Hesitating about confession

I am right now thinking of those people who are thinking about going to confession… knowing they should go… they can go because it is Saturday afternoon… but they are hesitating.

Just go.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Edward C. says:

    wow…. Father do you have some kind of supernatural access to my inner thoughts? This is just weird, ok that settles it I’m going to confession!

  2. Nan says:

    They went yesterday. There was one priest, and the line was very, very long; eventually someone raided their emergency supplies for another priest, who kept going after the first priest left for Mass and was probably trapped in the confessional forever; he was still going strong at 5:45, when Mass was over.

  3. Great advice Father… thank you. :)

  4. little gal says:

    Folks forget that very often the priest-confessor takes the time for a bit of spiritual direction in the confessional. This spiritual help- although often only a brief suggestion- can have a tremendous impact. I was reminded of this (and how wonderful this sacrament and the priests who sit lovingly on the other side of the screen are- when I went to confession on the 24th…

  5. Indiana Bob says:

    It was a prompting from the Holy Spirit not only for you to Blog it but for you to pray for them to have the grace to go to confession. I have been pleasantly surprised whenever I start praying after a prompting like that.
    I’ll pray too.

    Peace in Jesus Christ

  6. Fr. Andrew says:

    To misquote Chesterton: Anything worth doing, is worth doing poorly.


  7. Kradcliffe says:

    Huh… Interesting… did you think about us or pray for us? Because I was thinking I wouldn’t go and then, somehow, I did go… LOL

  8. AM says:

    I was just going home, after errands, trying to decide if I would bother… 4.03, ok, I can get in the narrow (30 minute) window, but… nahh! It’s dark, I’ll go home.

    Wait, I’m in the wrong lane, gotta go straight! The church is now ahead of me, home is receding.


    I went.

    May God bless all confessors; thank-you, Lord.

  9. penitent says:

    I haven’t been to confession in about six years. I have to do a general confession, and every time I try, I feel this great weight like I will never remember everything. It’s such a grind just trying to put the effort in to do an examination of conscience, that I always fall back into sin soon after beginning it. I asked a Priest about it and he said the devil was playing tricks on me. I want to go, but it’s like pulling a heavy rock of myself. Thanks for the reminder though.

  10. Thanks, Father! I was in fact hesitating and then felt a sudden strong desire to go, and it ended up being one of those times when you really *feel* as if you’ve been absolved (and don’t just know it). Now I read this. Maybe it was your prayers!

  11. Erin says:

    Hey anonymous, just go and tell the priest exactly what you just said in your comment :). He’ll help you through it.

  12. ALL: Remember… I don’t allow “anonymous” posts anywhere. You need some sort of handle or nickname. I usually just delete comments marked “anonymous” or “anon”.

  13. Ben Trovato says:

    But Bishop Kieron Conry has said (see UK Catholic Herald and most UK Catholic blogs…) that we shouldn’t go too often, Father…

    Oh what the… I’ll follow your advice instead (though it will have to be next week, as it’s nearly midnight over here).

  14. magdalene says:

    For anonymous:

    You do not have to remember everything right now! I had a 19 year hiatus between confessions so I know you don’t get it all at once. Don’t fret, there will be another chance next week! Go and do the best you can and see if that weight does not lift a little.

    The DEVIL HATES confession!!! Keep that in mind. He wants us proud and in sin. Stomp on that devil and go to confession. Take a does of humility which is so pleasing to God. Let that Precious Blood wash you clean; Jesus is waiting.

  15. PMcGrath says:


    A suggestion: The next time that thought occurs to you, perhaps you could make it a Mass intention.

    Just go to the Sabine Chapel and offer a Mass for that intention.

    Just a thought.

  16. Dr. Eric says:

    I was going to go today, but my wife is out shopping for bargains and food (and hopefully, bargain food!) I will go tomorrow as there is confession before the 8:30 Mass.

  17. penitent Anon says:

    Thank you for the encouragement. I went.

  18. AGAIN: I will delete comments posted as “anonymous” and “anon”, etc. Nothing personal. I simply don’t allow that manner of posting. Please repost.

