For anyone who has been Catholic for any length of time, or even for non-Catholics who have some sense of what Catholicism is all about, it is commonly known that of all the seasons of the year, the season of Lent is the one we most associate with going to Confession. While we are barely more than a week into Lent this year, already many in the parish have availed themselves to this great sacrament. And yet… I suspect there are many others who are wrestling with the idea. And so for the benefit of those who are uncertain, who are divided, who haven’t yet decided whether or not to go to Confession, I would like to address a few of the reasons that sometimes cause people to stay away from the sacrament. This is nowhere near a comprehensive list, but it is at least a start in answering some common reasons for hesitation.
I know I’m going to commit these same sins again, so by going to confession, am I not just being a hypocrite?
No, please never think that way! It is true that for most of us, there are habitual sins that we fall victim to time & time again. And so, even as we confess them, we have a sense that the odds are pretty good we are going to fall into them again. But as long as we have the desire to try to eliminate those sins from our lives, we can fruitfully receive the sacrament of penance. In fact, the grace we receive from God through that sacrament is perhaps the most powerful aid available to us in our battle to avoid those sins in the future. Now, if I am in a pattern of sin that I have no desire to leave behind and no desire to even to attempt to change… then yes, in that circumstance, to confess that would be hypocritical. But when I am truly sorry about the patterns of sin that have a grip on me, and I wish to be free of them (even though I recognize I am very weak)… bringing those sins to confession can both ease our conscience of our past failures and strengthen us in our fight against those sins in the future.
I’ve done something terrible. I’m so ashamed of it, I can’t imagine being able to say it out loud to anyone, not even a priest.
The first thing I would say to this (though it might sound a bit shocking) is it is GOOD that you feel ashamed! In the face of a serious sin, we ought to feel guilty and ashamed. This is a wonderful thing… because it tells us our “moral compass” is functioning as it ought. And while it is absolutely true that having to “say it out loud” can be a difficult thing… I promise you, it will be an incredibly FREEING thing as well. When we have to speak it out loud, we bring it out of the darkness inside ourselves and out into the light, where Christ our Light dwells. By bringing it to the Light, we allow His light and his love to dissolve away the darkness of that sin. So while, at a human level, I understand the difficulty… I encourage you to just “let go” and give it over to God. You’ll feel 1000% better. (And on a side note, my personal advice is that when you go to confession, if you have 1 or 2 sins that are the really “big ones” you are most ashamed of… name those first. Begin with them. Right off the bat. You’ll feel a weight lifted off your shoulders that will make the rest of the experience of that confession so much easier.)
What is Father [name] going to think of me if I tell him my sins?!?
He’s going to think I’m some terrible, horrible person! He’ll never look at me the same way again!
Okay, so first of all, everyone at our parish always has the option to go to confession “behind the screen,” so that the priest will not see who you are. And believe it or not, screens really muffle people’s voices. But no matter what, I promise you, priests DO NOT CARE about the sins you confess. Sin is boring. Other people’s sins are especially boring. Even if we somehow do recognize your voice (which is rare), I can assure you, what we hear in confession is not ingrained into our memory. Next time we see you we aren’t going to recoil in horror like some swamp creature has just walked into the room. My attitude (and some of you who have had your confession heard by me have heard me say these exact words to you) is this: “Okay, so you’re a sinner? Perfect. You’ll fit right in with the rest of us here.” Because that’s the reality. We’re all sinners, and we all have particular sins we are more susceptible to. There is nothing you are going to confess that will shock or scandalize any of the priests. That said, if you are truly so self conscious about confessing to a priest you know that it might keep you away from the sacrament, then find confessions at another parish (or shrine or wherever) and go there. The important thing is that you GO, and receive the beautiful graces of this sacrament.
Fr. John Paul