I know that most of you who read this blog are good Catholics and don’t need to read this :-)

But perhaps you know some one who does. If so, print the PDF of this Column and slip it under the door, or over the transom, of a lukewarm or fallen away Catholic. Jesus will be glad you did.

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:

24 Responses

  1. Will says:

    If you’re in downtown DC during the day, the Catholic Information Center celebrates Reconciliations on weekdays before and after daily Mass at 12:05 pm.

    There is no daily Mass on Holy Thursday or Good Friday this week, but they will be open for Confession between 12pm and 1pm on Holy Thursday.

    http://cicdc.org/

  2. Bender says:

    I don’t have to go if I don’t have mortal sin

    This is why it is best to leave the whole mortal/venial sin distinctions to the theologians and to academic discussion.

    How do you know that you don’t have any mortal sins?? Because you have judged yourself not to have any? Well, “a lawyer” would tell you that, not only do you have a conflict of interest, which tends to minimize any wrongdoing and any degree of culpability in wrongdoing, and not only is our judgment impaired because of our sinful condition, but more importantly, you are not the judge.

    When you go before the One who is The Judge and He asks, “why didn’t you confess this?” and you respond, “because it wasn’t a mortal sin, it was only a venial sin,” and He shakes His head and says, “nope, sorry, you’re wrong,” what are you going to say then?

    One thing in the Baltimore Catechism that is not in the Catechism of the Catholic Church is —
    291. Q. Can we always distinguish venial from mortal sin?
    A. We cannot always distinguish venial from mortal sin, and in such cases we must leave the decision to our confessor.

    It a sin is serious enough for you to have to ask if it is mortal or not, it is serious enough to confess. If a sin is serious enough for you to be conscious of it during an examination of conscience, it is serious enough to mention in confession. Besides, to be a good confession, you need to be sorry for ALL of your sins, even the non-mortal ones, so there is really no good reason to refrain from confessing them.

    Jesus already knows your heart, He just would like you to open it up fully to Him and come clean, rather than vainly trying to hide in the bushes like Adam and Eve did.

  3. Charles Curtis says:

    Father,

    You may not remember me, because I have only posted on this blog a half dozen times or so, and when I do it is almost always to say something tart or sarcastic, or criticize you for some thing or another. But I have been reading you daily, and gratefully, for what seems like years. I want to thank you for your work here, which I find consistently edifying and (what to me is more important these days) almost always staunch. God bless you, Father. Thank the archbishop for me, for allowing you to do this work. I’ve criticized (and had at least two such criticisms editorially canned) the general quality of American Catholic homilies these days several times in this comments section. I’ve also repeatedly said that the quality of the messages on this blog is (in my rather extensive experience over many parishes, dioceses, and countries) a very refreshing exception to the (in my opinion) still rather limp average. Things do seem to be improving, but slowly.

    I have been exhorted to the confessional from a pulpit maybe a dozen times (that I can remember, and I have been paying attention) in over 30 years of mass attendance. It is a glorious thing to see you do it here, and so well, with the imprimatur of your superior. Thank you, and thank him. I know you and I probably have very different perspectives on the Church, and you may not see this, but this type of thing is like water in the desert, and I am an extremely thirsty man.

    So again, bless you Father, and thank you.

  4. Charles Curtis says:

    By the way, Monsignor, I think I also owe you an apology for being a jerk some few of those aforementioned few times I commented here. Forgive me. Please let it pass. If I happen to get snarky in the future here, know that I understand when you can my comments. Be grateful you are spared hearing my confession, it is not a pretty thing. Thank you for having the patience and grace to hear our confessions and live your witness so well.

  5. Mike says:

    I’m a scrupulant. In my case, if I followed your #4, I’d never be able to receive Communion, because I’d constantly fear the worst about my sins. That’s not to say I don’t go to Confession, but I do go to Mass several times a month between Confessions, and I’m sure I sin in there, but I can’t assume those sins are mortal, or else, as I said, I’d never be able to receive Communion. In fact, I make careful and frequent examination because I don’t want to be in mortal sin, and I have to judge whether I can receive Communion. Sometimes, we have to judge ourselves as best we can.

    • Well #4 is addressed to people (more common today) who make light of sin

      • Mike says:

        Thank you, Father.

        • Mike says:

          Perhaps you could help me with something, Father. I typically go to Confession monthly, but in my scrupulosity, when I observe that other people commit mortal sin more often than that (or so they tell me), people I consider better than myself, I worry that I must have missed something in my own examination, and I drive myself crazy. Something about this doesn’t seem quite rational, but I’ve never been able to make sense of it.

          Then there are times I worry that something I’m doing might be sinful, and I consider it carefully and realize that I’m being scrupulous, but then if I do it, I’ll feel terribly guilty later, even though I still don’t see a sin in it.

          Then there are times that something seems relatively trivial in the order of sin (not that any sin is “trivial” per se), but that because of personal baggage related to that sin, I seem more upset with myself than I should be. I get frustrated with my son, for instance, and angry with him, and I feel ashamed, even though I don’t act out that anger in any serious way. Then I feel very guilty afterward.