  19. Marcos says:

    Ow… I just read it now… I should have read it in the afternoon… But HEY, how have you read my thoughts?????

  20. Isaac says:

    Wow Father, thanks for that. I was thinking of going, read your message, and subsequently went.

  21. Ray from MN says:


    24 years ago, I had been over 21 years between confessions, mostly out of laziness.

    For reasons I won’t get into here, I woke up one morning and decided to attend a one day retreat at my parish and, without having done a major, systematic examination of conscience, I just barged into the confessional (actually it was face to face in a closed room) and blurted out a bunch of my most major sins and then broke down in real sorrow. The priest gave me absolution and a proper penance and I left relieved.

    I later realized that I had forgotten to mention many other major sins, but I was under the understanding at that time that all of my sins had been forgiven because my omission was honest.

    But over the years, many of those omissions continued to plague me with guilt and so several years ago I decided to make a general confession. I spent a week doing my examination and made a computer list (using vague references for reminders in case someone might get access to that list. I made an appointment with a priest and spent an hour with him in his office.

    I confessed all my past previously “unconfessed” offenses, not all of which, it turned out, were actually sins and cleansed my soul. Since that time, the guilt that I had been plagued with has disappeared.

    A friend who is a theology graduate student recently informed me that if you do forget a mortal sin, you have an obligation to confess that at your next confession. I had not been aware of that requirement.

    So, Penitent, spend a little time making your examination of conscience and make your confession. And you will find that your confessor will be thrilled that you chose him to share your repentance.

    God Bless You! I’ll pray for you.

  22. Tom L says:

    At 3:50 this afternoon, my wife rushed home from a funeral service and reminded me of my intentions to go to confession today. I was very close to pushing it off another week as it is all to easy to do, thank you Father, for the prayers you put out there in my moment of weakness.

    They worked.

  23. Bob says:

    Speaking of confession, I just got back from a Mass at which the priest, in his homily, talked about a confession he had heard. He told what the person had confessed, revealed the gender and approximate age of the person, and mentioned that it had been recent. This is not the first time this particular priest has done this in a homily, and it makes me sick. I can’t help but think that this kind of thing, whether he was telling the truth or not, must scare people away from the sacrament. Father Z (or other priest readers), where do you draw the line with regard to the seal of the sacrament? And if this priest was out of line, what should I do?

  24. Margaret says:

    You’re kind of spooky, Fr. Z. It was already on my calendar for today, and I’d had Outlook set up to nag me about it for the past three days, but then it worked out this afternoon such that myself, dh & four of the children were all able to go. The car we all fit in is temporarily out of commission, so we actually had to go in shifts, but we did it. I even had time to do a quick Baltimore Catechism review with the eight-year-old who has wonderful intentions but gets a bit fuzzy on the mechanics.

    The forgiveness and grace of God is a wonderful thing. Go for it!

  25. Megan says:

    To all who shared their stories here: your witness of receiving and responding to God’s grace by making a confession after so long is beautiful! More people need to realize that confession is about making things right, not about worrying about what’s wrong. More than anything else, confession heals and fortifies. The priest isn’t there to make you feel guilty, and you don’t go in order to give in to stubborn obstinacy in sin and guilt, it’s about making things right with God again, and starting life over. Thanks for having the courage to do so, and thanks for sharing your stories, that the people who read this will realize that they’re not in it alone.

    May God bless you in this joyous season. And thanks so much, Fr. Z, for your periodic reminders – so wonderful in its simplicity!

  26. Geo F. says:

    “A friend who is a theology graduate student recently informed me that if you do forget a mortal sin, you have an obligation to confess that at your next confession. I had not been aware of that requirement.”

    I think that this is a good and venerable practice but theologically, I believe that we need to trust in God’s mercy. If we keep “fishing” into the past do we have this trust or are we allowing the enemy to get the upper hand ? Maybe a Fr.Z or another priest could weigh in on this…

  27. little gal says:

    One other thing about confession as the pastor at my parish has reminded us, we should be doing a review of conscience at night before retiring…I suspect getting to confession more frequently would be easier if one(eg., myself) could get into the spiritual habit of doing this on a daily basis. This is one of my spiritual goals for this year. BTW, I remember reading that St. Ignatius did an examen 7 times each day!

