Feeling Bad About Confession

Emotions run pretty high in the sacrament of confession. Not a week goes by that either I or a penitent doesn’t end up getting a bit misty. It’s because hearts are open to God in the confessional and the Holy Spirit doesn’t miss a chance to touch hearts and reconcile the lost sheep.

However, while I don’t mind emotion in the confessional itself, it’s not much good during the actual examination of conscience. Too often the sins we feel most guilty about or most ashamed of are not the most serious sins, while the ones we may overlook altogether or think are not so serious may well be the ones that are most serious.

So, for example, most people feel ashamed and guilty about sins of the flesh. Sins of the flesh are certainly sins, but the amount of shame and guilt one feels may be disproportionate to the seriousness of the sin. On the other hand, forgetting prayers or missing Mass may be a continual sin against God himself which we overlook and under-rate. Furthermore, if we had prayed more and got closer to God we may not have fallen into the sin of the flesh in the first place.

It is good to remember that a mortal sin is not necessarily the sin we feel terribly ashamed of and guilty about. It is just as easy to commit a mortal sin and not feel guilty or ashamed at all. Just because the emotions are high as we remember a sin or commit a sin does not mean it is the most serious sin in the book. We may lose our temper, have a terrible fight with our spouse or kids and our heart may be beating and the tears may be running and the voices may be raised, but despite the high emotion it may not be a mortal sin. It might just be a fight.

On the other hand, to gossip and talk badly about others, to complain and grumble all the time and to be bitter and negative habitually may be far more serious because we ignore it and pretend we’re not doing anyone any harm. At least with the big fight we feel bad and know it is a sin. With the casual gossip, back biting, nasty comments and negativity we often come away actually feeling better about ourselves.

So a very objective and clear approach to the examination of conscience is what we need. Pray for guidance and a clear vision. Go through the questions. Make a list and leave emotions for when you actually get into the box.

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06349146033236890779 Giovanni A. Cattaneo

    Sin makes me feel stupid. I think its embarrassing how dumb we can be. I think that is why people have problems with it. Think about the sacrifice of Christ in the cross and then we think about how we respond to it with our weakness.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15011734887978549771 Sandy Paws

    I have to say that it is this very idea that has helped me make a true examination of conscience. I'm so glad that you taught my RCIA and brought this up in that forum. I'm also glad to see this on you blog as everyone should know that excess emotion does not make the sin mortal or not. A quick internet search for examination of conscience will yield many differed guides. Most will be tempted to the shortest examinations, but the multipage, detailed examinations will help you understand your sins better and more objectively, which I believe helps during confession.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15156188133580902769 Andrew Preslar

    Father,Thanks for the good advice. Would you do some more posts like this? (But not less of the other kinds!)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01718011747484428178 Whimsy

    I think of famous priests who were able to tell penitents their sins in the confessional, like Sts. Vianney and Pio. How Catholic to run to these priests instead of running away from them!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09375104956646159746 Brian Walden

    "On the other hand, forgetting prayers or missing Mass may be a continual sin against God himself which we overlook and under-rate. Furthermore, if we had prayed more and got closer to God we may not have fallen into the sin of the flesh in the first place."This is a very good point. I've noticed that I get into a cycle where my prayer life falls off and then sin creeps in. I fall into more and more sin until I get the courage to go to confession. I need to work on going to confession at the first signs that I'm using my time selfishly rather than dedicating everything I do to God. I'm not disciplined enough to get by on just going to confession just once a month.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07215093180074844386 the Egyptian

    tell me father do you only do face to face or do you use the "BOX" so to speak. I cannot stand face to face it totally prevents me from going, and now our pastor has ripped out our box and installed a "reconciliation room" I am stumped. Am I so wrong to dislike face to face, I am convinced that if we stopped hearing about "we are the people of God" so much from the pulpit and more fire and brimstone and went back to "Confession" instead of reconciliation, the use of the sacrament would go up, That and more than by appointment or only 1 hour on Saturday. My two cents worth

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr Longenecker

    We have a screen with a chair placed so the penitent may confess face to face if they wish. Most use the screen.I think people should be given the choice.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09322135500288738561 Flexo

    the ones we may overlook altogether or think are not so serious may well be the ones that are most seriousIt bears noting that the act part of the most serious and most mortal sin of all time consisted of eating a piece of fruit.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14624843397283907934 Tim H.

    "…the most serious and most mortal sin of all time consisted of eating a piece of fruit."Only for evangelical fundamentalist bible-only full-gospell literalists who look forward to meeting locusts with women's hair. Note that the actual literal meaning applies to the entire bible with the exception of John 6 and the whole "Eat my flesh" thing, John 6:36 and those pesky offspring of that woman in Revelation 12:17, all of which, as you must know, was only symbolic. … I mean, amen. -Tim-

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14624843397283907934 Tim H.

    a-hem

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14058286668713203201 servingblogger

    You mean, you still do confessions ?How quaint !I haven't been since the priest started to take an inordinate interest in my pubescent mastabatory experiences. I thought it was kind of odd then, and I think it's kind of odd now.I much prefer the communal penance services. My personal sins are so venal and small (even though you might think of some of them as mortal) compared to the wickedness and sinfulness of society, including the Church.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01718011747484428178 Whimsy

    I think eating the fruit caused the fall, although it wasn't the eating qua eating that was sinful but the disobedience.The senses of Scripture do not end with the literal interpretation but do begin with it. There's no point in being snarky with somebody about it.See the Catechism paragraphs 116 and 117 for clarification on this issue.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04262145011152938282 Suz

    Father, do you have a particular examination of conscience you would recommend?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09375104956646159746 Brian Walden

    Regarding The Egyptian's post about face to face or behind a screen, aren't priests required to offer the option of anonymous confession?I personally prefer going face to face, but that's because I stutter and it's easier for me that way. I can see why most people prefer the screen. Plus if the priest knows me, it's obvious who I am, so there's really no point in me going behind the screen.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07468536443661219734 maryanne

    I love to go to confession, I am scare to death when I have to go, but when it is finish I am the most happier girl in the word. also I have a special accent because I am french, so there is no way for me to hide in the box or behine a screan for father know me very well. And I am ok to face father. one day I was in the box, and I start to said hello father, and he said ho…. it is you ….. come here so I can see your face.. hi hi hi we laugth -

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07402533227166779275 Richard Ballard

    The Code of Canon Law, Can. 964 §2, requires that confessionals be "fitted with a fixed grille between the penitent and the confessor" so that the penitent always has the option to confess anonymously.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14807873592896092136 Anthony S. “Tony” Layne

    Father, you've reminded me of my favorite quote from Tertullian:"Some flee from this work as being an exposure of themselves, or they put it off from day to day. I presume they are more mindful of modesty than of salvation, like those who contract a disease in the more shameful parts of the body and shun making themselves known to the physicians; and thus they perish along with their own bashfulness."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13631382534572993042 Turgonian

    "My personal sins are so venal and small (even though you might think of some of them as mortal) compared to the wickedness and sinfulness of society, including the Church.""God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector."Since Jesus says that the Pharisee who prayed like this did not go home justified, I would be very careful with making such statements. Every Christian is called to be the salt and light of the world. God has given us the Sacraments not so that we might become a little better than society including the Church, but so that we might become radiant with sanctity.Any sin, no matter how small, drags down the entire world. Any act of humility and charity, no matter how small, lifts it up. Confession is such an act of humility and charity.


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