Monday, March 22, 2010

Why we need regular confession

We’ve come to that time of the year again, when parishes all over the world organize penitential services (aka confessions) for parishioners before Easter. It’s a very busy time for us priests, and we literally hear confessions non-stop every night for about a week. Many of the penitents begin with saying that their last confession was at Advent, and when it comes to the penitential service for Advent, the very common phrase we hear is “my last confession was in Lent”. So, for many Catholics, this seems to be a biannual affair. As a priest, I cannot help but wonder what this shows. It could be one of the following:

1) It seems to be sufficient to admit of one’s transgressions only twice a year. Other than that, one is deemed to be living ‘at rights’ with God and with one’s fellowman.
2) Without the Church organizing such penitential services, there would be no compulsion to make some serious search into our souls.
3) Our lives are rather unaffected by this sacrament, because if it is, we would truly become more regular in this practice.
4) We are only doing this because the Church says so, and not because we truly believe that something wonderful and life-giving happens when God forgives us in audible words.
5) Many Catholics may believe that they are sinners, but don’t want to vocalize this in front of a priest, as he is no longer seen as someone giving the presence of Christ at the celebration of this sacrament. It flies in the face of the rational thinker.
6) Confessing to God directly is enough.

The list above is not at all exhaustive. It could well be one, or all of the above that applies to the many Catholics who have ceased to make confession a regular feature in their spiritual lives.

If the reality was that we have less and less sinners, and that is why fewer are making use of this sacred encounter with God’s mercy, it would be a wonderful sign of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. But I am sure that no one would be able to say this with confidence, as sin seems to have its grips on so many lives. I seem to, as a priest, have a difficult challenge in drawing the faithful to the mercy of God on a regular basis, so that the God of Mercy can be encountered.

Perhaps the Pope said it most succinctly in his address to 700 priests at the conclusion of a confessors’ course recently when he said that these times are marked by “a hedonistic and relativistic mentality that cancels God from peoples’ lives”. I’d just précis that sentence to say that many of us have become self-centered and no longer other-centered.

After all, isn’t the root of many sins that of selfishness? Most, if not all sins can find their basis in promoting or protecting the self. Cut away all the trimmings and the trappings, and it will be revealed that one was putting oneself and one’s needs, one’s ego and one’s pride in the forefront when the sin was committed. “This is how I see it”; “it’s according to MY opinion”. “I think that I can go to God directly”.

A good confessor must be one who can help the penitent to come to that ‘rock bottom’ admission that one was selfish in his or her choices, and to openly admit that God needs to be replaced at the center and the self be moved aside. If one takes the analogy of the potter and the clay, it’s a lot like getting started on the flywheel, where the moldable clay is thrown and ‘forced’ into the dead centre. It is only when the clay is no longer wobbly, no longer ‘out of control’, that the master potter can shape and mould the clay to become the masterpiece according to the will and hands of the potter. Our ‘self’ however, wants to go all over the place and refuse to yield to get to the centre.

I get a sense that there is an unspoken fear in many penitents that if they are really sincere about their confession, and reveal their most raw wounds, that something wonderful and enticing will be taken away from them. Sin never presents itself as something as a bad choice. It always masks itself as a good, as something thrilling and as something that is beneficial (usually in an instant gratification sort of way). But if as a confessor, I can help just one penitent to realize that confession doesn’t take anything away from them, but instead will make them richer, I would have done my part.

I don’t have a proper platform to speak about this openly, apart from this weekly blog, but I do hope that somehow, this message will spread. And when more and more people will see that mercy is what is needed by the world, and the only thing that makes this world a more merciful place is when more people are touched by God’s mercy, less and less Catholics will only encounter the tender mercy of God only twice a year, and become co-transformers of the world.


  1. Dear Fr. Luke,
    I see "going to confession" from 2 perspectives (please correct me should I be misguided). Firstly, the sacraments confer grace upon the receiver. Only 2 sacraments (the Eucharist, which is the greatest; and reconcilliation) can be received regularly. Therefore why would anyone want to limit the opportunity for receiving God's grace, so freely given? Secondly, even if one has not committed a mortal sin, I would think after 4 to 6 weeks or so - all of us ordinary people would have amassed a number of venial sins, quite possibly committed on a regular basis (for we are creatures of habit). I see confession in this instance as an effort to address even our smaller failings, so as to grow even closer to the One who first loves us.
    Btw, here is a good article on this subject: Bless You.

  2. While I KNOW that I need frequent confession, I fall into the 2x yearly category. It's not that I don't believe I am encountering God in confession, but I still FEEL this fear.

    Maybe it's something from childhood. Maybe even that is an excuse.

    Maybe my real reason is laziness and pride. Too proud to admit to another human being what are my sins (worse still, to a priest who thinks I am a better person that I really am). Too lazy to chase after a priest for confession, or to go early enough for confession.

