It’s Holy Week and Lent is drawing to a close. Have you made a good confession? It just doesn’t seem possible that any Lent can be complete or even proper without going to confession. In many diocese there is a “Light is On for You” outreach wherein confession is available in all the parishes of that diocese every Wednesday night from 6:30 pm – 8:00pm. That is surely the case here in the Washington Area. I’ll be in the box waiting for people this Wednesday! So will all the other priests in the Washington and Arlington Dioceses. I am aware that Boston and other dioceses are doing something similar. But wherever you are it’s not too late to get to confession.

There are a number of reasons people postpone or even refuse to go to confession. Here are a few, plus a helps and suggestions.

1. I don’t need to go to the priest to confess my sins. Really? I wonder where you might have heard that? Is there some Bible verse that says that? Or is it perhaps just an unproven opinion? For scripture nowhere says, that you should only tell your sins privately to God. To the contrary, it says, Declare your sins, one to another (James 5:16). This same text goes on to specify that the priest is the one to do this and declares: The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Hence the Scriptures do not affirm a merely private notion in terms of confession. Quite the opposite. I have written more on the thoroughly Biblical origin of the Sacrament of Confession HERE.  Please consider reading it if you have doubts that confession is an integral part of the life of a Christian.

2. I’m anxious because it’s been a long time and I have forgotten the ritual. Be of good cheer,  you are not alone. Priests are well aware that many people need a little help with the format and things like the Act of Contrition. And don’t be too quick to think of Confession merely in terms of ritual. Fundamentally, Confession is a discussion. Feel free to ask the priest questions and to request help. If you’d like to review some of the aspects of Confession, how to prepare, and how the rite is celebrated here is a good site: How to Make a Good Confession.

3. I don’t have a lot of time and am not available to go at the usual time. Consider calling your parish or a nearby parish and asking for an appointment with the priest when you ARE available. Most priests are quite willing to make time to hear confessions at other than usual times. This is one of the essential reasons we were ordained. In larger cities there are often monasteries and Religious houses that make confession available all through the week at frequent hours. Here in DC both the Basilica and the Franciscan Monastery are legendary as places to go daily at all the major hours to celebrate Confession.

4. I don’t have to go if I don’t have mortal sin. Well, perhaps a lawyer will agree with you. But two things come to mind. First even little things have a way of piling up. Before long a room can look pretty cluttered, one little thing at a time. Secondly, mortal sin isn’t as rare as some people think. There is not the time to develop a whole theology of sin here, but simply realize that it is possible for all of us to do some pretty harsh and mean-spirited things, to say things that harm the reputation of others, to indulge in highly inappropriate sexual thoughts, to look a pornography, engage in masturbation, skip miss on Sunday, be prideful, thin-skinned and egotistical, misuse God’s name and refuse charity to the poor. And many of these things can become mortal sin, or are, by nature mortal sin. There is an old saying: Nemo judex in sua causa (no one is a judge in his own case). Simply making declarations that “I don’t have mortal sin” might not be a judgment you should be making. Regular confession is a more humble approach, it is less legalistic and also brings forth the grace to avoid sin in the future.

4. I don’t know what to confess. This is a common problem today where moral formation in our culture and even among Catholics is poor and generally vague. But there is help available. The sight already mentioned How to Make a Good Confession has a pretty good examination of conscience. I have also posted before what I consider one of the best helps I have discovered in preparing for confession. It is called the Litany of Penance and Reparation and is available by simply clicking on the title. If you prefer a more biblical preparation trying reading this passage:

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col 3:5-17)

It’s pretty hard to read a passage like this and come away thinking we have little to confess.

The bottom line is this: Go to Confession. Make the time. We find time for everything else. Remember how Lent began with this plea on Ash Wednesday: We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God!…Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor 5:20, 6:2).

Enjoy this effective video:

27 Responses

  1. Nick says:

    Sins some souls might not be aware of, which I’ve learned from canon lawyers and theologians, and which I give some examples for (though the examples may not be exact, so my apologies if they confuse anyone, and I am open to correction):