  28. Lcb says:

    Fr Z,

    Next time the weight of blogging gets you down, run another post like this… And know that a few more souls are out of the clutches of Old Scratch because of it. St. Paul would blog for a century to catch one more for Christ.

  29. little gal says:

    One last thing…I ran across this chapter on “The Examination of Conscience,” by Fr. John Baptist Scaramelli, SJ from The Directorium Asceticum, vol I some time ago. It is a very thorough treatment of the topic. Here is the link:


  30. A Random Friar says:

    Approach him first letting him know you take this seriously, but in charity, and if he’s not open to correction, his bishop. He is putting himself in grave danger of violating the seal, and that is an excommunication reserved to the Holy See for lifting. It also can cause untod damage to penitents’ trust approaching the sacrament. Even heretics and defrocked priests know not to violate the seal, because it’s such a violation of trust. This may be an example of carelessness or foolishness on the part of the priest, if it’s as uncomfortably close as you relate.

    Now, in some cases, priests have asked penitents if they could share their stories (I’ve seen this tastefully done, without seeming like voyeurism, although I won’t do it, since I think it might still scare some away), and I think that may be ok, as long as the general details are left out, AND THE PRIEST EXPRESSLY STATES THAT THE PENITENT GAVE EXPLICIT PERMISSION. What the priest himself confesses is fair game, if he wishes to air out his own laundry, although I hate “me” homilies.

  31. Father Amorth, the Vatican exorcist, wrote that confession is more powerful than exorcism. No wonder the devil works so hard at talking us out of it!

    [I was fortunate to go this morning – I try really hard to go around First Friday, First Saturday. Once it becomes a scheduled habit, its easier to do. And boy, I can really tell a difference in myself over formerly waiting months to go. It is truly a powerful sacrament of mercy.]

    Thanks for the encouragement Father.

  32. A Random Friar says:

    That comment was directed at the priest who preached on a confession.

    As for recalling mortal sins, yes, if you remember one bring it up. The danger for a few folks is if they are extremely scrupulous, or suffering from some sort of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder, not Discalced Carmelites — although they can be a problem sometimes too ;), they will think they have not confessed it properly and keep confessing the same sin over and over again. For most of us, if all of a sudden we remember something from our youthful folly, or some other time before, bring it up.

  33. In regard to confession stories by priests, any sort of reference, general or anything, makes me extremely uncomfortable. I fear for any priest that does this risky story-telling, no matter how innocently done. I don’t want to hear ANY stories whatsoever from any priest on this subject, either privately or in homilies!

  34. Massachusetts Catholic says:

    Can someone tell me more about a general confession? I have done the novena and confession for the feast of Divine Mercy, fulfilling to the best of my ability the conditions for the indulgence associated with that. Did that give me a clean slate, or should I go back as things come to mind and confess them? And if I’m not sure I ever confessed something…

  35. carl says:

    little gal,

    Your suggestion of a daily examination of conscience is a good opportunity for me to plug the Liturgy of the Hours. The red of the Ordinary for Compline suggests that “A brief examination of conscience may be made. In the communal celebration of the office, a penitential rite using the formulas of the Mass may be inserted here.” (“here” being between the Gloria Patri and the hymn, Te lucis ante terminum.)

  36. Margaret says:

    It is very true that practicing a regular examination of conscience yields much deeper and more fruitful confessions. A “cue” that I’ve found really helpful is, besides taking a few minutes for exam at bedtime, stopping at noon to the say the Angelus and then take a quick look back at what’s transpired thus far into the day. Sort of a half-way point to make a quick act of contrition for any failings, and a chance to correct the course while there is still plenty of time left in the day.

  37. Amelia says:

    Oh, Father Zuhlsdorf, that was such a priestly thing you did! I wish all Catholics were able to read that loving admonition.

