Thursday, March 6, 2014

Welcome to the Human Race

 “But Father, I am ashamed ...”. Shame is also good, it is healthy to feel a little shame, because being ashamed is salutary. In my country when a person feels no shame, we say that he is “shameless”; a “sin verguenza”. But shame too does good, because it makes us more humble, and the priest receives this confession with love and tenderness and forgives us on God’s behalf.

Also from a human point of view, in order to unburden oneself, it is good to talk with a brother and tell the priest these things which are weighing so much on my heart. And one feels that one is unburdening oneself before God, with the Church, with his brother.

Do not be afraid of Confession! When one is in line to go to Confession, one feels all these things, even shame, but then when one finishes Confession one leaves free, grand, beautiful, forgiven, candid, happy. This is the beauty of Confession! I would like to ask you — but don’t say it aloud, everyone respond in his heart: when was the last time you made your confession? Everyone think about it ... Two days, two weeks, two years, twenty years, forty years? 

Everyone count, everyone say ‘when was the last time I went to confession?’. And if much time has passed, do not lose another day. Go, the priest will be good. Jesus is there, and Jesus is more benevolent than priests, Jesus receives you, he receives you with so much love. Be courageous and go to Confession!

Dear friends, celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation means being enfolded in a warm embrace: it is the embrace of the Father’s infinite mercy. Let us recall that beautiful, beautiful parable of the son who left his home with the money of his inheritance. He wasted all the money and then, when he had nothing left, he decided to return home, not as a son but as a servant. His heart was filled with so much guilt and shame. The surprise came when he began to speak, to ask for forgiveness, his father did not let him speak, he embraced him, he kissed him, and he began to make merry. But I am telling you: each time we go to confession, God embraces us. God rejoices! Let us go forward on this road. May God bless you!

Pope Francis, General Audience, 19 February 2014

Reflection – I wanted to finish this wonderful talk by the Pope on the beauty and joy of going to confession. We see here his great pastoral sensibility—after giving a very good little catechesis on confession, he then turns it to immediate practical application—when’s the last time you personally went? If it’s been a while, then go, now, soon.

There is probably no area of Catholicism where the reality of the thing is quite as far removed from the popular impression of the thing. ‘Confession’ in the imagination of the non-Catholic or long-lapsed Catholic is surrounded with such a horrible mystique—tyrannical, inquisitorial priests, neurotic, self-loathing penitents, fear, control, brain washing, torture…

Meanwhile, the reality of it is exactly the opposite. Yes, I suppose there is the odd priest who really is angry and mean in the confessional, but as I said a couple days ago, I’ve honestly never met one, not even close, and I’ve been to confession all over the place. (Truth be told, I’m more likely to meet priests who tell me that x, y, or z is not really a sin and that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself!).

Confession is actually kind of a homey, cozy, domestic sacrament, if I can put it that way. Like taking out the trash or emptying the dish washer or dusting. It has an element of housekeeping to it. We just bring all our dirt, big and small, into this little box. Some guy, who happens to be a priest, and who thus happens to be Jesus Christ sacramentally, listens to it, probably doesn’t say too much about it, gives us some small penance, and then, acting in persona Christi, grants absolution.

It is all profoundly undramatic, unexciting, normal. And that is very spiritually good for us. We can tend to either elevate our sins into our own personal self-important melodrama—my struggle is soooo hard!—or we can tend to ignore and ultimately deny them, which is the sure and straight path to self-righteous prigdom.

Simply to walk into a little box, kneel down, say ‘I did this and that and this and that, and gosh I am sorry’, and have someone (who is really Someone) give us three Hail Marys, and oh yes, the total unconditional mercy of God washing us absolutely clean in an assured authoritative way—this is both very humbling and intensely refreshing.

It’s like, ‘welcome to the human race’ – you’re a sinner, I’m a sinner, we’re all sinners together. We all have trash that need to be taken out, all have houses that need to be kept clean. Regular confession truly does make us all one, all on the same level, kneeling in a little box before Jesus, telling him our sins, getting his mercy. It is profoundly freeing, joyous, light hearted really, and normal, or at least it should be. Sin is a problem in our lives, but it is neither the monster in the closet nor the Secret Shame separating us from all humanity. It’s just… sin. Get used to it, and get to confession!

So… how long has it been since you went to confession?


  1. Okay, well, I am just going to say it.
    Our church does not even have a confessional. We have a room, where you can sit across from the priest. Most newer churches are like this. When you are a single person like me, in a diocese torn apart by sex scandal...regardless of your really doesn't seem right to be alone in any room with a priest.
    Our parish has confession once a week before Saturday Mass. If even one person from each of the parishes almost 1200 families came to confession once a month...that is about 400 confessions a month. Not logistically possible. So the parish has two communal services twice a year and invite the visiting priests. At Christmas this service was 3.5 hours long.
    My pastor told me to save confession for the "big sins" and just go twice a year "it is all the church requires anyway"
    I know he is busy. My spiritual director is busy too.
    I have learned from therapy how important confession is. I really know that sometimes, aside from the searing confession of my sins, my fanstasies, my mistakes- there just can be no other help.Full healing can only take place when we express contrition not just to God- in the silent recesses of our hearts but also speak it out loud to another human being.
    What is at issue as I see it, is not forgiveness itself- I or even absolution. What is at issue is how with sincerity of heart to touch the body of Christ inside of our faith communities and our families.
    We cannot transform our lives by willpower alone- we need grace and community. And both of these at some point depend on the transparency of an honest confession.
    Bless you

    1. God bless you, and thank you for your honest assessment of your local situation. Yes, it sounds far from ideal, to say the least. I am not a fan at all of the reconciliation room approach, for the reasons you say, but also because the penitent has a right--an absolute right--to anonymity in the sacrament.
      I am very sorry about the lack of availability of the sacrament where you are - partly vocation shortage issues, but also other problems, perhaps.
      I agree very much with your beautiful reflection on what the sacrament is/means/does. And I am truly sorry that your current circumstances make it hard to experience that. I have no solution to offer, but I will pray for you.


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