The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation is the same thing as Confession but I guess the name is suppose to make it sound less scary and unpleasant.
Father Bill explained healthy guilt as the nagging of our conscience. We make amends for what we've done, if possible, and resolve to do better and then move on. Neurotic guilt is guilt that we hang on to, often irrational guilt, that is crippling and prevents us from making forward progress in our lives (personal, spiritual, emotional, whatever). So Father Bill often counsels people on how to overcome neurotic guilt. In some cases, Confession can be like a free therapy session.
But to get the most out of Confession, one has to avoid freaking out. Just like I had to go to Health Services every few weeks to get my blood pressure tested before it stopped skyrocketing as soon as I entered the building, I'm told it's useful to go to confession regularly so I'm not an incoherent bundle of anxiety as soon as I open my mouth. And based on my blood pressure measurements, I know that the obligatory once per year is not going to cut it. Since I never got around to making my pre-Baptism practice confession I started with the real thing on Saturday. I meant to show up armed with my informational brochure "The Light is ON for You" but I forgot it at home and had to go with my fail-safe of being all confused.
So I showed up at this church I'd never been to before (long story as to why I went there instead of my home parish) and it took me a while to figure out how to get in (the doors are pull instead of push). This is the church with the pimped out adoration chapel. Father was hanging out in a pew waiting for me and gave a friendly greeting. I told him I was a little anxious (TOTAL understatement). He smiled and said, "Oh, that's ok." He's obviously had a lot of practice remaining calm around highly anxious people and I was glad he didn't try to calm me down because that makes me more nervous. Father took me into a little room. He said he wasn't expecting anyone to bother us but partially closed the door just in case.
I decided to do the Confession face-to-face because that makes me less anxious. I hate calling people because I have a weird phone anxiety that I think has to do with not being able to see the other person. And since I had called for an appointment, anonymity was impossible, even though there is a little desk with a screen to sit behind. I thought it was cute when Father pointed out the obvious. "You can sit behind the screen if you want, but of course I already know who you are." Father sat down across from me and put on his purple stole which marks his transition from average Joe to proxy-for-Jesus. (Although I didn't see any Divine Mercy laser beams like the ones being shot at St. Faustina.)
Thankfully I had brought some notes on what I wanted to say because my adrenaline was pumping due to my nervousness. I spit out a rush of words complete with neurotic back-and-forth arguments with myself. Father listened as though I were giving him a weather forecast. The main sin that I admitted to is pride--for example, I get annoyed when people don't understand a point I'm trying to make. "Haven't they been paying attention? If they had been paying attention, surely they would understand." He didn't comment at all until I was done monologuing, although I did get him to crack a smile and sort of chuckle a couple of times.
The first thing Father said to me was to be patient and I immediately realized that I hadn't confessed being impatient, so I thought, "Well done slipping that one in there, this guy is good!" Then he gave me some good advice and suggested a penance. I read a prayer and then he absolved me. To my surprise, I noticed that all of my anxiety immediately evaporated and I felt more relaxed and peaceful than since I-don't-know-when, even though I was still sitting in the same room with the same man. Father walked me out and gave me a new brochure and said something cryptic like "I'm sure we'll cross paths again."
It was kind of great! This super nice guy was morally obligated to listen to me pour my heart out and then give me loving words of encouragement, what's not to like about that? Why waste time dating when I can just go to Confession? I could get used to this.
The minuscule amount of penance I'd been given was to pray for a few minutes that I can have strength to do better in these areas during the coming week. On the way home I started thinking, "That's it? Was he even taking my Confession seriously? Didn't he think I could handle a harsher penance?" Then I busted out laughing, realizing that this was an awfully proud reaction. I may as well have turned around and marched right back in there! So yes. It seems the penance was apt.