    It helps that the priest helps us to 'feel' forgiven. It's difficult for the priest to do that every day for 8 days when he is hearing 50-100 confessions per night.

    I liked your blog during Advent on this sacrament.

  3. Dear Father, You do have a platform, the church and when you visit the SCCs in their homes. I must confess that I had not been for more than a few biannuals. The last time, many years ago, I can recall that it was a very intense, and personal experience to go for confession. It is really calling me to face up to my sins, and ask for forgiveness. The relief I felt after, was immense. I know now, it is not only needing the courage to face up to our sins, but to spend time in deep reflection prior to going, so that when I finally go into the confessional, it will culminate in a sincere and joyful letting go of all that is in my heart. Life is so hurried, and we tend to push away what is most important to us. After all, we do not have to be openly accountable to anyone, and God does not tell anyone. I will attend this Thursday.

  4. Hi Fr Luke,
    Frequent cofession is a must for me,as it truly cleanses my soul.It brightens me, and guides me in all my actions.Praise the Lord for this "Gift",and thank u padre.God Bless.

  5. I do really appreciate the long & arduous hours our priests put in during the lenten period at the penitential service & do understand the pastoral nature of this service and am grateful. However, I sometimes do wonder if by making this sacrament of reconciliation into "assembly-line confessions" , as at these penitential services, the church is doing a dis-service to itself & to the said sacrament?? Ash Weds ushers in Lent poignantly with prophet Joel's cry "...let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn..." It is perhaps only with our awareness & full realization of our sins that our hearts are broken with remorse & we go in search of reconciliation with the ONE called LOVE. Going to confession then becomes our outward sin of inward grace. When we exhort the faithful to 'fulfill your Easter obligations' & attend penitential services ( because it's the season...) -are we not unlike the pharisees- overly concerned over the letter of the law & not the spirit of the law - more form than substance ?? - tessa

  6. I just read Tessa's comment, and feel that something needs to be responded to. Firstly, I am sure that it was a typo when she said that confession becomes an 'outward sin of an inward grace'. She surely means "sign", because if it is sin, then the sacrament would well become an antithesis of what it should actually convey!

    Regarding 'assembly-line' confessions at the organised penitential services in parishes and schools, I have a somewhat ambivalent stand. One the one hand, if it seems to be the ONLY times that the general faithful dispose themselves to receive the grace of this sacrament, then it should continue. Besides, it is something that is provided for in the Book of Rites.

    However, the common experience for many is that it does appear to be rather 'production-line-esque'. The Rites were never written out for them to become this way, but perhaps the sheer numbers of penitents have caused many priests to just get to the core of the sacrament, to 'clear the lines'. I must admit that on more than one occasion, I have glanced at the long lines and felt rather daunted and wondered how these people could possibly encounter a deep experience of God's mercy with such limited resources. But this is where I let God's grace do more than I ever possibly can.

    I have no solution to your observation, but only hope that more and more people will not just rely on these lines but to really make an appointment to see a priest and give God and themselves quality time and a deeper encounter.

    Fr Luke

  7. Father,
    I must concur with your observation. It does seem that relativism has indeed penetrated the flock and has perhaps given some greater ammunition in avoiding their sinful nature; however, there is something that I feel that must be noted, and that is our nightly reflection of our conscience.

    Though we are only 'mandated' to confess our sins by the precepts of the Church during Easter, in reality, we should approach the sacrament whenever we are in mortal sin, or even are aware of venial sins, but what I have found is that students who now complete RCIA/RCIY are deficient are sometimes not capable of more than a surface reflection of their daily lives. Perhaps a greater remedy to this situation would be greater education in matters of morals and values, and an emphasis of that daily reflection that should be taking place so that a person cannot hide from their sinful nature, but become aware of it.

    Also, it is imperative that people become aware once again that sin is death. Sin is the turning away from God, the rejecting of His precepts and it is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation that our stain is removed. One must always be aware that our time is ever fleeting and at any given moment we may have to give an account of our actions to the Lord, so we must live life the best we can lest we cast ourself into the abyss. The best way to avoid the abyss is to be aware of our Catholic way of living and strive ever towards perfection as demonstrated by Christ and by the guidance of His Holy Catholic Church.

  8. Dear Father, I was in church for confession last night. I prepared and worked out what I needed to say. It was with a sense of anticipation that I lined up for my turn. As I sat down, and said "Bless me father, I found myself trembling so much, that I could not say anything" I was fully aware of being in the presence of God. As I waited for myself to calm down, I was also concerned that the priest may find me ill-prepared. Each time, I tried to say something, I was overcome with very deep emotions and needed to quell this by remaining silent. I felt embarassed at my state. I wished someone would just understand, and allow the opening of myself fully, even though silently. As I write this, perpaps, I should have spent a longer time in reflection prior to taking a seat in front of the priest.