulge in thoughts that I am to blame for infertility/loss, or that I am unworthy of being a mother/father?
- Do I doubt that I am a beloved son/daughter of the Most High King, inherently valuable for who I am and not what I can or cannot do?
Father, I want to make a good confession. Help me to examine my conscience honestly, and to place my sins in Jesus’ hands, so that He can present them to You as I make my confession. Let me not be burdened by worry that You will withhold forgiveness from me, and instead, strengthen my faith in Your abundant love for me and desire to pour out Your mercy on me. Give me the courage to empty myself so that my soul is ready to be filled with Your grace.
Make Your Confession
After examining your conscience, ask our Blessed Mother to hold your hand as you enter the confessional. She is always pointing us toward Jesus and His merciful Heart, and she wouldn’t do that if there was anything to fear. Let it all out and don’t hold back. God wants you to unburden yourself so that He can, through the mediation of the priest and the Church, absolve you of your sins and give you the grace to live a new life in Him.
Father, thank you for the gift of Confession! I am overwhelmed by Your mercy, and I promise to try my best to lean on You when I am tempted to sin, and to always remember that Your love is greater than my weakness.
Do Your Penance—and Go in Peace!
The Sacrament of Confession is spiritually and emotionally freeing, and gives us the grace to better follow Christ and love all those He puts in our lives. Availing ourselves of the Sacrament as often as needed is also an essential part of dealing with the challenges and grief associated with infertility. Apart from the Sacrament, we can do an examen each night before bed, and think about those ways we may have fallen short that day—not to be overly critical of ourselves, but to recognize where we can be more loving, considerate, and charitable, asking God’s help to be better tomorrow.
If we’re not praying with our spouse, now is a great time to start! Keep it simple, thanking God for each other and for all the good things He’s given us. Ask God for help with your needs and for those of others. Finally, use your prayer time as an opportunity to ask forgiveness for any hurts or slights toward each other. Ask God to bless your marriage and give you the grace to love each other as He loves you.
Father, even when I fail to love well, You love me. When I am discouraged and overwhelmed with sadness, You are always by my side. When I lose faith in You, in myself, and in my marriage, You remain faithful to me, ready to welcome me back into Your loving arms. Give me the grace to love myself and my spouse more fully. Help me remember that I am Your beloved child, made in Your holy image. Bless me and my marriage, and reveal to my spouse and me the unique and beautiful plan for fruitfulness You have designed just for us.