          I’ve been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. Perhaps that has something to do with it.

          • CS says:

            Hi Mike,

            I’m not Fr., nor even a believer, but I think I know the Church and its theology pretty well, and I think I can help you here.

            If you’ve been medically diagnosed with GAD, then it’s fair to assume that scrupulosity could very well be a serious problem for you. The good advice here would be to trust in the love and mercy of God, always, and try to keep in the back of your head that you have been clinically diagnosed and are probably experiencing anxiety around this issue as a result of that. The best characterization of mortal sin I’ve ever heard (and Fr. feel free to jump in if I’m off), is that it concerns matters of life and death. For example, fornication is wrong because it’s a matter of life and death. Pretty straightforward stuff.

            Some of the other stuff you’ve mentioned nicely reveals the state of your soul. You’re focusing on the sins of others. Jesus was pretty clear that we shouldn’t focus on this, unless we’re doing something in a spirit of charity and fraternal correction. We shouldn’t be giving thought to the sins of others. People you admire and respect deeply (and who are admirable and worthy of respect), may at the same time, struggle with serious sin. We can’t know the temptations or struggles of others, and so we shouldn’t focus so much on comparing ourselves to them and instead focus on how we could grow closer to the Will of God. It’s also entirely possible that other holy people like yourself might struggle with scrupulosity, and could be doing the exact same thing (perhaps this is why you see them in the sin bin so often?). Truthfully everyone belongs in line, every time, because even the most venial sin is utterly incompatible with the essence of God, which is Love and Holiness.

            But God is merciful enough to make only the more serious stuff required spiritual treatment.

            So hold fast to his love.

          • GABRIEL says:

            Mike my brother. It is a paradox all too common in this existence that the best people always feel the guiltiest.

            Luckily, God employed a lot of priests to take out the trash for you, so you do noy have to carry sins around in your backpack. They get heavy after a while, so drop by a priest, one of Gods designated professionals that is and unload whatever you are carrying around.

            And these guys do have power to forgive sins in The Name of God Himself.
            So do not worry about that, brother.

            Take your confession and get the receipt, that is God`s forgiveness.

            The whole point of dying on the cross was for your salvation, and you seem like a fine fellow.
            Guys like you make it worth it.

            So just unload the burden of your sins, once in while, and drop them of at a Confession.
            After that you can tell your diagnosis to take a hike and never bother you again..

            Here is what you should look like after confession:

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82_bhD0_Trw

            “Come`on in Brother, the water is fiiine….”

  6. Rob B. says:

    I’m going tomorrow. I would have gone last week, but my foster daughter hit a deer on the way to school…

  7. RichardC says:

    I went yesterday.

  8. Ann says:

    Oh, My, if ONLY one could go to confession in this diocese the last week of Holy Week. As of last Saturday morning the last Penance Service of the season was held (unless one counts the parish staffed by a large group of Religious Order priests) Our pastor, deceased for several years and retired even longer, used to hold Confessions on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, against the diocesan regulations. One of the “supply priests” who offered Mass there every week, said that many a “big fish” were caught during those three days; these are sinners who had been away from the Church for years or several decades. I sincerely hope the Lord granted the grace of re-conversion to many last week; unless they can knock on a rectory door and request the Sacrament of Penance, they are out of luck until the weekend after Easter.

  9. Deb says:

    If people only knew the grace they receive during reconcilliation, they would be running to the confessionals. This was a wonderful article for those who have not been in a while or who are afraid to go. The more frequently you go, the more you see your habitual sins and the easier it gets to work on them. The priest is Jesus for us when we enter that confessional and His words absolve us, but they can also direct us in so many ways. I thank the Lord that there are so many opportunities each week to go to reconciliation in my parish. During Lent and Easter there are several nights with as many as ten priests to hear confessions.

    Sadly, there is still a church where the priest has the people write their SIN on a piece of paper, come up and put it in a basket and the priest absolves them. I call it fake confession, a sham by priests who do not wish to take the time to do God’s work and a sham by those who convince themselves they have really been to confession. I pray for their souls.

  10. RichardC says:

    I will try again to my problem with using words like ‘ego’, ‘egoism’, and ‘egotistica’ as perjoratives.

    a). Whatever ‘egotistcal means, there is an old word that states its meaning more clearly, such simpley sin, or vanity, or pride. What does egotistical mean?

    b) The danger of using the word ego to mean something bad is that it can trick people into thinking that it would be better that they don’t exist, that ‘I am not’ is better better than ‘I am’ or that there is something sinful about the mere fact that they exist, whereas the opposite is true: It is very good that I exist and that everyone reading this exists and that everyone who doesn’t read this exists.

    c) I think that teaching people to be ashamed that they exist is part of the culture of death.

    d) The Holy Father said something very beautiful in his Message for the 27th World Youth Day 2012: ‘ Whereas we sometimes find it hard to accept others, God offers us an unconditional acceptance which enables us to say: “I am loved; I have a place in the world and in history; I am personally loved by God. If God accepts me and loves me and I am sure of this, then I know clearly and with certainty that it is a good thing that I am alive”.’ –One could use the word ‘egotistical’ to undercut this teaching.