    - It is sacrilege to administer Holy Communion in the state of mortal sin (this also includes Extraordinary Ministers)
    - It is sacrilege to receive Holy Communion in the state of mortal sin (this also includes Extraordinary Ministers)
    - It is omission to not confess all your known mortal sins in Confession (this does not include sins you have forgotten or are aware of)
    - It is omission to not give alms to the poor when you pass them on the street (this even includes giving your jacket or coat to a naked man)
    - It is neglegence to not go to the Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation (except for a grave reason)
    - It is neglegence to not go to Confession at least once during Eastertide (except for a grave reason)
    - It is racist to discriminate against a neighbor because of their color (for example, racial stereotyping)
    - It is sexist to discriminate against a neighbor because of their gender (for example, extreme feminism)
    - It is cyberbullying to harm a neighbor online by torment, threat, or humiliation (this even includes insults)
    - It is cybertexting to pretend to be having sex with a neighbor online (this includes even enticement)
    - It is phonetexting to pretend to be having sex with a neighbor on the phone (this includes even enticement)
    - It is piracy to download or upload stolen content (for example, downloading or uploading a video game rom)
    - It is false witness to lie against a neighbor in court (for example, saying someone is lying about you lying about them)
    - It is perjury to lie against a neighbor under oath (for example, saying – under oath – that someone is lying about you lying about them)
    - It is rash judgment to even imply you assume that a neighbor’s fault is true without moral certainty (for example, calling a priest a pedophile when you aren’t sure if he is one)
    - It is detraction to tell people about a neighbor’s fault without a valid reason (for example, gossping about a criminal’s sins)
    - It is calumny to harm a neighbor’s reputation by making remarks contrary to the truth (for example, falsely claiming a priest tells his congregation to worship the Devil)
    - It is boasting to talk about one’s deeds or possessions in a proud manner (for example, bragging about immoral activities)
    - It is a sin to comically exaggerate a neighbor’s behavior to his harm in the form of irony (for example, ironically calling President Obama “a king” because of his actions)
    - It is a sin to discriminate against a neighbor because of his sin (for example, discriminating against a disobedient Sister because of her disobedience)

    • Nick says:

      this does not include sins you have forgotten or are unaware of*

    • An interesting list. Some of your examples are a little zany :-)
      Also, I am not sure about the last one, some clarifications and distinctions might need to be operative here.

      Regarding the one about the poor, I think a little distinction is necessary since some rightly conclude, based on circumstances that it is not a good idea to give cash to a beggar. Some prefer to support charities that more carefully and systematically work to help the poor.

      • Nick says:

        Great clarifications :) For the last one, I would like to clarify that rebuke is not discrimination. For example, the Church rebukes homosexuality, but she does not discriminate against homosexuals. I suppose this would be lost on those who believe homosexuality is natural activity, as well as on those who cannot differentiate between the doer and the deed. Suffice it to say: Detest the sin, love the sinner.

        • Will says:

          we learned in Catholic Moralty class that homosexuality, although “natural” is not the proper term I suppose, can be something people are born with. This, of course, does not make it okay, but we are to be compassionate and understanding, and help these people live lives of celibacy.

          • Too bad for the Catholic Morality Class. St. Thomas numbers homosexual acts as among sins contrary to Nature. Further in Scripture St. Paul calls Homosexuality Paraphysin (contrary to nature) cf Rom 1:26-27. I wonder why a Catholic morality class would speak of it as natural? That some may be born with the orientation (a point that some debate – but let’s just suppose it for argument), does not make it natural, . Any more than one born with no arms exhibits a natural tendency. It is not natural to have no arms, even though some are born that way.

    • Nick says:

      Correction: One must go to Confession at least once a year, but nothing about Easter. I confused it with the other precept on Holy Communion.

  2. just_a_dre says:

    Msgr., I have a question regarding scheduling an appointment for confession.

    Due to my job and family life, I rarely have the opportunity to go to confession at scheduled times. I used to go every two weeks… now I’m lucky if I can go every few months. I’d like to return to frequent confession, but I’d feel like I’m somehow wasting the priest’s time if I scheduled appointments every two weeks. What would you think? Okay to make appointments for frequent confession?

    • Bender says:

      Job, maybe. But “family life”? Why can’t confession at scheduled times be a family affair?

      And if you are from this area, there are countless different parishes to go to at various times.

      • just_a_dre says:

        I’m from across the country and I’m in an area that only offers confession on Saturday evenings before the Vigil Mass. And my family is not Catholic… due to my job, Saturday is the only day that I am with my family and we are usually “out and about” doing different activities together.

    • I have a few people who do just that, make appointments for regular confession. This is usually due, not to schedule problems, but to the fact that they want to spend a little more time with the celebration of the sacrament than is possible in the publicly scheduled times where the priest needs to keep things moving along. If it is hard to schedule with your priest, consider, as mentioned some of the larger venues like religious shrines, downtown parishes or monastic houses.

