I have occasionally exhorted you to …
GO TO CONFESSION!
I shall continue to do so. I take seriously my duty to try to keep as many of you out of Hell as I can and get as many as possible into heaven with as little time of purification as possible.
Hence, matters of the confessional are of critical importance. We must revive this sacrament. It must be revived FIRST AMONG PRIESTS THEMSELVES. Simultaneously it must be revived by priests among the flocks in their care.
Fathers (this includes you, you bishops out there), when you die – and you will die – you will be judged by the High Priest on how well you carried this, one of you most sacred duties: receive confessions and absolve sins. If you have been negligent or dismissive for whatever reason, you still have time now to get to work.
In my 20 Tips I say:
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;
20) …remember that priests must go to confession too … they know what we are going through.
I have received some questions about something that appeared at CNA on confession.
QUAERITUR: What if a person is simply too ashamed to make a confession? The point of the piece addresses the point and the advice given is sound.
Here is the piece with my emphases and comments.
Madrid, Spain, Dec 28, 2016 / 10:16 am (CNA/EWTN News).- While Reconciliation is intended to allow Christ’s victory to overcome sin in our lives, what happens when shame over one’s sins is so great that it keeps people away from the sacrament?
The famous Spanish theologian Father José Antonio Fortea [Kudos!] discussed this phenomenon and practical solutions to it in a blog post.
Normally, a sense of Christ’s mercy should be enough to help people overcome their shame and go to Confession, in order to receive forgiveness and healing.
However, in some cases, Fr. Fortea acknowledged, people are overwhelmed by their sins, and this shame becomes “a wall” keeping them away from Reconciliation.
“They would rather make a 100-mile pilgrimage than have to confess face-to-face certain things they did that are terribly and frightfully humiliating to them,” he said, reflecting on the torment that faces some penitents who struggle approaching the sacrament.
The Spanish priest first pointed out the importance of priests offering fatherly compassion on those who have “these burdens on their consciences.”
[NB] He also noted the importance of ensuring truly anonymous confessions. In each city, he said, “there ought to be at least one confessional where instead of a grill, there is a metal sheet with small holes, making it totally impossible to see the person making their confession.” [Frankly, I think it should be the other way around: there might be one confessional which doesn’t have a fixed grill. The grill, or grate, should be the norm, not the exception.]
The person confessing should not be visible to the priest as they approach or leave, he continued. [In the past I have written that, coming and going from the confessional priests should keep their eyes downcast and not make eye contact with anyone. Fathers, you are not anyone’s ‘pal’ when you are going to and from the Tribunal.] If there is a window on the priest’s door, it should not be transparent. [Practice here is mixed… think of Italian confessionals which can have open front windows. In the main, however, he is right.]
“With these measures, the vast majority of the faithful can resolve the problem of shame,” Fr. Fortea said.
But for those “truly very rare” cases where shame is still a major obstacle, even with anonymous confessionals, additional steps can be taken.
[We move now into really rare stuff.] In these instances of extreme shame, the person can “make an anonymous phone call to a priest in the city and tell him about this problem.” [NB] Confession itself cannot take place over the phone, but “in many cases, the phone conversation will be enough so the penitent can get up his confidence and can approach the kind of above-mentioned confessional.” [Getting it out once could help the person to get it out in sacramental confession. Call it a “trial run”. Also, absolution cannot be given validly over telephone, internet chat, etc. The penitent must be present, physically, even if at some distance.]
If the penitent still finds that the shame of mentioning his sins is too great to bear, he can arrange for a written confession with the priest. [Again, this is an extremely rare situation. The NORM is that confession of sins is make orally. This is also called “auricular” confession. However, if a person cannot speak, signs or writing is possible. That’s a physical impediment. If a person is morally blocked by shame or some other reason, a person could write it down and the priest could read it in the presence of the penitent.]
Fr. Fortea said that in several of the confessionals in his city of Alcalá de Henares, Spain, “it’s possible for the penitent to move the screen slightly, just a fraction of an inch, and slip in a piece of paper.” [Some old confessionals had little slots beneath the grate. Fathers, when you build new confessionals, remember this option.]
He offered guidelines for such written confessions: they should generally not be longer than one page, sins should be written “in a clear and concise manner,” or if possible, should be typed for clarity in reading. [And they should be destroyed immediately.]
“The priest will give his counsel, the penance and absolution without needing to bring up any questions for the penitent. In this case asking questions would be counterproductive,” he reflected. [According to individual circumstances, of course.]
While the general rule is that confession should be vocal, it can be done through writing in some cases, the priest said. He noted that those who are deaf or mute have always been permitted to make written confessions.
And in the case of insurmountable shame, this would also be licit, he said. “A psychological inability can be just as real as a physical one.”
So, that is a discussion of the role of shame to the degree that you simply cannot do it.
However, remember another important point: God cannot be deceived. Don’t look for easy excuses for yourself.
GO TO CONFESSION!