    Anyway, I think the old words are clearer and less likely to lead people astray.

  11. Tapestry says:

    Our parish doesn’t have confessions this week, odd huh?
    They had a general confession last Monday at 7pm; normally hours are 3-4:30pm on Saturday
    and that’s it. How people in our parish make it to confession I don’t know. When I went the Saturday
    before Ash Wednesday there was only 3 people in line. We are supposed to have 5000 families
    I just don’t get it how can people go to confession if they only have 90 minutes on Saturday which doesn’t
    work for a lot of people, many work on Saturdays.
    I can’t believe the majority is calling Father D for appointments!
    Its’ really very sad even my husband and son didn’t make it this time. I send emails nobody seems to go.
    I need confession I love to receive the graces why do they see it as a chorse instead of a channel of grace?

  12. Nick says:

    I haven’t been to Confession in 4 weeks, mostly out of pride and anxiety, due to addiction and weakness. But I trust God to give me the grace to go this week, and I should have trusted Him the past three weeks.

    I hope this at least consoles some soul out there struggling with sin or not attending Confession (or Mass) in a while like I am. It’s never too late to say Yes to God, even when you feign ignorance or are hardhearted.

  13. Dominic John Paul says:

    Great post Msgr Pope! I had the honour of accompanying a guy to his first confession in 15 years tonight. He was forgiven all his sins by Jesus and afterwards God’s love, peace and joy radiated from him. A huge celebration in heaven today at the return of the prodigal son and finding of the lost sheep. Get in that box people, it is awesome. And quote of the day, with an ear to ear grin on his face “I’ve just text my mum. She is very happy!”.

    By the way, the link explaining the biblical origin of the Sacrament in point 1 is not working. God bless, have a holy Easter and thank you for all your hard work and concern for souls.

  14. ThirstforTruth says:

    Pray with me for a friend who has not been to Confession in many years as the result of a very bad experience with a priest decades ago. It frightened her to the extent that she tells me when she thinks of going this bad
    experience plays over and over in her mind and she “freezes” in fear. Thus far I have been unsuccessful in
    convincing her that today’s priests are much more compassionate and less likely to become verbally abusive. She says it has been too long, she even forgets the format, and could never go face to face. She is of the opinion that at this point she can only rely on the mercy of Jesus. She did tell me she practices an examination of conscience before the tabernacle on a regular basis. She also believes that there is forgiveness in the Eucharist. As I believe in the power of prayer I continue to ask the Lord to lead her to Him in this sacrament. What else can I do for her?

    • Peter Wolczuk says:

      One could suggest that she pray and ask for help in getting to confession and in finding an appropriate time, place and priest. Also, if she’s not too sure of how to put it, to try more for sincerity than for fancy words.
      This might not sound too promising to those who’ve never tried it but, whenever I ask for courage the results remind me that fear is normal and healthy but, that the courage I find to face it keeps it from becoming unhealthy.

  15. AJ says:

    Msgr.,

    When I went to click on your link to the Biblical origin of the Sacrament of Confession, the “No page” error showed up. You may want to check that out. God bless!

  16. Peter Wolczuk says:

    Well you caught me redhanded and unprepared at this eleventh hour so, thanks for that. The church I go to has a long confession opportunity from 9:00 AM until 8:00 PM but, what if something happens before I get to it? The consequences of my own actions would certainly be in there somewhere.

  17. Stefanie says:

    A wonderful reminder, Msgr. As RCIA director at my parish, it is my pleasure to instruct and guide people through their first Confession which–for those already baptized– occurs at the end of their retreat. There are so many good Examins of Conscience available for adults that helps them to approach this repeatable Sacrament like an adult, not like a 9-year old. It is particularly powerful for Adult and teen confirmandi — -many of whom last ‘went to confession’ when they were 7 years old. I love being in the chapel with them afterwards — one young girl who still grieved the death of her baby cousin and had been angry at God for that death, just wept and wept as she prayed her penance. I wanted so much to go to her and hug her, but knew that Jesus was already embracing her and that was why she could finally cry it out.

    I also make an annual talk to the First Reconciliation parents (2nd grade parents) about the Sacrament at the Parent/Child retreat in which we dwell upon the Prodigal Son story and the elements of Reconciliation — Compassion, Confession, Reconcilation, and Restoration. It never fails to move the parents into the Confessional — which they are invited to do after the kids have had their First Confession.

    It is so important to keep and keep talking about the benefits of this holy Sacrament. By doing so, we will save many souls.

  18. LRoy says:

    Absolutely. I go the first Saturday after Ash Wednesday and get it over with and hope I don’t have to go again for another three months.
    I also go the first Saturday of Advent.
    Basically, I go every four months whether I need to or not.

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