The other side of the screen

I’m shamelessly stealing this photo from Dcn. Greg because it is just too cool not to put up here.

Deacon Greg brought it up here – pointing to a recent article in the Tablet.  Joanne McPortland wrote of her experiences in the confessions here.

All this got me thinking.  I’m new at this.  Confessions.   It’s a beautiful thing.  I go between loving hearing them and dreading it… but not really.  I could never dread such a beautiful sacrament.  Such a beautiful encounter one has with Christ – which I am privy to as a priest.

Hearing confessions can be nerve-wracking – not knowing who will come in next, what they will say and what on earth I can say to help them. Boy is the Holy Spirit present in that moment.  The grace of Holy Orders really comes through.  So often I’m not sure what to say, but something good comes out.  So good it shocks me.  God knows it wasn’t from me. There is really no way seminary can prepare one for that moment – only to be open to the Spirit.

So many people have had such horrid experiences in the confessional.  My own great-grandfather was yelled at by a priest in the confessional and didn’t go back for the rest of his life.  Decades.  I’ve said it so many times – a good priest can do a tremendous amount of good… and a bad priest… well you all get the idea.

I often tell people if you’re in the confessional for longer that a few minutes either you’re doing it wrong or the priest is.  Confession isn’t meant to be counseling.  It’s for the confession of sins and the reception of absolution.  I would never rush anyone out of the confessional… but sometimes we need to be reminded what exactly it is we’re doing in there.

As a confessor I model myself after a good and holy priest of my diocese who is the former rector of the seminary.  He always told us seminarians to be easy confessors!  That way they come back!  He used to tell us: “One Hail Mary for anything genocide on down”.  HAH.  But you know what… it works.    People appreciate knowing they don’t have to be afraid of the confessional.  I tell people constantly – don’t worry…I’m easy!

The thing that surprised me most about hearing confessions is how much it makes me want to go to confession.  they say a good confessor must first be a good penitent.

All this got me thinking… I wonder if we should start a new tradition.  Sitting on the other side of the screen I know just how difficult confessions can be.  Lets start praying for the priest before we go in.  Lets lift him up and ask the Holy Spirit to guide him in whatever it is we need to hear at that moment.  Lets ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen all those priests the world over and make them good and holy confessors.  Me included.

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  • Jill

    Don’t be scared. The Holy Spirit will always come through. I was really struggling with some Church teachings (really struggling) earlier this year and at Confession the priest said the simplest thing ever, that just like Mary we should have faith. Even repeating it now makes me feel silly, it’s such a basic thing really and maybe the priest wished he has something more profound to say. But to me, it was as if the flood gates of grace had been opened! I had been praying the rosary, and realizing that even though Mary was perfect, that her life wasn’t easy. It was probably scary and hard for her to trust things she didn’t understand either, and yet she still did it! My whole life, seriously everything about what I think and how I approach my faith and what I want in life, has now changed, and I was able to finally just submit to God and accept the Catholic Church as my true home here on earth. I’m so profoundly grateful to that priest, with the Holy Spirit, saying the simplest thing of all. :)

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  • Bill Russell

    In the Archdiocese of New York, confessions have virtually disappeared in most parishes. except for a few Manhattan parishes (the Franciscans and Father Rutler’s church.) The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony has dropped about half in just he last five years. Governor Cuomo fooled Cardinal Dolan and approved “same sex marriage:” while Dolan, assured that it would not pass, was out of town, and all Dolan could do was say that he was “disappointed.” Just as he was “disappointed” when Obama lied to him about the HHS mandate; But it will be laughs and cigars at the Al Smith dinner. Among young people today, marriage is a farce. Until we get bishops who are a smart as the think they are, the game is over. Cardinal Dolan still welcomesmGovernor Cuomo to the cathedral and jokes with him. He’ll do the same with Obama who lied to him. I suppose these politicians hope that guys like Dolan stay in office for a long time – the naivite of such prelates makes their works easier. Neville Chamberlains was fooled once. With our bishops, there seems to be no limit.

    • Rebecca

      Having lived in New York City for the past eight years, confession was ALWAYS readily available. So much so, in fact, that there were days when I just couldn’t avoid the Holy Spirit prompting me to go to confession precisely because there were multiple churches within walking distance. The Church of St. Francis and Our Saviour, as you mention, are two. Let’s not forget St. Agnes, the Cathedral, St. Vincent Ferrer, Our Lady of Good Counsel, St. John the Baptist, St. Paul the Apostle, St. Malachy’s, St. Jean Baptiste and numerous others. And that’s to say nothing of parishes in other boroughs, or the occasional round-the-clock 24 hours of confession “events” that have occurred in both Manhattan and the Diocese of Brooklyn.

      One observation of note: many times, the line of penitents is composed largely of young adults. My generation craves truth, craves something concrete, craves REALITY (and not the TV version). Our counterparts outside the Church often crave it just as much–if not more–but are misdirecting their desires because they have so few in their lives to show them a better way. Most of my contemporaries take marriage very seriously, often to the point of delaying it until true discernment is reached rather than acting out of sheer emotion. Unfortunately, some have been so wounded because of the poor marriages they’ve witnessed, that they don’t know how to embrace what they most deeply desire.

      We have a lot of work to do, but we must be willing to see what is going well in order to build on that foundation–however small it may seem.

  • LoneThinker

    To place this in context, we are only obliged in Church Law to confess MORTAL sins, and that at least during the Easter season. Light sins are forgiven in the penitential rite, listen to the words of the presiding celebrant, “May Almighty God…” and our Catholic theology, and the words of consecration, . “.poured out for the forgiveness of sins.” I confess monthly or so as a means of becoming more aware of my sinful condition and to avoid the little stuff that we can allow to clutter our soul’s ears and eyes, and to face my regular confessor’s challenges and advice.

