This Confession Hack Just Might Change Your Life

There’s a vicious cycle about confession, isn’t there? The more you sin, the harder it is to go; the less you go to confession, the more you sin. It becomes harder and harder to go to confession. And the Devil is always there, whispering in your ear: you’re too far gone, you’re too sinful, you’re not worthy, confession is not for you. Maybe we disagree with this at a theoretical level, but can there be something like that going on at a deeper level, within ourselves?

For a very long time, like a great many other people, I was terrible at confession. From my early teens until very recently, typically years would go by between confessions. Not good. Not good at all. (Now I’m in spiritual direction with a priest, so I go to confession regularly.) If we go to Mass, we might also not like the idea of confessing our sins to a priest we could encounter regularly–that shouldn’t be an obstacle, but it’s still an understandable one.

So here’s a hack that I’ve used for many years. Not nearly often enough! But when I used it it served me well. It’s very simple:

  • Go into a church at random.
  • Find a priest.
  • Tell the priest you need a confession now.

That’s it.

By the way, priests are canonically obligated to say yes when they are asked for a confession. Canon law requires them to drop whatever they’re doing and hear your confession–the only obstacle to that is if they’re performing another sacrament, ie the Eucharist. But you wouldn’t walk up to a priest during Mass to chat him up.

Now, of course, you shouldn’t abuse this prerogative. I am saying you should do this if you haven’t had a confession in a very long time and feel a pressing need. Otherwise, you should either have a spiritual director who’s a priest who can give you regular confession, or have another regular confession, or, if you’re lucky, have a local parish that gives good confession.

But in my experience, in those circumstances, the Holy Spirit has a knack for throwing the right priest in your legs at the right time, when you do that. This one time, I was staying with my inlaws, and I really really needed a confession. But I was uncomfortable, because the local priest there is someone who for a variety of reasons I had no affinity for. But when we went to Sunday Mass, lo and behold, coincidentally, there was a different priest from another part of the diocese to say Mass in that parish that day. I asked him for a confession after Mass and he gave me what I think might have been the best confession in my adult life. (It’s after this that I entered spiritual direction.) Never saw him before, never saw him again.

The priests are there. You’re not imposing on them–they’re waiting for you to do this. That’s what they dedicated their lives to. And the Holy Spirit will certainly help you. Go. Grab one.

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  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thecrescat Katrina Fernandez

    And don’t bother calling the church office. The secretary will just make you an appointment for three weeks from now. Once I went 6 months w/out confession because when I’d go I couldn’t get seen in that one hour a week window… even if I got in line 45 minutes early. This happened three times in a row at 2 different parishes so I called the office and made an appt for the following month.

    If anything it’s motivation to not do anything too sinfully serious. So yeah… there’s that I suppose.

    • http://pegobry.tumblr.com/ Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      Oh boy. Yeah, that sounds rough. Just grab a priest! The Holy Spirit is on your side.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    That viscoious cycle you described is pretty funny and so true. I know I get caught in it…lol. Coming from your next post (Catholicism becoming more Protestant), it strikes me now that the one thing I would love for Catholicism to do is become Protestant on Confession. Not because the protestant approach is better – it’s not – but for purely selfish reasons. I hate going to Confession. ;)

    • http://pegobry.tumblr.com/ Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      Ha! Exactly!

      But we know the reason why we “hate” to do it is the reason why we really must, right? It’s the crucible through which we’re purified. And yeah, it’s painful.

      • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

        Right. We must. :)

  • DeaconsBench

    You have to go out of your way to avoid the sacrament at my parish. We offer it six days a week.

    As for demanding confession on the spot: good luck with that. You may find this shocking, but priests are busy people—now, more than ever. Oh, he may well drop what he’s doing—heading to a meeting with the vicar or a conference with the principal or planning session with the choir director or a hastily-arranged visit with an elderly parishioner in the hospital who needs anointing. He might put off calling the electrician about the problem with the circuit breaker, or making the run to the florist to pick up fresh flowers for the first communion, or answering one of a zillion emails that have started to clog his inbox. He may decide to delay work on the homily or the bulletin column; he might ask a couple patiently waiting to discuss an upcoming wedding to wait a little longer.

    But he won’t be happy about it.

    And is that the best way to celebrate the sacrament?

    I mean, really. How would you feel if you were put in that position?

    Too many people, I’ve found, have come to think of the church as service-on-demand, like Netflix. They want what they want when they want it, and expect everyone in the church—from the secretary to the deacon to the priest—to cater to every need, at every moment. They’re shocked when that’s not possible. Yes, we are here to serve. But it’s not always that simple.

    Have a little consideration and common sense—and appreciate the daily grind that afflicts all of us. Even priests.

