From a reader…
Dear Fr. Z,
I came upon your blog after a very disappointing encounter at church today and in a way, I was looking for some kind of comfort. Please bear with me as I attempt to express both thoughts and feelings.
I have not gone to confession in a long time, so long that I don’t even remember the last time I went. I have lost my way and today’s homily and the celebration of the Feast of the Divine Mercy made me realize that it was time for me to go to confession.
After gathering my courage, I waited in line for over 2 hours in the heat of the noonday sun only to be refused confession by the priest. Frustration. Disappointment. Anger. So many emotions and questions as to why the priest could be so cold even after I said that I have lost my way and that I want to reunite myself with Christ.
After I told him of my intentions, he asked if I was married (yes), if it was at a church (no), if my husband was catholic (no, which is why we were married by a pastor and not in a Roman Catholic church). After hearing my responses he said I was in grave, mortal sin since I wasn’t married in a church and refused to hear my confession but instead offered to pray for me.
It is hard for me to believe that our God would turn someone in my predicament away. I have heard and read the gospels and Jesus never turned anyone away. Does this mean I can never receive the Sacrament of Penance and shouldn’t bother taking communion until I force the man I love to convert to my religion and get married in a Roman Catholic Church? It sounds so contrived!
If the answer is yes then it’s probably time for me to seek a different religion, one that will accept me and my husband with open arms and show me the loving grace and forgiveness of our Father.
My husband has been going to church with me since we married in 2009 and as I walked away in near tears explaining to him what happened, he commented “and you wonder why a lot of Roman Catholics are leaving the church” and I walked in silence, I couldn’t even defend my own religion.
Im hurting Father Z, I want to repair my relationship with God through confession but what am I to do? Should I try a different parish? I feel more lost than when I started.
Please help me Father Z, Im hurting and so desperately want to reunite myself with our God :’(
In John 6, Jesus presents His followers with a difficult teaching: we must eat the flesh of Christ and drink His blood in order to be saved. “Many of his disciples, hearing this, said, ‘This saying is hard, and who can hear it?’” They left Him.
I am sorry you had a bad experience, especially this past Sunday when the Church, according to the ordinary calendar, celebrated God’s mercy. It sounds as if the priest was less than helpful. As I remind people in my Tips for making a good confession, priests also have bad days. On a day when they are hearing many confessions, after having said a couple Masses, priests can get tired.
That said, while Father’s tone was unhelpful, what he said essentially is true. Someone who is living in an objective state that cannot be reconciled with Catholic teaching cannot receive the sacrament of reconciliation until and unless their objective state changes. Essentially, Father was giving you the truth. What is more pastoral than that? He could have stated it much better, however.
It would not have been helpful to you in any way had Father given you absolution and said, “Go in peace.” You would still be in that objective state of sin.
As the disciples learned, sometimes Jesus’ and His Church’s teachings are hard. The solution isn’t to soften them. The solution is not to look for someone who twists Jesus’ teachings to suit our opinions. The solution is to change our lives to fit Christ’s and the Church’s guidance. That includes his tough words on the Eucharist, on marriage, on relationships, on suffering….
What Father probably should have, first, acknowledged that your return to the confessional was through a prompting of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is at work in your soul in ways that you might not be fully aware. It is good that you returned to confession. It took courage and strength to respond to what the Holy Spirit was asking, namely, to examine your life thoroughly and then lay out your sins before the priest and seek forgiveness. Father should have told you that, because of your marriage situation, you can’t receive absolution today, but that he’d be willing to meet with you later in the week (or, if he was a visiting priest, encouraged you to set up an appointment with the pastor) to look for a solution to your situation.
There may be a couple possible solutions, that would be best discussed face to face. Your husband would not need to convert to Catholicism in order to have your marriage celebrated in the Church, a dispensation or permission could be sought (and these are usually granted).
You are disappointed now. Do not be discouraged. The Holy Spirit who led you to the confessional in the first place does not give us discouragement. That’s what the Enemy prompts. God wants to right your relationship with the Church and with Himself. Anything that seems like an easy solution to a difficult situation probably won’t resolve anything.
Were you to, as you say, go elsewhere and find a different religion, knowing that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded, what would you have solved? You would only be compounding your problems and endangering your soul. Should we seek out a religion that fits our lives, or should we instead seek out the religion that is true and change our lives to fit the truth?
After Christ’s gave his “hard teaching” in John 6, many disciples left Him. He asked those who remained, “Will you also go away?” St. Peter responded, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Embrace the truth, even when the truth hurts. The hurt is momentary and, in the long run, good for you. If the priest you encountered in the confessional was not helpful, seek another one who will help you to rectify your marriage situation and lead you back to regular reception of the Sacraments.