A revert to Catholicism talks about the power of the sacrament of Confession:
I was a young man, and now intensely interested in women and related matters. As high school went on, I began to party more and pray less. My faith dwindled.
When I got to college, I threw myself into two things: partying and philosophy. The mix was a deadly cocktail for what little faith I had left, and within months of being in college I lost my faith entirely. I stopped praying, stopped going to Mass, stopped going to confession, stopped reading Scripture, etc. All I knew how to do anymore was party and raise adolescent kinds of questions about the existence of the external world. The philosophy of Descartes, and his method of doubt, indeed the enlightenment project generally speaking, is a most excellent means of silencing one’s conscience in the name of “reason.” And silence my conscience I did. Silencing it brought me temporary relief from the haunting voice. Doing so in the name of “reason” tickled my ego to no end. Whenever I thought of faith at all, the only question I could ask was “how can faith possibly be reasonable? what rational justification is there for believing this stuff?” These questions continued for years.
After four years of partying, broken relationships, and rationalizing it all in the name of “reason,” I became pretty conceptually and morally bankrupt. The prodigal son was waking up in the pigpen, and things were stinking up good. Certain books in philosophy triggered my wake up, and certain other books guided my way back to the Father’s house. I would be happy to talk about the sequence of books I read, and the philosophical points that cleared up a lot of my confusion. I think my story is testimony to the simultaneous greatness and wretchedness of philosophy. Philosophy can drag someone into hell, but it can also raise you up and set you down right in front of heaven’s door for you to knock.
The search led me one day, in my last year of undergrad, to go to confession to a priest for the first time since early high school. Let me tell you, when that priest made the sign of the cross over my head, and said the words “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” something happened in me that remains ineffable. Even the term “experience” is inadequate. I cannot describe it except as Jesus does: “if anyone believes in me, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water” (Jn. 7:38).
The sacrament of penance was the turning point.