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February 25th, 2024 | Seton Bulletin & News


Confession During Lent (by Fr. Casey)

I hope and pray that everyone is taking advantage of the great Sacrament of Penance, that is Confession, during the Lenten season. I pray even more earnestly for a return to the faithful frequenting of this sacrament, especially those who need to do so to make a fruitful Holy Communion. As the confession lines get longer this time of year, it would be good to point out some common behaviors to be avoided, not only to save time for the priest and the penitent, but also to make the confession more fruitful:

1. Approaching the Sacrament Unprepared: The first way to be prepared for a good confession is to truly be sorry for your sins. “Among the penitent’s acts,, contrition occupies first place. Contrition is ‘sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again’.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1451) If we do not have sorrow for our sins, and if we do not desire or intend to cease the sinful activity, then confession is pointless as contrition is required for the sacrament to be valid. Also, we should come to confession prepared to confess sins. Here at SES, there is an easy guide that provides a list of sins that should be confessed. This document or other tools are helpful to examine our conscience before confession so that we come into the sacrament prepared to confess our sins and receive God’s grace.

2. Confessing the Sins of Other People: I have sometimes sat in a confessional with a penitent for over ten minutes without them confessing a single, personal sin. However, I did learn about all the sins of their spouse, their children, the Pope, the President, the Pastor (including when the person is me), neighbors, celebrities, postal workers, children’s teachers, the IRS, and cashiers at Publix. Often this is a segway into confessing one’s own sins of lack of charity and/or patience. Trust me, it is OK to skip the intro and just say “I have been lacking in charity, and/or patience”. Also, it should be said that there are some exceptional circumstances when it would be appropriate to disclose to the priest that you have been a victim of abuse or some other kind of trauma, but in general, please just stick to your sins. Remember, unnecessary disclosure of another’s sins can be the sin of detraction, and this sacrament is about you receiving God’s healing grace and mercy.

3. Telling the Priest What a Good Person You Are: For some reason, more than a few people feel that they cannot get to the confessions of their sins without making sure the confessor is convinced that they are a good person and/or a good Catholic. The priest is not there to make judgments of your character. He is there to help you make a good confession and ultimately provide you with God’s mercy. Clearly, you care about your relationship with Christ and are trying to be a better person, otherwise you would not come to confession. It is certainly not necessary to recite a resume of your Catholic education. As an act of humility, remind yourself that all you must do is name your sins. Be vulnerable with the Lord, do not tip-toe around it. Bear your wounds to Christ who longs to heal you.

4. Providing Unnecessary Details: Honestly, just naming the sin in kind and approximate number is all that is necessary (even a term like “habitually” or “a lot” could suffice as an approximate number). If necessary, the confessor will ask for more information. “If necessary, the priest helps the penitent to make an integral confession.” (Rite of Penance). Things that are good to disclose to the confessor: your state in life (married, single, religious, etc), approximate age (I’m a teenager, I am a senior, etc). In terms of your sins, it would be good to know if you were alone or with another (an “accomplice”), if there is a mitigating factor that caused you to sin, or if you were unsure whether the action was a sin. The priest does not need to know what you said to Sally, does not need the name you called your husband, does not need to know the time and date, does not need to know the intimate details, and the priest does not need to know the name of the romance novel you have been reading. Simply things like “I was unkind on over a dozen occasions”, “I have read (or viewed) unchaste material”, and “I have gossiped on several occasions” will do just fine.

5. Being Vague or Intentionally Omitting Mortal Sins: “I have made some bad choices.” “I could be a better person.” “Just put me down for all of them.” These are not statements that are going to lead to allowing God to heal and forgive. Neither is naming commandment numbers like we are ordering fast food combos. We make a general confession of our sins together at Mass during the penitential act. Confession is about bearing our wounds to Christ so that He might bring us healing. “All mortal sins of which penitents after a diligent self-examination are conscious must be recounted by them in confession…When Christ’s faithful strive to confess all the sins that they can remember, they undoubtedly place all of them before the divine mercy for pardon. But those who fail to do so and knowingly withhold some, place nothing before the divine goodness for remission through the mediation of the priest, for if the sick person is too ashamed to show his wound to the doctor, the medicine cannot heal what it does not know.’” (CCC 1456-57, quoting the Council of Trent and St. Jerome)
6. Using Confession Time For Spiritual Direction, Pastoral Counseling, or Advice: While the Rite of Penance does say that the priest can and should provide “suitable counsel” to the penitent, this would be mainly to help make a good confession and perhaps practical advice on resisting sin in the future. For counseling, spiritual direction, theological questions not pertinent to your confession, and other advice, it is better to make an appointment for a phone call or to meet. Confession is really for confessing your sins and receiving God’s mercy. At SES, we have a “host” helping with the confession line who would be happy to take your information for a later appointment.

While all these tips are here to help you get the most from your confession experience, the most important thing about confession is that we show up. We have guides to help and the priest himself should always be willing to help you make a good confession. Also, it should be said that “practice makes perfect” and frequenting the sacrament makes it much easier to go to confession. Above all, we want you to come and experience the great gift of God’s mercy. We care about your soul and help you to be in the right relationship with God. As I like to say, “Just get your soul in the box!” We look forward to seeing you there!

-Fr. Casey