  38. Elizabeth T. says:

    Thank you, Father! May God reward you!

  39. Geometricus says:

    My wife and I were helping our little Joseph finish his little papers for first confession class when you posted this. Rose (daughter number 2) and I went this morning before my chant group provided some music for mass on this feast of Holy Name of Jesus. Thank you for thinking of us Father!

  40. Jane says:

    I went to confession on Wednesday. There was just enough light in the confessional to see through the screen that Father was doing some type of paper work while hearing confessions. Boy did that catch me off guard. I never experienced that before; it was distracting to me and I felt that the priest wasn’t really all “there.” In addition, I felt I was being rushed through the confession. (Confessional express lane: 12 sins or less?)
    Disconcerting, to say the least.

  41. rosebudsal says:

    How timely you posted this today. I wanted to go to Confession today. I was feeling pretty sick most of the day and in the end, I didn’t go. I did go through and examine my conscience while recouping in bed this morning. Trouble I find myself knowing what I’m going to say long before I actually go into the confessional and then I articulate it so poorly when I’m there. I’m trying to keep a spiritual journal, maybe I can write down those thoughts and take with me next time I go to Confession.

  42. Anne says:

    Jane, that’s a strange one, sorry you had that experience. But even though it did not feel as comforting or reassuring as other times you’ve gone to confession, keep in mind that really isn’t the point. You did your part, you received absolution, you’ll do your penance, the sacrament is perfectly valid regardless of the priest’s rather strange, shall we say, bedside manner.

  43. Devin says:

    I wasn’t going to go, but you somehow read my mind. Thanks, Father…

  44. Kradcliffe says:

    Bob, I would be upset, too, to hear such tales from the confessional in homilies. You know what I think you should do? I think you should say something to the priest. Don’t mention The Seal of Confession or excommunication or anything that might sound accusatory to his ears. Just say, “Father, when you tell stories like that, it scares me. I can’t help but wonder if you won’t talk about my confessions someday.” He can’t really argue with you about your feelings. He may say that of course you have nothing to worry about, but just reiterate, “Well, I just feel uncomfortable when you say things like that. I almost find myself trying to guess who you might mean and then I wonder if someday I won’t recognize myself…” Hopefully, that will make him see that he’s upsetting people and he’ll stop doing it.

  45. Alan says:

    weird, that was like me yesterday, I did go in the end.

    I didn’t see this post yesterday, but I was hesitating.

  46. Bob: He told what the person had confessed, revealed the gender and approximate age of the person, and mentioned that it had been recent

    That skates very close to the Seal. The priest, all priest confessors, should avoid doing this.

    Sometimes a priest, speaking about confession, will want to give a concrete example in order to help people understand some point about how to make a good confession. In doing so he must try to be as “generic” as possible and avoid saying anything too close to home, as it were.

    If you feel strongly about this, you might drop the priest a very short, very kind note. But do NOT talk about it with other parishioners or say anything that might either a) raise curiosity about who the penitent was or b) undermine the confidence people have in their priest as a confessor.

  47. TJ Murphy says:

    I had an experience once at confession. The priest lectured me about how horrible sin is, made me feel absolutely horrible. I realize he is deeply committed to people understanding the importance of the sacrament…but it took a bit for me to work up the humility and nerve to go confess my sins, if I were someone coming back to the sacrament for the first time in years that experience could have scarred me for life.
    I am fortunate enough to be located nearby the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe in Orlando. At the shrine there is a priest available for confession 7 days a week throughout most of the day. It is a great testimony to the importance of the sacrament and a blessing that it is available whenever it is needed.

  48. Mary Pat says:

    What does one do when the priest in Confession tries to tell you that the sin you just confessed is not a sin and then proceeds to quiz you on what is and what is not a sin? We were actually arguing in the confessional and he and I were both flustered and he forgot the words to the Prayer of Absolution.

  49. Shin says:

    I had that problem once, but it was while I was traveling so I did not have to deal with it more than to insist on confessing the matter on that occasion, whether he considered it a sin or not.

