From a reader:
I went to confession on Good Friday at my parish Church. I had a new Priest who I had never seen before, a Jesuit, [Oh dear.] young, [Oh dear oh dear.] from south Asia [Oh dear oh dear oh dear.] I believe. He explained that I did not need to rattle off a laundry list of my sins, because I was forgiven when I entered the confessional space. [?!?] That my act of choosing to go to confession was a sign of God acting in me, [True enough... praevenient actual graces.] and so I should not focus on the bad that I have done, but rather on God’s goodness. [Quaint. Wrong, but quaint.]
Is this right? As a convert, I am, admittedly, and with some embarrassment, largely self catechized but I thought the point of going to confession was to confess honestly and completely my sins before God, [Yes.]so that he acting through the agency of the Priest, will forgive me my sins. If I don’t need to do this because I am somehow apriori forgiven, then I wonder why I am going to confession in the first place.
I should add that usually I seek out confession at another parish, where there is a Dominican Fr in his 80′s who has never corrected my “laundry list”.
Could you shed some light on this? Many thanks for your time and energies. Your blog has educated me in regards to tradition and confession in particular.
If you have a better and more reliable confessor whom you can trust without pause, then go to him. Furthermore, it seems that your self-catechesis has helped you more, perhaps, than some RCIA classes would have.
The priest was right that, by the fact that we are going to confession, God is giving us graces to go to confession. He helps us at every stage while nevertheless leaving us our freedom.
He is also, to a certain extent, correct that by the fact we are getting into the confessional something of that chain of events leading to God’s forgiveness is underway. In fact, depending on the person, this might be even that sign of sincere repentance and an act of penance that making one’s confession calls for. Nevertheless, it is clearly Christ’s will, and Holy Church’s determination, that we confess our sins. The sacrament, like all sacraments, must have both matter and form. The confessing and the sins confessed are the matter while the the confessors words of absolution are the form. In ordinary circumstances (not life-threatening emergencies) we are bound to confess all our mortal sins in both number and kind.
By the fact of your sincere confusion and doubt about what happened, we see the wisdom of making everything in confession clear and sure. Priests should not do or say stupid and questionable things to penitents in the confessional, or from the pulpit about confession. We need clarity. Just as in a tribunal we want everything to be clear so that the truth will out and justice be done, we want the confessional, the tribunal of justice and mercy, to be clear.
I will be the last to place any limits on God or dictate to the Font of Mercy Himself how and when forgiveness must be by Him imparted. Nevertheless, God gave Holy Church His own power to forgive and His own authority to determine how His sacraments are administered.
Holy Church says that we confess all our mortal sins, in kind and number, and then the priest gives absolution.
Then we are sure. Do that. Do it that way.