    • http://pegobry.tumblr.com/ Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      Yeah, asking for a confession might delay all those other things you talk about. And guess what: /none of those things are as important as a sacramental confession/. The Church needs saints more than it needs circuit breakers and nice flowers, as important as those are. That’s what someone who received a sacramental confession is, right? Someone in a state of grace. If a piano falls on you as you get out of the confessional, you join the choir invisible right away and start interceding and chanting the glory of the Lord. The Church needs saints. And if the priest disagrees, well HE’s the one who needs to go-grab-a-priest and get a confession, because he has forgotten his vows. If that sounds brutal, I’m sorry, but it comes from the Holy Spirit. Sympathy? Absolutely. Yeah, being a priest is hard, and imposing is wrong. But priests literally gave their lives to giving the sacraments. That’s why they exist. That’s what they vowed their lives to. Otherwise we’re just a bunch of Evangelicals with Bible teachers in funny dress. The Church expects us to be saints, and it gives us the means to be so, starting with the sacraments. That is the whole purpose of the Church. If somebody hasn’t been to confession for years and needs one, THAT IS AN EMERGENCY. There are red flashing lights and sirens blaring all over Heaven. There are angels and saints praying that the confession will happen, and demons working their scaly butts off to prevent it. The sword piercing the Immaculate Heart of Mary twists and she looks up at her Son with wet pleading eyes, praying that a sinner will be saved. This is the spiritual reality, and if this spiritual reality seems less important than the concrete reality of having to fulfill a busy schedule, that is, quite literally, a problem of lack of faith. The Church is a field hospital. A field hospital is a mess. The doctors are always behind schedule. They have to do triage. When somebody comes in who is bleeding out on the floor, they drop the seventy other incredibly important things they have to do and put their hands in the wound to stop the bleeding. It sucks. That is also what they signed up for.

      And about the consumerist-Netflix thing. Is consumerism a problem in the Church? Absolutely. But another problem in the Church is bureaucratism. To say “Well if you want water in the desert, get in line between 4:30 and 5:30 and fill out form B-5 in triplicate with capital letters in black ink” doesn’t really sound like the Body of Christ either.

  • Nathaniel Torrey

    First, the good. I think you are correct to emphasize how absolutely vital confession is. I was interested in Orthodoxy from the get go because it had confession. When I was first seeking and trying out different churches, mostly Protestant ones, I couldn’t help but feel like I was cheating when we got to general confession. How did I know I wasn’t deluding myself? Was I really sorry? I also desperately needed the accountability in order to stop going back to the vomit.

    Now, the bad. I agree with you that if the only thing keeping someone from confessing is the thought that their regular parish priest will know some dirt about them, they should find a random priest and get ‘er done.

    However, I’m afraid the whole strolling up for confession turns the Church into just some franchise or institution with consumable goods.The Church IS NOT an Institution with sacraments. It is a Sacrament with institutions. I fear the casual confession will the turn the Church into just one more thing that we consume. Oh, got my oil changed on my car, time to stroll over and get my confession done. I’m afraid it will make it too casual, does that make sense?

    This is just my opinion, but I think a regular confessor and time for confession is the ideal. That way, it is a relationship and not a commodity. Your priest can see you change over time and know what sins keep tripping you up. The same confession to my regular confessor or to a random priest could have a different significance. The former could see this as part of an alarming overall trend and can give counsel accordingly. The latter has no context for it and could let something slide that could be a really big deal.

    Now, I know what you are recommending and what I am saying are not mutually exclusive. And confession can be very stressful and if it comes down to it a random priest might be necessary. But the importance of having a regular confessor I think can’t be stressed enough (again, just my opinion).

    • http://pegobry.tumblr.com/ Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      All fair points. I am really talking to people who have not gone to confession for a while and encounter obstacles to going–I want to make it easier.

      And about the consumerist thing–yeah, consumerism is a real problem, but of all the avatars of consumerism, if people see confession in the way you suggest they might, that might be the least bad of them. It might be different in your corner of Orthodoxy, but the problem of Catholicism is that people don’t go to confession–at all. So anything that’ll get them there is good. And the whole point of confession is to effect a change of the spirit and the soul. Someone can walk into the confessional a consumerist and walk out a disciple of Christ, right? All win!

      To your point about having a regular confessor, I say amen, but it’s not always possible.

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    Lucky you to be in a country where the priests are there! Quite often at my parish, they simply aren’t.

    • http://pegobry.tumblr.com/ Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      All the more reason to seek them out! Find one, trap him!

      • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

        We only have ONE. And he’s only there 20 hours a week, and disappears quite quickly after Mass.

        • http://pegobry.tumblr.com/ Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

          Unless you’re in North Korea you can find another one somewhere.

          • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

            Which is why I go to other parishes for confession. Unfortunately, in my urban area, it’s getting harder and harder to find a priest.

  • adevar@hotmail.com

    If priests go o pre-confession to a woman, then they may become more mature when dealing with real life issues.

  • Beth Turner

    Oh, wow. Our priests offer confession daily. It makes going to confession unbelievably simple. Reading the comments on this post reminds me of how sad I will be to leave our parish here!


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