Friday, February 15, 2008


He came toward me with his head drooping and a shuffle in his step. His hands were shoved in his pockets and there was desperation in his eyes. He looked like he was taking that last walk to the gallows. But continue on he must. He had not been to confession in 30 years and now it was harder not to go than to go.

If you have not been to confession in years (or if you know of someone who has not been to confession in years) fear not! If you (or your friend) have completely forgotten everything about how to go to confession here is help!

DO make a good examination of conscience. That is, before you go in to confession think about what it is that you have to confess, not just the thing that is bothering you, but a well rounded examination. Especially if you go during lent when there may be many people in line it will be a considerable cause of distress if you enter and say, “I have not been to confession for 20 years. I don’t know what to confess.” Having a lot to confess is Okay but thinking those things up on the spot can be trying. To remedy this look up an examination of conscience in a good Catholic prayer book or go on line.

DO tell the priest how long it has been since your last confession (since 5th grade or 10 years, or whatever) and be honest if you do not remember how to go to confession. “Father, it has been 25 years since my last confession and I forget what to do.” If the priest is worth his salt, he will kindly guide you through the process.

DO be honest about your penance. If your confessor gives you something to do that you do not understand or for some reason you cannot complete, inform him and ask for another penance. This is your right.

DON’T freak about not remembering your Act of Contrition. You may make up your own – or he may have a cheat sheet in the confessional for you. Or you can bring one. Or you can just say, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” If you do make up your own try to express your regret of your sin and your present desire not to sin again. And maybe end with an “Amen” so that the priest knows that you are through.

If for any reason the priest gives you a hard time (and the vast, vast majority would not dream of doing so) let him know it. We are to be dispensers of God’s mercy not judges. Judging is God’s role. (Though you might receive a jot of advice.)

Here’s a little trick. If there is more than one priest hearing confessions and one line is VERY long and the other VERY short. That should tell you something.

By and large priests are touched at someone coming back to the sacrament. A good priest does not focus on your absence but rather rejoices that you are there now. It is not about being scandalized at a debauched life but rejoicing that you are turning a corner in your life for the future. That is something to celebrate, not get “hot under the collar” (sorry) about! So fear not!

“All men thirst to confess their crimes more than tired beasts thirst for water.” Illustrated London News 1908

IN OTHER NEWS: I know today is not a “In Other News” day but Adoro wrote this morning and asked that this be posted for your information. Today at noon nominations are being accepted for the Catholic Blog Awards. If you would like to know more or participate, go here.


Anonymous said...

Another great post, Fr. V.!

When I made my 12-year confession, it was at a Penance Service, and they provided an examination of conscience upon entering the church for the service. And I ended up in a line to go to a face to face confession. And of course, for that 45 minutes in line I was bawling my eyes out. Really. So by the time I got to that poor priest, I was just a MESS, I was completely freaked out, and all he said was "Oh, my!" And then I told him it had been 12 years, and he thought that was just awesome. In fact, he said, "THAT'S GREAT! YOU'RE THE PRODIGAL DAUGHTER!"

It may seem weird to say, but that was one of the best days of my life. And it still makes me cry to think about it, although they're not the same kind of tears as they were that evening standing in line thinking that I should and would be damned to Hell.

Anonymous said...

Good points. I don't know about everywhere, but some Reconciliation rooms/confessionals have copies of the Act of Contrition on a table, or one might find "How to Go to Confession" etc. out in the lobby, or one may go into the church office and ask for whatever seems needed, or one may simply ask a practicing Catholic friend or acquaintance what Confession or Receiving Him in Eucharist is like these days (or at this particular parish). Even those whom we may think devout who go to confession every week or 4 or 8 are Prodigal sons and daughters, too. The priests themselves go to Confession. We're all in the same Boat. No one should hesitate to come back to Him with all their heart--it's all easier than satan would have us believe. If we could hear our Jesus calling our name, or see His eyes waiting for us, we'd climb over far worse obstacles than a natural but unneeded embarrassment to get to Him.

Odysseus said...

-If for any reason the priest gives you a hard time (and the vast, vast majority would not dream of doing so)-

Indeed, never in my 35 years has any priest given me a hard time at confession. Not the traditionalist priests, not the liturgical dance priests, nobody.

Well, at my first confession, age nine, Father Mike got a little upset with me when, after I confessed to fighting in school and he had absolved me and asked me to make a firm intention of never fighting again (which seemed inconceivable to me), I promised to "probably" not do it again. Father Mike, rather sternly, reminded me that we must make firm intentions to avoid sin, and not just ballpark it.

Anonymous said...

I found it's not the "it's been 25 years since I've been to Confession" - the one that gets Priests is "it's been 2 days since my last Confession" (!!) :-) One Priest looked at me & asked what I could have done to have to come to Confession in 2 days. LOL I guess it's that Catholic guilt! ;-)

Anonymous said...

Um....once it was 23 hours for me.

"Bless me Father for I have's been ...23 hours...since my last confession."

Anonymous said...

One of the best confessions I ever had was on a Sunday morning - I made a terrible mistake & I knew that if I didn't go to Confession, I could not receive the Eucharist.

What made it more difficult is that I was not going to attend my regular parish - I was going to another parish south of Cleveland, which had a great talk planned after the 11:00 Mass.

Because I know the Priest at this Parish, I contacted him at the Rectory & explained the situation. His only question - "When can you come?" It was such a blessing...and the Mass had so much more meaning!
Lillian Marie

Anonymous said...
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Fr. V said...

You know,

This was great. Usually - like the evening news - we only hear of what went wrong as opposed to the billions of things that went right. How great it was to hear stories of, "The best confession I ever had!"

Anonymous said...

One evening I had such a great Confession that I wanted to go again the next day! Although I hadn't done anything to warrant it, so didn't. But you get the point.

I think one of the things I liked best about my really good Confession was when the priest asked me, "How is your relationship with Jesus?" and he followed that up with, "Does he speak to you? What does he say? And how are you responding to that?"

I can certainly meditate on those things, but it's different actually ANSWERING those questions in that context, and my answers could reveal flaws and sins I had maybe not otherwise considered. Yeah, it's probably more on the Spiritual Direction side of things, but sometimes maybe that's necessary as opposed to just the rote formula. I think sometimes we need a little extra push in the Sacrament to make us go maybe a little deeper than we would on our own.

Sarah Reinhard said...

This is really good, Fr. Z! Do you mind if I use it (possibly modified) in our parish bulletin? Well...maybe. I emailed it to Padre and perhaps I'll get him to write his own version of it.

Your writing this makes me want to drive up to Cleveland for confession.

You know...I have family in that area. Hmm.

Hmm. :)

Fr. V said...


Use it!

And come on up and visit!

Fr. V

Sarah Reinhard said...

Well, just remember, when I show up, that YOU invited ME. :) (kidding, kidding)

Thanks for permission to use it! :)