QUAERITUR: I scraped a car and didn’t leave a note. I went to confession, but I am still anxious.

From a reader:

Dear Father, 12 mo ago I accidently scraped a car parked but did not leave a note in the church parking lot because I was scared. I have confessed this 3 times but fear God wants more of me. It is probably impossible to find the person whose car it was so I give $20/mo to Catholic charities, and make many Spiritual communions. I have gotten sores in my mouth when I try to receive Sacramental communion so am scared to do it. What should I do? Please help.

That memory of guilt is a powerful thing, isn’t it?  It can affect us little humans in so many ways.  The connection of mind and body is amazing.

First, I want to remind you of something about the Sacrament of Penance.  If you make your sincere confession of all your mortal sins and you are truly sorry and intend to change your ways, those sins are forgiven.  They will not be held against you in your judgment.  You don’t have to confess them again.  Sometimes there are reasons to bring up a past sin that has been absolved, but absolved sins are … absolved!  They are gone.  They are no more, insofar as your judgment is concerned.  You will remember them, but they are forgiven.  You have have to do penance for them, but they are forgiven.  I hope that is perfectly clear.

Second, we do have to do penance for our sins.  That is a matter of justice.  In your case, you harmed a person’s property, and you are not able to make restitution because you cannot find the person whose property you harmed.  Giving money to charity is a good and laudable thing to do, but – strictly speaking – you are not making restitution to the person whose property you harmed.  However, God does not ask the impossible from us.  If you cannot find the person, there is nothing to be done there.  It is pointless to beat yourself up with it forever.

By all means continue to give to charity as a way of doing penance, but be clear that what you are doing is not quite the same as making up for that particular scrape.   On that score, you might have a Mass or two said for the person unknown to you, but known to God.

Finally, I don’t think you need to be afraid to receive Holy Communion.  You have confessed your sins.  You have more than likely done the penances assigned in confession.  You have to the best of your ability tried in some way to make up for what you did.  You have learned an important lesson.  I think you can and should return to the reception of Communion, provided everything else in your life is squared away, and reflect on the mystery of God’s forgiveness.  Moreover, some day in the future you will perhaps be able to meet in heaven the person whose car you harmed and you will be at peace with each other.  Perhaps the scrape and your anxiety and, I hope now, recovery from anxiety, will have been a turning point for you to bring you to a deeper understanding of our fragility, our dependence on God’s mercy, and His great plan for each one of us.

During Holy Mass in the Ordinary Form, before Communion, the priest prays that we be free “ab omni perturbatione“.  In the old ICEL translation that was “free from all anxiety”.  In the newer translation he says:

Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress (ab omni perturbatione), as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

A perturbatio is a powerful emotion or passion, it is also a mental or personal disturbance, disquiet.  There is both a physical and a spiritual dimension possible in perturbatio. You are clearly experiencing that.  A little “anxiety” can be a good thing.  It can sharpen the spiritual senses.  Too much anxiety can paralyze.  Don’t go there.  Reflect on the great mercy of God and how he embraced sinful men and women and helped them by grace to live holy lives.  Think of Peter who denied the Lord.  Think of Paul who persecuted the Lord in the persons of his flock.  Think of the sinners Christ forgave during his earthly ministry.  Think of all the other great saints we venerate, all of whom were in their turn sinners who needed conversion, forgiveness, penance and peace.

A great challenge for many who have deeply sensitive souls and who are more prone to emotion and memory is to unclench and accept God’s forgiveness.

Ease up, friend.  Continue with works of mercy for others, and now be a little merciful to yourself.

Any comments will go into the moderation queue.  I don’t plan to release many.  Comments from priests will get greater attention.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. chantgirl says:

    Father, your suggestion to have Mass said for the person is awesome! There have been several people from my past that I wronged, and as I have no way of contacting them, I have had Mass said for them. That will, in the end, probably be more beneficial to them than any apology I could give now.

  2. drforjc says:

    A moral theology textbook in my possession (Alba House, I think Cunningham was one of the authors) published prior to VII even goes so far as to say accidental damage does not oblige restitution in strict justice. Was that a common theological opinion? [It would depend on the extent of the damage.]

  3. Minnesotan from Florida says:

    Thank you, Father Zuhlsdorf, for your wise words. I wonder whether anything more should be said about getting mouth sores after receiving Holy Communion. Would such a thing make it prudent to consult a physician as well as doing the prayerful and spiritual things you so wisely recommend? [If they (and the anxiety persist), I think so.]

  4. StWinefride says:

    I know from personal experience that scrupulosity can be harmful to our spiritual life and hold us back. In a letter to a spiritual daughter, St Francis of Sales suggests saying to one’s soul: “There, we have made a mistake, but let’s go on now and be more careful”.
    I remind myself that if I have made a good confession, have true contrition and am prepared to do a suitable penance then this is acceptable to God. If I am still having trouble, then I know that I am not trusting in His mercy.
    Furthermore, we read in Jeremiah 31:34

    “for I (God) will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sin no more.

    In Hebrews 8:12 and 10:17

    “and their sins and iniquities I will remember no more”.

    This remembering is in the sense that God will no longer “make present” our sins. He doesnt’ forget our sins but out of His mercy He chooses not to remember.
    This releases us and enables us to move forward.
    Deo Gratias!

  5. Ralph says:

    “Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress (ab omni perturbatione), as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

    I am a person who suffers from an anxiety disorder. (I have been on medication in the past, which I am now free of thanks to God) This part of the Mass that you highlighted above has always been so special and important to me. I am glad you gave it some attention.

  6. NoTambourines says:

    I don’t comment here much these days, but this caught my eye for two reasons, and if my observations are helpful, I hope Fr. Z. will clear it to post.

