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March 10th, 2024 | Seton Bulletin & News


Top Excuses for Not Going to Confession

The rose (NOT PINK…ok they’re pink) vestments of Laetare Sunday tell us that we have entered the homestretch of the Season of Lent. If you have not already, even (and especially) if it has been a long time, I invite you to please come and receive the graces of this sacrament. Many Catholics still deprive themselves of the benefits of this sacrament. I would like to share some answers to common objections to going confession:

I don’t have any sins.

This one still shocks me. But nonetheless, it is common. I treated this rather thoroughly in an article a couple of weeks ago and even included an examination of conscience for seniors. I will just mention here some questions to ask if you have difficulty recalling sins:

  • Have I spent every moment of the day that I possibly could in prayer?
  • Have I been as charitable as humanly possible in every single interaction?
  • Have I shared my faith with others explicitly?
  • Have I always been a perfect witness to Christian virtue in every circumstance?
  • Have I always fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and imprisoned with as much time or resources as I can spare?
  • Have I taken every opportunity possible to instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish sinners, forgive offenses, comfort the afflicted, and pray for the living and the dead?
  • Have I endured trials, and hardships perfectly and patiently without even the slightest complaint?

The Bible does not say I have to confess my sins to a priest.

It is interesting how quickly Catholics become both Bible experts and take a protestant position when faced with confronting their own sins. This is human nature. When something causes us to face our own inadequacies, we tend to find any excuse we can. But, yes, yes, yes, there is scriptural foundation and evidence to support the Sacrament of Penance! We can certainly see in the Bible that confessing sins aloud to others is “good for the soul” as the adage goes: “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.” (James 5:17)

And scripture does go deeper than that by showing that those who participate in the Apostolic ministry have the authority to forgive sins, in the name of Jesus as they minister in His person. Jesus Himself breathes on the Apostles and tells them: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21-23) This gives the apostles (and logically their successors) the ability to forgive sins, as through the Holy Spirt, they participate in the ministry of Jesus. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:10: “If I forgave anything, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ.” St. Paul is acknowledging his authority as an apostle to forgive.

Indeed, the early Christian writers whom all serious theologians call the “Early Church Fathers” or “Patristics,” also write about the necessity of confessing to the bishop and receiving absolution. St. Paul, again in scripture, tells us that he participates in the ministry of Jesus: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Cor. 5:18)

Now, full circle, if we return to the passage from James about confessing to one another, we can see its context: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders (Presbyteroi in Greek, from which we get the English word, ‘priest’) of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another…” (James 5:14-17)

From this evidence we can see that confession in the Church, beyond being a “good thing” is a mandate from the Lord, and was taken seriously by the Spirit-inspired authors of Sacred Scripture, such as Paul and James, and was continued by their successors, the Early Church Fathers as has been sustained by the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians (and therefore the majority of Christians in the world) today. Why? Firstly, for accountability. It is easy to confess our sins to God in an empty room at night with no corporeal accountability. It is another act of humility to confess to another person. Also, no matter how personal my sin may be, all my sins affect the Body of Christ. As we see reiterated throughout Sacred Scripture, we are the body of Christ, integrally connected, when one suffers all suffer. Christianity is never just about “me and Jesus,” it is always about my place in His mystical Body, the Church, the Bride for whom He died and who He champions.

So, sacramental confession is biblical, and logical and has been intrinsic to the lives of the majority of Christians for 2000 years.

I have had a bad experience with a priest in the past (during confession or otherwise), besides, have you read the stories about some of these guys? How can I possibly confess to them?

Firstly, I am sorry that you had a bad experience with a priest. I am doubly sorry if that priest was me. I have had my moments of less-than-perfect charity. I have it daily. If you have been severely wounded by the gross misconduct of abuse committed by a priest, words cannot express my sorrow and empathy. And if you have not experienced priestly “misconduct” (simple mistakes to outright abuse), you have certainly read about it. There is no excuse for it. None. I am not here to excuse or dismiss it.

But I will say this: last year in the state of Florida, there were over 4,000 reports of medical malpractice. According to Forbes, medical errors cause 251,000 fatalities annually, and medical errors account for 9.5% of all deaths in the USA each year, making medical malpractice the third most common cause of death in our country. Despite all of this, I still see doctors. Not only because the majority of physicians I know are competent, hard-working, compassionate people who generally desire what is best for their patients, but because if I need medical help, that is my only option. Even if I had to go to a less-than-perfect doctor, I would, if the other option was to let myself die. God operates through broken vessels. Please do not allow the faults of sinful men, like me, keep you from experiencing God’s mercy in its fullness. Get the grace you need.

I am too ashamed…God will not forgive me.

I think this is more common than we realize. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost,” says St. Paul (1 Timothy 1:15) and he was not far off. Paul had literally helped to murder Christians (Acts 7:58), and he is now one of the greatest Saints in the history of the Church. Jesus tells us, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7) Nothing is too big. Nothing is beyond mercy. And if you are concerned about how the priest may react, I can tell you after having heard 11 years’ worth of confessions (some of them at prisons, at college campuses, and at death beds), I assure you, you will not shock us. Every saint has a past. Every sinner has a future.

Please, please, please, come and receive God’s grace. Not only will you feel better, but more importantly, your soul WILL BE better.

-Fr. Casey