    One could insist on him allowing the doubt or allowing you to confess what he could view instead as part of your ‘imperfections’ which is acceptable practice.

    When you need backup for whether something’s a sin or not, a quote from a saint always helps.

    ‘If man or angel always rendered to God his due, he would never sin. . . Therefore to sin is nothing else than not to render to God his due.’

    St. Anselm of Canterbury, ‘Cur Deus Homo’

  50. Father Z,

    Do you ever have the opportunity to hear confessions anymore?

  51. miss book says:

    At a time when I was struggling with Confession,I was given great courage by a wonderful Jesuit Priest in the UK, when he explained to us that God does not remember any sin, ever again, once it is confessed.Thank God for our good and Holy priests who dispense God’s mercy to us.

  52. joe says:

    This was especially apt, especially in light of the plenary indulgence for January 1st.



    P.S. An excellent overview — he has a more in depth series — of Confession (“Confession: The Neglected Sacrament”), by Fr. Hugh Thwaites SJ can be found here:

  53. Kat says:

    I too know of a priest who skirts awfully close to the seal, every time I hear that he has told another of his stories all I can do is pray for him and the penitent in question. I try never to go to him for the sacrament anymore though occasionally he is the only priest available when I am in dire need of the sacrament, so I go and pray that he keeps his mouth firmly shut.

  54. A. says:

    Like “Penitent”, I also hesitated for years to go to Confession because of the difficulty of the examination. It was stupid, as the longer you wait, the more sins, the harder your conscience gets, the less you want to go, the more spiritually lazy you become, the weaker your Faith, your willpower, etc.
    The solution – go and tell a priest about this problem with examinations… just do that one step, and see where that leads. Pray to the BVM, refuge of sinners.

  55. matthew says:

    I don’t understand why the Church has done away with the traditional confessional. I hate sitting in the usually cluttered church office. It is visually distracting, and I don’t feel safe. It is hard enough to talk about how sinful one has been in the comforting darkness of the old style confessional, but I feel very exposed and uncomfortable just slouched in a chair looking at the priest. I think it is particularly difficult for children as well. Is there any hope that the confessional will return?

  56. Dino says:

    Thank you, Fr. Z.
    Maybe the Lord will loan you to our parish.
    Confessions were not hard on three conscutive Saturdays in December, “Because
    we heard Confessons on a Wednesday evening instead.”
    As for the post concerning old style confessionals, I think that churches are
    still required to have them, or at least “anonymous” confessions. In our
    neighboring parish, the pastor, in sport shirt and chinos, hears confessions
    while standing in a pew along the center aisle, or in a folding chair in front
    of the altar rather than any of the four traditional confessionals in the church.

  57. Matthew: The Church has not done away with the traditional confessional, but only perhaps in your parish.
    We are fortunate in our diocese to have the ‘box’ still everywhere. One can kneel behind the screen unseen, or sit in a chair face-to-face. Of course there is always the option of making an appointment with a priest for a sit-down discussion for lengthy in-depth spiritual direction. This kind of confession allows for longer and more personal direction that doesn’t keep people in line behind you waiting forever.

  58. joke alert

    A Priest was being honored at his retirement dinner after 25 years in the parish. A leading local politician and member of the congregation was chosen to make the presentation and to give a little speech at the dinner. However, he was delayed, so the Priest decided to say his own few words while they waited:

    ‘I got my first impression of the parish from the first confession I heard here. I thought I had been assigned to a terrible place. The very first person who entered my confessional told me he had stolen a television set and, when questioned by the police, was able to lie his way out of it. He had stolen money from his parents, embezzled from his employer, had an affair with his boss’s wife, taken illegal drugs, and gave VD to his sister. I was appalled. But as the days went on I learned that my people were not all like that, and I had, indeed, come to a fine parish full of good and loving people…’

    Just as the Priest finished his talk, the politician arrived full of apologies at being late. He immediately began to make the presentation and gave his talk:

    I’ll never forget the first day our parish Priest arrived,” said the politician. “In fact, I had the honor of being the first person to go to him for confession.”

Comments are closed.