USCCB Media Blog: 10 points in favor of going to confession

I am all for any official entity of the Church promoting the Sacrament of Penance.

The media blog of the USCCB has a post by Sr. Mary Ann Walsh about the Sacrament of Penance.  Shall we have look with my usual approach of emphases and comments?
Confession: It puts you straight with everyone
Penance, aka confession, is the sacrament of the forgiveness of sin. You can’t beat it for convenience. [Not to mention salvation.] It’s available practically whenever. Tell a priest you want to go to confession and you’ll get his attention. One bishop I know was cornered on an airplane. Another passenger figured out what was going on and asked if he could confess too. It must have been an interesting game of musical seats. An interesting question for priests might be: Where was the strangest place you ever administered the sacrament of penance? The answers I’ve gathered include “in a sports bar, at a graduation party” and “on the golf course, walking up the fairway.”
Confession has benefits. Here are ten:
1. Confidentiality guaranteed. There’s nothing like confessing your sins [That’s the key, isn’t it?  Forgiveness of sins.  I am glad to see that the word was mentioned at the top.] to someone guaranteed not to tell anyone else. Sometimes you need to talk in absolute confidence. Even under subpoena, a priest can’t tell anyone what’s said to him in confession. He can’t even hint at it. Now that’s confidentiality.
2. Housekeeping for the soul. It feels good to be able to start a clean life all over again. Like going into a sparkling living room in your home, it’s nice when clutter is removed – even if it’s your own.  [Again, it is about forgiveness of sins.]
3. A balm for the desire for revenge. When you have been forgiven you can forgive others. If the perfect Jesus forgives me, who am I to want to avenge the slights in my life. Think: “Why did they promote him over me?’ or “Mom played favorites!”
4. Low cost therapy. It’s free, which makes it cheaper than a psychiatrist for dealing with guilt.  [To a certain extent yes.  But some people need the help of a professional as well.  The confessional is more the “tribunal dock” than it is the “couch”.]
5. Forced time to think. Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. To examine our lives and acknowledge failings marks the first step of making things right with God, others and ourselves. Life can be more worth living when you ponder the meaning of your own life.
6. Contribution toward world peace. Gaudium et Spes, the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, said that the imbalances in the world that lead to war and tensions “are linked with that more basic imbalance which is rooted in the heart of man.” Peace of soul leads to peace of heart leads to peace beyond oneself.  [I had the amusing image of the pageant in Miss Congeniality for a moment there.  But seriously, when liberals start talking about “structural sin” we must always go back to the fact that personal sins are at the core of all “structural sin”.  This was a good point.  Sr. Walsh points to the fact that when we sin, we hurt everyone.  Personal sin really does hurt everyone.]
7. A better neighborhood. Confession leaves you feling good about yourself, thereby cutting back the inclination to road rage and aggressive shopping cart driving. With the grace of the sacrament you’re energized to, as Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, “go and sin no more.”  [One of the effects of the sacrament of penance is that it also imparts actual graces which can help you to resist sinning in the future.]
8. Realistic self-perception. Confession helps overcome arrogance when you have to admit you’re as much of a sinner as anyone else. It helps build tolerance for others’ perceived shortcomings. [A partial remedy to the echo of the Sin of Adam and Eve who allowed themselves to believe the lie that we could be as gods.]
9. One more benefit of being Catholic. There are lots of benefits, including a sense of community, liturgical rites to help us encounter God in prayer, and the wonderful sense of humanity exemplified in the saints, from Mary, the loving Mother of God, to Augustine, the exasperating son of Monica. The sacrament that leads us to inner peace is among the greatest boons.  [I continue with the movie flash… this time of the Red Panda in Kung Fu Panda …. “Inner peace…. Inner peace….”.  But this point touches on our Catholic identity, doesn’t it?  Going to confession is what Catholics do.]
10. Closeness to God. Confession helps you realize that you have a close connection to God and receive his grace through the sacraments. What can be better than knowing God’s on your team, or, to be less arrogant about it, that you are on God’s.

Just because I can perhaps be a little blunter here than Sr. Walsh can be there….