    First, this examination of conscience has been a daily game-changer for me. I literally wept the first time I read it. The key section that come to mind is: “We should suspect as a
    temptation from the evil one, when we find ourselves worried or anxious or disturbed,
    no matter how pious the source of the worry or anxiety may be.” The whole thing is helpful, along with some additional comments on worry/anxiety:


    Second, to the reader: You remind me of me. I’ve been battling and slowly climbing out of severe clinical depression and anxiety for about 2 years. The decline was so gradual (and so much was up in the air in my life at the time) that I didn’t notice how bad it got. I would find myself “perseverating” on issues like this, even sins I had already confessed, whether I had done enough, etc., etc. I don’t know you, but I see myself in the grief you’re suffering.

    It’s hard to be afflicted with anxiety and be a serious Catholic. My anxiety has seized upon me about money, my job, my family, my friends, and everything I care about in this world. That will all pass away. When my anxiety seized upon me about eternity, that’s even more terrifying and harder to shake. It’s also hard to find someone to talk you who won’t attack and blame the Church, “Catholic guilt,” yada, yada. (We know what the psychoanalysts did to the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary — Google “William Coulson”) So I still haven’t seen a professional, just my family doctor. I may at some point consult this:

    Again, I don’t know you, but in any case, I urge you to make an Act of Hope, and make a habit of saying “Jesus, I trust in You.” The bottom line here is that you are utterly dependent on God’s mercy, but God is indeed merciful.

    One other useful observation from the examination of conscience above is that we struggle the most with the things God most wants us to grow in. Ask God to use this situation to His purpose. As Cardinal Newman said (paraphrasing), “if in sorrow, my sorrow may serve him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him.”

    And know you have my prayers and those of many other readers here. This, too, will pass.

  7. Mike says:

    Been there, done that. With the car, that is.
    I once saw a video of St. Josemaria Escriva, and he counseled someone in the audience who asked about saying your penance after Confession, and said–and here I am paraphrasing, DO WHAT THE PRIEST TELLS YOU, AND FORGET IT AND DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT. THE LORD HAS FORGIVEN YOU!

  8. jkm210 says:

    I actually did this very thing about a year ago. I was in a car repair shop parking lot, of all places, so it would have been pretty easy to determine whose car it was, even later on. Fortunately, for the sake my conscience, my scraping of the car was witnessed, so I was forced to own up. I like to think I would have come forward on my own, but I don’t know that I would have. I did confess it before receiving communion, within a day or two of it happening.

    It stinks when you realize too late that you should have made restitution, but as Father Z says, you’ve done all that you can at this point. Try to keep in mind, also, that the scrape is probably no longer troubling the person it happened to. They’ve either had it fixed by now or they don’t care. In my case, the damage was superficial and the car repair shop was able to buff it at no cost to me, though I had (after being caught), agreed to pay for whatever damages may have occurred. If it were my car you scraped, I wouldn’t care at all. It’s covered in scratches, but as long as it runs and the air conditioning works, I don’t care about aesthetics.

    As Father Z said, it’s in situations like these that you can really feel the overwhelming grace of God’s forgiveness. When you’re able to correct a mistake on your own, though you still sinned, you can sort of get the feeling that you don’t really need the mercy of God. But all of us do. Try to move on. And maybe see an oral surgeon or someone about those mouth sores!

  9. Margaret says:

    Fr. Z., I don’t expect this to show up on the blog, but just wanted to thank you again for your priestly ministry, and tell you what a joy it is to read authentically pastoral advice. [Thanks.]

  10. UncleBlobb says:

    @fatherz I would like to share this prayer of my friend, St. Claude. I have it from a prayer book I keep in my pocket always, and pray it after saying my penance immediately after every Confession.

    Act of Confidence in Divine Mercy (of St. Claude de la Colombiere)

    Lord, behold a soul that is in the world so that Thou may exercise Thine admirable mercy to make it shine before heaven and earth.
    Others glorify Thee by showing, through fidelity and constancy, the power of Thy grace and how sweet and generous Thou art to those who are faithful to Thee. As for me, I will glorify Thee by manifesting how good Thou art to sinners. In me Thou will show that Thy mercy is superior to all our malice, that nothing can exhaust it, and that no relapse, however shameful and culpable it may be, should make a sinner lose hope in Thy forgiveness.
    My beloved Redeemer, I have offended That gravely. But it would be worse still if I add to my offenses the horrible outrage of thinking that Thou art not so good as to forgive me.
    In vain Thine enemy — who is also mine — sets new snares for me daily. He may cause me to cast away everything except the hope I have in Thy mercy. Even though I fall a hundred times, and my sins were a hundred time more horrible than what they are, I will always continue to hope in Thee.

  11. NoraLee9 says:

    I drive in NYC. We scrape and are scraped. We come out in the morning and the window has been broken. If we’re very unlucky, the radio is gone too. We tap, bump, jiggle, and dent. If we left a note every time, we’d go deaf from the honking, as folks beep for us to keep it moving.
    This is why we have car insurance. Do whatever you need to do to let this go. As my mother used to say, it’s a car. It’s not your life.

  12. Varda says:

    One other thought that may help is to imagine that the roles were reversed. I am sure the original questioner would tell someobdy who felt so much sorrow over scraping his/her ( the questioner’s) car not to worry about it any more, that it was long over and done with and long since repaired. Sometimes it can be good to try and treat ourselves with the kindness and consideration we might show to others in the same situation. I struggle with similar issues and this way of thinking helps me.

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  14. Philip Gerard Johnson says:

    Thanks for your constant reminders about the greatness and extent of God’s mercy.

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