Although you are not required to confess venial sins, I counsel first-timers to confess whatever may be troubling their consciences, even if it is small. This is a Sacrament to heal the heart as well as the soul. If it is any kind of sin at all, and it bothers you, submit it to the power of the Keys.
Start your examen with the “elephants” – things you KNOW need to be confessed, things that bother you the most. Then work through the Commandments, followed by the Beatitudes. You might also work through the Cardinal Sins and Virtues. Only when you have taken yourself as far as you can go in this way should you look at a list. But don’t think you have to come up with a sin for every item on the list! Lists are just prompts. You don’t have to fill in all the blanks!
Some people find it profitable to do this kind of major examen over a period of 3-6 weeks in half-hour stints. Trying to do it all at once can be just too much of a gulp. Don’t be bullied by people who tell you the confession needs to be short. It CAN be short, and probably will be. But a first confession of a lifetime of sins might also take some time. My spiritual director schedules an hour – even though the person is usually done in 30 minutes.
[font=Arial]Do not be persuaded that the sins of childhood do not belong here; if you truly examine your conscience, you will likely find that the sins of your childhood have, in fact, seeded the sin-history of your adolescent and adult life. You can, however, limit the childhood portion of your confession to “highlights” that typify the major faults, with an indication of how prevalent these things were.[/font]
Don’t try to beat Newman’s marathon of seven hours :bigyikes:with his confessor (WHAT was he DOING in there?) , or even St. Ignatius of Loyola’s three-hour stint. Just do whatcha gotta do with total honesty and perfect integrity: no embroidery; no concealment; no euphemisms, no soap-operas.
You can ask the priest to help you if you find yourself overwhelmed; he’ll understand.
Above all, pray about this starting right NOW. Ask Jesus to make this confession for you – he did it for me.