11. Avoid going to Hell for eternity.   ‘Nuf said.

Good points!   In some ways, what Sr. Walsh has done here is repackage in new language, so to speak, some classic points about the benefits of the sacrament.

We need to revive the sacrament of penance.  If any of Sister’s points, above, help you to seek out the confessional, then it was worth the USCCB having a blog.  The same goes for this one.

To to confession.

And after her points, here are my 20 Tips for making a good confession.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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36 Responses to USCCB Media Blog: 10 points in favor of going to confession

  1. weneleh says:

    I completely agree with all of it. I went to confession on Saturday and definitely appreciate the cleansing of the Sacrament. I always want to try harder to “firmly resolve, with the help of Your Grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin.”

    And yes, I slip up so I got back and try again.

  2. Brad says:

    Last week I had a conversation with my brother that went off the rails. He (pagan) thinks (wants) confession to be a free therapy session with a liberal, secular peer. No one asks for forgiveness because no one is an offended party who would forgive. The penitent-less goes for a talk about identifying his problems and receiving ego building advice. He gnostically works his way to heaven by climbing babel’s ziggurat and slamming his fists against heaven’s gate demanding to be let in based on what he knows about himself. My brother often referenced “know thyself” in the pagan, benighted, Grecian sense: auto-dulia, auto-latria.

    He has no concept of “looking upon Him whom our sins have pierced”.

    If anyone is inclined, please ask St. Patrick to help his namesake.

  3. Arieh says:

    Point #11 is what gets me there with regularity.

  4. Augustin57 says:

    I hope there is more of a push to structure parishes to offer Confession more frequently at regular times. I once lived in south Louisiana where most of the parishes offered Confession before every Mass and on Saturday afternoons, too! I would love something that predictable and convenient to be the norm!

  5. Mike Morrow says:

    With respect to point 2: I’ve heard post-confession compared to the soul’s equivalent to the way one’s mouth feels after the semi-annual (or quadrennial, for our European friends) dental tooth cleaning. :-)

  6. pfreddys says:

    I have read your 20 Tips….twice now and I laugh each time I read “2) …wait our turn in line patiently;” for the most part this is not a problem. However, when the little old ladies go in there and spend about 17 hours that is vexing. I mean what could they possibly have to confess; that they got mad at the butcher? I’m sorely tempted to yell into the box “EXCUSE ME BUT THERE ARE MEN OUT HERE WITH REAL SINS!!!”

    [Depending on your age, it is likely that the little old ladies are closer to their judgment than you are.]

  7. Augustin57 says:

    I remember a story my friend told me some time back. In the old days, folks would usually go to Confession on Saturday afternoon. The lines were long (yes, really). He said he was always scared to go to Confession because he was scared of Mgsr. Disch, who was hard of hearing. The closer he got to his turn, the more he’d sweat. He said more than one time that he’d be like one or two away and hear, “YOU DID WHAT?!” and he’d take off at a dead sprint out of the building, only to have to come back and get in the back of the line and start all over again. LOL

  8. Robert_H says:

    If any of Sister’s points, above, help you to seek out the confessional, then it was worth the USCCB having a blog. The same goes for this one.

    I went this weekend because of your blog, Father.

  9. contrarian says:

    Point 1 is so key.
    As a convert from a small Lutheran conservative synod, my former pastors would emphasize the need to confess. But a chat with the pastor in his office always had some risks. For one thing, you always risked being mentioned in the Sunday sermon…thinly veiled. As a convert, I love, love, love, love, love the private booth. I love the fact that priest doesn’t even bring up to YOU anything outside of the confessional something you mentioned IN the confessional.
    Awesome.

  10. shane says:

    Wow. An Episcopal Conference (or rather the blog of an episcopal conference) warns of the danger of going to hell. I can’t believe my eyes.

