We’re dealing with the Sacrament of Penance now. Before we get into the “How To” of confession, it’s a good idea to quickly notice “The Big Picture.” Overall, in this sacrament, the penitent does three principal things, the confessor one.
The sinner must (1) have sorrow (contrition) for sins. Then he or she must (2) disclose (confess) all mortal sins committed since the last confession. Lastly, the penitent must (3) intend to make up for the sin (penance), beginning with some prayer or action. The priest’s one essential act then follows: absolution in the name of God and His Church.
Let’s look at the first of these main ideas. For a number of reasons real sorrow for sin is not easy. First, contrition not only means “regretting the sins we have committed” but also actually “intending not to sin again.” I suspect that this is where the biggest danger of a bad confession lies, because so often we don’t really intend to change. We weak human beings can even try to fool ourselves into thinking we’ll be able to sin again and get away with it.
We won’t get away with it, you know. God not only knows our actions, He knows our thoughts and intentions too. He can tell if we are really sorry. He can also tell if our sorrow for sin is merely motivated by fear of punishment or embarrassment at the idea of getting caught. (This is called “imperfect contrition” if you want to be technical about it. It’s better than no sorrow at all, but it’s certainly the less mature approach!)
What we should try to do is be sorry for sin because of our love of God and our resultant dislike for everything that is ungodly. This is called “perfect contrition,” and from the moment we achieve this and intend to confess our sins in the Sacrament of Penance, even mortal sins are forgiven. (You can check out paragraph 1452 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church – in fact that whole section of the Catechism – to know more.) In the end, this better kind of contrition also makes confessing our sins easier.