At First Things there is a good piece about toughness when it comes to preaching and discipline and gentleness in mercy, especially with penitents in the confessional. It is hard for priests to find that balance out en plein air of the world. For the priest who is awake to his own standing before God, it is easier in the confessional.
The First Things piece starts with an anecdote about the great Chateaubriand:
Chateaubriand’s autobiography, Memoirs from Beyond the Tomb (US HERE – UK HERE), evokes a series of times and places as various as the author’s life. But there is one episode which, while conjuring up something of Brittany around 1780, also expresses a perennial reality.
The schoolboy Chateaubriand is being prepared for his first confession by a severe-looking priest, “a man of fifty with a stern appearance” (in Robert Baldick’s translation). Having read a frightening book about the eternal fate of those who hide their sins in the confessional, the young lad grows unbearably anxious. When the day comes, he is shaking with fear and scarcely able to stammer out his sins. Then the priest prepares to say the words of absolution.
If Heaven had shot a thunderbolt at me, it would have caused me less dread. I cried:
“I have not confessed everything!”
This awe-inspiring judge, this delegate of the Supreme Arbiter, whose face filled me with such fear, became the tenderest of shepherds. He clasped me in his arms and burst into tears.
“Come now, dear child,” he said, “Courage!”
It was, Chateaubriand recalled, an instant of supreme happiness, like a mountain lifting from him: “I shall never experience a like moment in the whole of my life.”
Of course, what Chateaubriand didn’t know is that later in the day, Inspectors Javert and Clouseau arrived and placed the priest under arrest for hugging a minor in the context of the internal forum, subsequently to be suspended without delay by Bishop Bouboule Culottesdebeurre and then prosecuted until his reputation was completely destroyed.
Seriously… as if those images weren’t serious enough… my point is, as we head into Holy Week…
… do NOT be afraid to confess everything, all mortal sins. Go ahead and be a little nervous, but do NOT be afraid! Father will treat you well.
Review my Tips For Making A Good Confession, which are always available in this blog.
1) …examine our consciences regularly and thoroughly;
2) …wait our turn in line patiently;
3) …come at the time confessions are scheduled, not a few minutes before they are to end;
4) …speak distinctly but never so loudly that we might be overheard;
5) …state our sins clearly and briefly without rambling;
6) …confess all mortal sins in number and kind;
7) …listen carefully to the advice the priest gives;
8) …confess our own sins and not someone else’s;
9) …carefully listen to and remember the penance and be sure to understand it;
10) …use a regular formula for confession so that it is familiar and comfortable;
11) …never be afraid to say something “embarrassing”… just say it;
12) …never worry that the priest thinks we are jerks…. he is usually impressed by our courage;
13) …never fear that the priest will not keep our confession secret… he is bound by the Seal;
14) …never confess “tendencies” or “struggles”… just sins;
15) …never leave the confessional before the priest has finished giving absolution;
16) …memorize an Act of Contrition;
17) …answer the priest’s questions briefly if he asks for a clarification;
18) …ask questions if we can’t understand what he means when he tells us something;
19) …keep in mind that sometimes priests can have bad days just like we do;
20) …remember that priests must go to confession too … they know what we are going through.
Also, for PRIESTS….
GO TO CONFESSION!
I hope you will be able to say each time you go…
“I shall never experience a like moment in the whole of my life.”