  11. AnAmericanMother says:

    Brad,
    My sympathies. I had a brother in law in much the same predicament. Prayers for your brother Patrick. If you could pray for the repose of the soul of my brother in law James, that would be a good thing too.
    These people are not pagan, though, not at all. The terrifying aspect of paganism is that everybody gets what’s coming to them – no mercy, no forgiveness — the Furies, the vengeance of Apollo, the judgment of Odin, etc. I don’t WANT what’s coming to me.
    Thus C.S. Lewis: A cliche came out of its cage

  12. teomatteo says:

    Sr. Walsh did a very good job. I would only emphasize that going to confession is in some cases important to recieve the Eucharist worthily. And that the sacrement of Penance is important before recieving other sacrements like Holy Matrimony.

  13. AnAmericanMother says:

    pfreddy,
    I think it was Abp. Sheen who said that hearing a nun’s confession was like being stoned to death with popcorn . . . .
    With that said, and I seem to be quoting C.S. Lewis today . . . “One man may be so placed that his anger sheds the blood of thousands, and another so placed that, however angry he gets, he will only be laughed at. But the little mark on the soul may be much the same in both. Each has done something to himself which, unless he repents, will make it harder for him to keep out of the rage the next time he is tempted, and will make the rage worse when he does fall into it. Each of them, if he seriously turns to God, can have that twist in the central man straightened out again: each is, in the long run, doomed if he will not.”

  14. Gregg the Obscure says:

    Fr. Z, you’ve got me back to going to confession regularly, even though it’s logistically difficult. It does make a difference in resisting certain persistent temptations.

    I’d add to the article the observation made by the late Evelyn Waugh: without it, I’d be more horrible than I already am.

  15. JKnott says:

    There is an EXCELLENT bood on confession:

    “Frequent Confession” by Benedict Bauer
    Hits it all.
    Heard a priest say one time that every time we go to Confession is is like saying, “I love you” to Jesus.

  16. JKnott says:

    Sorry that is excellent …. book

  17. benedetta says:

    I tend to underestimate that graces received help strengthen to overcome the same struggles in future, but that is truly a great reality.

  18. APX says:

    @ Fr. Z
    [One of the effects of the sacrament of penance is that it also imparts actual graces which can help you to resist sinning in the future.]

    This is so ridiculously true! Since I started going to confession, I have way less outbursts of rage and anger. True story, during Lent I just got finished at the church with Confession, and was driving back to my city. I stopped to get some food and the lid to my pop wasn’t on completely and it spilled ALL over my center console. Normally I would have started swearing and cursing the drive-thru worker, but that time it didn’t even phase me.

  19. pfreddys says:

    @ Fr. Z: You make an excellent point to me on a previous post; I will keep it in mind and hopefully it will tame my patience…Thank you!

  20. Random Friar says:

    I’ve encountered many, especially among the Filipino and Hispanic community, who come for what is essentially a counseling session or diagnosis. Unfortunately, many are poor, so the priests are what they can afford, and they want the Seal of Confession. I try to give a little advice, but steer them to making an appointment if it’s for marital counseling (you need two to work things out here), or come for references later to other help resources. But most just want a little advice and then move on, without seeking additional help, sadly.

  21. Geoffrey says:

    I recently became even more aware of the great need to pray for vocations to the priesthood! This Saturday I went to the regularly scheduled confession at my parish and no priest had shown up. Granted, the parish is a little short right now, what with 2 of our residents priests in the hospital. I also was not the only one bothering Father to hear a quick confession before the vigil Mass! But what a scary thought… no priests for Mass or Confession!

  22. Brooklyn says:

    Is it just me, am I missing something? But, with the exception of reason #11, it seems to me that according to this article, confession is all about making us feel better. I know Fr. Z put in his comments about forgiveness, but I’m not seeing it anywhere in the article.

    Confession leaves you feling [sic] good about yourself, thereby cutting back the inclination to road rage and aggressive shopping cart driving.

    What about confession removes the barrier between us and God and renews our relationship with God? What about confession removes sin from your soul and restores you to a state of baptismal grace? Did I miss these things? I think that confession is about a lot more than a good therapy session, or at least should be. Any “good” feelings are a byproduct of confession, not the goal.

    Not surprising that this was written by a woman. (And I am also a woman, so you can’t accuse me of sexism!)

