Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

As we celebrate the 175th Anniversary of the Archdiocese, we look back… on July 15, 1872 when the first baptism was recorded at St. Peter's Church, New Britain. The child's name was, Joseph Graff.
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Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. While it technically has been more than a year since my last confession, in violation of Code of Canon Law (Codex Iuris Canonici, hereinafter CIC) § 989, there are a number of mitigating factors related to this delay, which will be detailed in a separate confession at a mutually convenient time and date. What is to follow is a non-exhaustive list of mortal and venial sins that I may have committed since my last confession. As a significant period of time has passed since my last confession, this list is offered in the spirit of reconciliation and as a representation of the character and nature of some of my recollected sins within the applicable timeframe aforementioned. Moreover, nothing contained in the list to follow is intended to be an admission of guilt, except for the sole and limited purpose of admitting guilt as the “penitent” seeking “salvific remedy,” as referenced in CIC § 987. Moreover, by accepting this confession, you are hereby agreeing and acknowledging that you are a legitimately approved confessor, per CIC § 991, and are acting in good faith and in the spirit of fair dealing throughout the course of this confession.

Confession is hard for everyone, but it can be really hard for a criminal defense lawyer. My natural inclination, perhaps like yours, is to minimize, rationalize and explain “bad” behavior. After three years of learning to “think like a lawyer” in law school and years of practicing law in downtown Hartford, it is simply how I’m wired. I will tell my client privately, where circumstances merit, that they need to use their arrest and prosecution to internalize and address some underlying issue they’re experiencing. They need to take ownership of their own frailties and failings to find a way to a better tomorrow and, in the process, a favorable resolution of their court case. At the same time, I am at work justifying their conduct, developing a seemingly reasonable explanation for it and minimizing their responsibility for it as much possible, in light of his or her life circumstances. 

It’s hard to shut off that part of myself when it is time to call in my own chickens to roost, so to say. It is hard to not seek to defend myself. It’s hard to not rationalize and explain my own failings, spiritual and otherwise. It’s hard to make a good and sincere examination of my own conscience, and to humbly, sincerely and contritely bring my failings and misdeeds to my confessor. Often, in preparing for confession, I find myself doing a (less exaggerated) form of the legalese nonsense in the sidebar at left. My mind races to find a way to say as little as possible without sacrificing the meaning, so that I can squeak through with a technically sufficient and encompassing report to my priest. I seek to make it as impersonal, removed and bland as possible.

However, as we all know and feel, these justifications and avoidance tactics miss the point of actual repentance. The practice of confession, the penitential rite, comes from Jesus’ teaching to his apostles on the evening of Easter. “Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.’” (Jn 20:21-23) Like the apostles of old, their spiritual descendants, the priests, of this and every diocese, are not mind readers. They must be told what you wish to confess before God and for what you seek forgiveness.

There are many ways to examine your conscience and discern what to confess. My preference is not to think of every conceivable way I may have broken God’s rules, to the most excruciatingly small and immaterial detail. That method is more prone to the self-rationalization process. Instead, I ask myself a much broader question: God has given me a purpose through my vocations (husband, father, lawyer, new evangelist) and directs me go out into the world, each day, to play my part in the unfolding drama of the world. At the same time, God asks that I love him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and love my neighbor as myself. (Mk 12:30-31) How am I doing? How can I do better?

Cody Guarnieri is a criminal defense lawyer with a Hartford law firm and is a member of St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish in Hartford.