      • just_a_dre says:

        Thanks Msgr. As I mentioned in response to the above poster, we’re awfully scarce when it comes to the availability of the sacrament where I’m from. Sadly. My parish doesn’t even have a pastor– we have a lay administrator and a priest who comes to celebrate Mass. It’s a mess. Thanks for your help.

  3. TrashCan Jack says:

    The link to your previous post regarding the Biblical origins of confessions is not working. Can you republish? Thanks.

  4. ejcmartin says:

    After a two month hiatus from confession due to sickness, lack of time, and a fear of confessing I finally went on Saturday. (Our Archdiocese had priests on hand most of the day at one parish for confession.) After confessing one particular sin I that had kept me away I found the absolution lifted a terrible weight off my shoulders. I really wish more people could understand the incredible power of confession to relieve stress. (Unfortunately many have the attitude of one of my Catholic co-workers. When I mentioned an upcoming opportunity for confession she told me “but I haven’t sinned”. I was so dumbstruck I didn’t know how to respond.)

  5. Jamie Reynolds says:

    Easter Masses will be packed. The lines for Communion will be long. So many people willing to receive Christ without a full confession. This happens year after year after year – yet I can’t recall a priest ever reminding the Easter congregation of the requirement. Why is this? Either the Church believes and adheres to this practice or it doesn’t.

  6. At a Loss says:

    Has the Church ever considered those who can’t drive?

    Our priest is SUPPOSED to hear Confessions before Mass, but never does. I get a ride to Sunday Mass, but not on Saturdays when he’s in the Confessional. And, believe me, he’s always running around (I used to help out in the rectory when my Mom was alive and could take me), so he’s not about to sit still for a Confession without glancing at his watch.

    I can make the Sacrament maybe twice a year by asking a friend to work me into his schedule at HIS church, since I can’t go to mine.

    • Erin Manning says:

      At a Loss, is there a parish in your diocese where the First Saturday devotions are practiced? These usually include Mass as well as opportunities for confession; sometimes a local monastery or convent will have them if no parishes do.

      If you could find a place where First Saturday devotions are held, perhaps you could arrange with a regular attendee for a ride. Then you would be assured of an opportunity for confession once a month at least.

      And if any priests (aside from Msgr. Pope, of course!) are reading this thread–please consider whether your parish could add First Saturday devotions. I realize that in some places a Mass on Saturday mornings isn’t possible because of the need to celebrate Vigil Masses Saturday evening, but if your parish has enough priests or perhaps a retired priest in residence, First Saturdays offer a different time for confessions (as they are usually scheduled in the morning before the morning Mass and can run longer than Sat. evening confessions). When the only time for confessions is a 30 minute window before the Saturday Vigil Mass, it can be hard for lots of people like At a Loss to get to confession regularly.

  7. Matt says:

    The Archdiocese of Brooklyn is hosting a video contest on the act of confession. The prize is a significant scholarship. There are already some videos you can watch. Pretty cool stuff. Maybe you’ve already heard about it, but I thought this was a good place to let people know.

    http://i-confess.com/?p=34

  8. Erik says:

    I want to go; desperately – I pray that someday I may. I cannot receive absolution as I am in an invalid marriage. I do not fault the priest – I am glad he thinks the sacrament of marriage really means something. We are working on an annulment, my wife is a divorced Protestant and we married via a JP. I dont know what to do – except trust in Jesus.
    Well, pray for us. Thanks.

  9. [...] moment!Also: Kathryn Jean Lopez: Defining Divinity DownMsgr. Charles Pope: The time is near – have you gone to confession?Happy Anniversary, Papa!, our faithful shepherd who is ledPosted in Uncategorized | Tagged Benedict [...]

  10. Manny says:

    “Have You Gone to Confession?”

    I went last night. Good idea to have this late night confessional opportunity. To be perfectly honest, I hate confession, but I have to admit it feels good after. Thanks for asking. :)

  11. Paul G says:

    What about the sin of doing nothing? For example, *not* defending the Faith; or not standing up for the innocent (what if it requires acting outside the civil law?) or not warning others of erroneous opinion albeit from a priest or layperson? Or not discriminating against injustice and discriminating for the good? The sin of wanting to remain in one’s comfort zone?

    The world needs reshaping doesn’t it?

  12. Mary says:

    “Get Clean” is an awesome video! Here’s another entry that you might like. It uses scripture and a great quote from St. Isidore: Be Reconciled ot God: http://youtu.be/VKyinXFmxEc

    Every view counts as a vote. You can vote for more than one video – there will be 8 winning videos. The contest continues until MAY 7th. Your support is greatly appreciated.

    Thank you!

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