  23. Catholictothecore says:

    I read somewhere that Blessed John Paul II went for frequent confession, as in WEEKLY, during his earthly life. It made a profound impact on me and so I try to emulate Bl John Paul II and go for frequent confession as well. The graces that we receive from God is beyond measure.

  24. MargaretC says:

    Personally, I’ve found the need to regularly examine my conscience an unexpected benefit of this sacrament. When I was an Episcopalian, confession was technically available, but nobody ever did it, and the benefits of a regular examen just never came up.

    That said, I think Sr Mary Ann is perhaps a little optimistic about the ready availability of confession. I wonder how many of those penitants who cornered their confessors on planes, in bars, and on fairways did so because confession was only offered to them for half an hour on Saturday afternoons…?

  25. Brooklyn: making us feel better

    Sure. That is one of the reasons why I mentioned more than once that I am happy whenever I see someone promoting the Sacrament of Penance.

    And, I think we have to admit, that it does make us feel better. That’s enough of a reason to get us into the box, no?

    We make distinctions about imperfect and perfect sorrow for sin, attrition and contrition. The former is sorrow for sin because you are afraid of hell, the later because of love of God. The later is a more perfect motive, but the former is sufficient. Attrition is sufficient for absolution.

    Similarly, if it occurs to someone who is miserable because of her sins that confession will make her feel better and that gets her moving toward the confessional… GREAT! The point is… get them in their. We hope they take with them at least a spirit of attrition. A good confessor helps from the other side of the grate and the Holy Spirit and one’s guardian angel can do a lot with a person if they just get them off the couch, out the door and into the confessional.

    Yes, the piece at the top was a little fluffy. But not everything about confession has to have my incessant “go to confession, you black sinners, or you are going to burn in hell for eternity” overtone.

    And while I am at it, everyone, examine your consciences and go to confession so you don’t burn in hell forever. Have a nice day!

  26. Young Canadian RC Male says:

    Overall I’m glad the usually liberal and faulty USCCB did ANYTHING of this kind. Overall the points are good … except the low cost therapy one. This irks me because my liberal, Longeran loving friend thinks this was about Confession and this severely downplays confession as a sacrament and can do what therapy cannot: forgive sin. Furthermore, the language overall is pop culture ish and to me it demeans my intelligence as a Catholic. TELL ME WHAT IT IS IN MATURE, REAL IN YOUR FACE LANGUAGE!!!!!

  27. Charles E Flynn says:

    If I mention to a third party that I am discussing various aspects of my life with another, he will generally agree it is a good idea: “You’re doing the right thing, and I’m glad you’ve found someone who can help you along.” In a way, this will elevate me in his eyes. But if I tell him that I am going to confession and that it redeems me, this lessens my status in his eyes, for those who do not go to confession always have a great deal to say against it. It compromises human freedom and one’s legitimate pride; it is antiquated and even medieval because it involves so many external forms. Those who do not go to confession feel they are above it; in going to confession I place myself in a “lower class”. At the same time, however, everyone is familiar with human dialogue; people opt for or against it at will and make use of it only when and to the extent that it suits them. For one who confesses, however, any choice on the basis of “it suits me” has ceased.

    From Confession, by Adrienne von Speyr, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1985, page 19.

  28. Trad Catholic Girl says:

    I love this post Fr. Z – all Catholics need the Sacrament of Penance to heal their souls. However, it seems many Catholics over-estimate their ability to be morally good, and when they sin, seem prone to denial, lies, or coverup. Why the self-deception? As I tell my little sister, “Take responsibility for your sins – repent – and open yourself up to God’s forgiveness!”

  29. MargaretC says:

    Re no.6: I sometimes think that those who talk the most about “structural sin” do so to avoid any confrontation with personal sin.

    Of course, institutions and “structures” may be occasions of sin…but if humans were not personally sinful, how could they create sinful “structures”?

    I’ve never heard a decent answer to this question.

  30. isa says:

    Father, please,
    your first tip for us to make a good confession is about examining our consciences regularly. For a person who has been away from the sacrament of penance for some years and wants to regress, do you think there is an approximate period of time that is adequate for us to examine our consciences before approaching the Sacrament?
    Thank you kindly.