  • Ben Helgemo

    Over the last year I have going to confession on a more regular basis. I a Mac iPhone junky and was all over the iConfess app. I used it and brought it into the confessional. It was a young priest but he didn’t like the cell phone idea. He got mad and was about to point of yelling when I stopped lowered my head and continues on. He told me I could bring a list if wanted but not the phone. What a bad experience that was for me. Thank God, a priest friend gave me some good advice. DON’T go back to that priest. I still go to confession but am still trying to figure out how to do it best. Would be nice to hear a good homily on how to go confession for beginners and then more advanced.

    • priest’s wife (@byzcathwife)

      not bringing in a phone is to protect the seal of the confessional- I understand that you want to use the app and be organized, but on the other hand- wouldn’t you feel bad if the priest had a phone (perhaps with prayers/Bible app if he had time for prayer, waiting for believers)- so this priest who “yelled” at you most likely was simply very serious about the seal

      • Matt R

        That wasn’t the right way to handle things, though. In fact, it sounds like it was the worst possible way to handle it. Priests should be aware of people using apps in church and Confession, and should put a policy out in the bulletin, website etc.

      • Helene Romero

        Well said…..It’s a sacrament. Leave your phone outside. God deserves all of you. he ave all FOR you.

  • Jill

    If the good Lord desires this for my life, marriage would not be a farce to me Bill.

  • Ann Gerard Francke

    Christ, You consecrated Your Body and Blood, “the blood of the New & Eternal Covenant” for “the forgiveness of sins.” Christ, You breathed life into the Apostles, gave them the power to forgive and retain sin. Lord grant us the wisdom to avail ourselves of this gift of Eternal Life. and give us the will to confess our sins; and forgive others to be forgiven. AMEN

  • notenoughflair

    First of all, I think that people should not only be praying for priests as they walk to the confessional, but should make a daily habit of praying for all priests, but especially their confessor. Priests need our support, and I encourage people to offer up their rosaries, their Morning Offerings, and any other regular devotion that they have with the intention of the sanctity of priests. God Bless our priests, may they live to be worthy of their sublime vocations.

    I go to weekly confession, but then again, I also go to an FSSP parish where confession is offered frequently (before and after every Mass, every day) and preached about on the pulpit on a very regular basis. I have a friend who was completely shocked the first time she went to our confessionals. She told the priest of being recently baptized and living with her boyfriend (and the sins that incur therein). The priest told her, you are living in a near occasion of sin, move out and I can absolve you. And she did. Her boyfriend was VERY unhappy, but he came around and now they attend the FSSP parish as a couple and both go to weekly or bi-weekly confession.

    There’s a site called Audio Sancto, that has great, solid Catholic doctrine homilies that people can listen to. There’s one homily on there that absolutely changed my life, and got me on the road to truly appreciating the graces offered in the confessional. The priest talks about the supernatural love that the Father in the confessional has for his children, the love that can only come by the grace of God. He also makes some very good observations about the confessional process that helped me get over my fear of the booth. One of the things that this priest says is “God already knows what you’ve done, who cares if the priest knows!” And he’s got a point.

    The Sacrament of Penance (Part 1) – 7/5/2009 (

  • Eric Korn

    The sacrament of reconciliation is brilliant as it can bring to life the need to repent of our sins. It makes me more aware of how fall I fall short of God’s calling and it helps keep my mind on our call to holiness. I missed confession for 18 years and dreaded going back. Finally, I did confession with a Trappist monk and was surprised how light was my penance. I expected a year’s worth of good deeds and hundreds of Hail Marys. Instead, I was to told to meditate and pray to God for a short period of time and to focus on His mercy. I was reminded of God’s joy at my act of contrition and the benefit of having a formal act to reconcile myself to God. I am sure that the good monk had joy as well. Done with the proper mind, confession is a blessing to the priest and confessor.

  • Ted Seeber

    I hate to say it, and I realize it’s canonically impossible, but:

    As a high functioning autistic, and a Catholic, who has to *fight* my own brain just to be in a room with another human being some days, even the old confessional with a screen can be enough intimacy to prevent me from going to confession. I think I can count the number of times I have been in the last 30 years on one hand.

    My last 2 times were attempts to teach my special needs son the value of this sacrament, which is absolutely the wrong reason to do it.

    Due to my illness, I’m much more comfortable with a big electronic screen and a bunch of geographical space between me and people I’m talking to.

    So therefore, I find it way sad that we don’t have asynchronous e-confession yet. *DESPITE* the fact that there are very good reasons why this would not be canonically correct (starting with the problem of security).

  • Mary Bethany

    One thing I seriously disagree with is that confession should take only a fee minutes or someone is doing it wrong. I do not see confession as counseling. Nor do I see it as a laundry list of sin. That would take a few minutes. Not that there is anything wrong with that.
    I see confession as an opportunity to address issues having a negative effect on my spiritual life. Sin. Temptation. Tendencies. Kind of a “State of the Soul”. I guess I like to go deeper. I have generally had confessors. None seemed to have a problem with this.

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  • martha

    I also disagree with the statement that a confession should be short… I mean, I sometimes have got questions of religious nature, how else can I get the answers? Myself, I missed confessions for about 20 years… Confessions are a very difficult thing for us , penitents, I do not like them, however, it’s worth it for the wonderful feeling after. When you are told the Lord has forgiven you, you feel like a baby hugged and kissed by your loving Mummy… Praised be Jesus.