From a reader:
I made a big confession spanning over many years of not going to Confession a few months ago. I thought I had made a good and thorough Examination of Conscience, as it took me close to a month of racking my brain for sins. Sadly, being very ignorant of things like the virtues and vices, seven deadly sins, etc, I left out a litany of sins that I’ve slowly discovered as I learn more. Some might be mortal sins, and some not. I’m not sure, but they do seem little on the graver side than other sins, and I’d like to confess them and get them out there, even if they’re not mortal because I feel pretty guilty and bad about them.
The problem is many of them I’ve left unconfessed for several confessions because I’m not sure how to confess them exactly. Do I just include them with my list of sins, or do I have to specify that they’re leftover from previous confessions? I go to confession bi-monthly, so I’m concerned moving up to the legal-sized list will pose some sort of a red flag to the priest that I had been making bad and insincere confessions previously and he’ll scold me for it.
No priest I know would scold you during confession for something like this. Priests are impressed with people’s sincerity and courage.
The best way to approach this is to make your regular confession of what you can remember since your last confession and then say something along the lines of this: “Also, Father, after reflecting on my life and learning more, there are some things from my past that I haven’t confessed yet.”, and then just tell them briefly and succinctly. Don’t dwell on them. It’ll be fine. You’ll see.
Keep in mind that when you make a good confession, to the best of your ability, even the sins that you have forgotten are forgiven. If you remember them later, include them in your confession, by all means. But don’t worry that you have to have a perfect, machine-like memory. Just do your best and all your sins are forgiven.
The confessional may be a tribunal in which we ourselves are our own prosecutor, but the confessional isn’t a torture chamber. Making a confession can be hard, because we really have to look hard at ourselves, but it isn’t a vivisection.
I am glad you want to be so thorough. But remember that you are a human being, not an angel with an angelic mind which can never forget. None of us are.
In the meantime, since we live and learn, this is an experience by which you have lived and learned. Having done this, you won’t have to worry about knowing what to do next time.