  31. Denis says:

    OK, you read the 10 reasons, concluded you need to go, and then…confession isn’t available. I’ve found that to be frustratingly common. In my current parish, it’s scheduled infrequently; and most of the time, when it is scheduled, the priest doesn’t show up. I can only conclude that it’s not a priority. On the other hand, he does compose little ditties to sing during his homily, so maybe he’s just busy.

  32. Brendan McGrath says:

    I posted this on America’s blog for the post they did on this story; I’ll post it here too, because I think many people will probably get the neo-scholastic-esque references:

    Why go to confession? Because in today’s world, keeping your soul healthy and pleasing before God can be difficult. Introducing sanctifying grace — its long-lasting, habitual, Christoform, quasiformal [shout-out to Rahner] justifying action heals your soul and divinizes it, all the way to the tips of its faculties. This revolutionary entitative habit has the aspects of both created and uncreated grace — so it’s strong enough to be God, soft enough for the creature! Your free, unmerited gift, with confession or any other sacrament… at your local Catholic parish.

    What’s more, we’ll also throw in the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, all together. No more worrying about having only dead faith unformed by love!

    And for those times when temptation catches up with you, look for all-new actual grace to both illuminate your mind and strengthen your will, so you can perform those hard-to-do salutary acts! It’s both prevenient and subsequent, so you won’t even know what hit you! Now available in both medicinal and elevating classifications. Guarenteed to be efficacious, or at least sufficient.

    Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity to make the most of your obediential potency and the always-already installed supernatural existential within it!

    “Maybe she’s born with it… maybe it’s supernatural!”

  33. ckdexterhaven says:

    My parish has been assigned a newly ordained priest (2 weeks!). Last Sunday was his second Sunday preaching, and he announced that he loves to hear confessions. He gave us permission to ask him for confession anytime.

  34. Gregg: I’d add to the article the observation made by the late Evelyn Waugh: without it, I’d be more horrible than I already am.

    Amen and amen.

  35. Brooklyn says:

    Father Z – in response to your response, I completely agree that it is vitally important to get people to confession. And if this article accomplishes that, then it is successful. My complaint with this article is that barely mentions forgiveness of sin. It could easily be just another self-help article in any woman’s magazine. Everything in it is true. I will be the first to attest to that. But my main reason for going to confession is because my sins have cut me off from God and I need to re-establish my relationship with him. Everything else is just a benefit. I am a spiritual leper and confession will cleanse and restore me just as Christ did when he physically healed the lepers. Sister Walsh here makes it sound like confession is just a really good therapy session. Your comments helped this article tremendously, but there will be too many people who will read it without your comments.

    It is my personal belief that one of the biggest deficiencies in the Catholic church today is that we never hear about the #1 problem all of us have – sin. And therefore we don’t realize the great need we have for our Savior. Back when weekly church attendance was 75% to 80% of Catholics, we were all keenly aware of our sinful state, and the priests, whether we liked it or not, were not hesitant to remind us of that. There are, of course, many, many reasons for the decline in church attendance, but even among those who attend Church regularly, far less go to regular confession. Wouldn’t you agree that the #1 reason for this is because people are hardly aware of even the concept of sin, much less that they are sinners in need of a Savior?

    Thank you for allowing me to rant.

  36. Rouxfus says:

    Doctor of the Church St. Francis de Sales offers this argument for frequent confession in his classic and well-written work of spiritual direction The Introduction to the Devout Life:

    Make your confession humbly and devoutly every week, and always, if you can, before communicating, even although your conscience is not burdened with mortal sin; for in confession you do not only receive absolution for your venial sins, but you also receive great strength to help you in avoiding them henceforth, clearer light to discover your failings, and abundant grace to make up whatever loss you have incurred through those faults. You exercise the graces of humility, obedience, simplicity and love, and by this one act of confession you practice more virtue than in any other.

    I like going to confession because for me it is in a very real way, a one-on-one conversation with Christ, speaking through the office of the priest, who serves in personna Christi. How great art that?