Priest asks people to go to confession instead of giving him things for Christmas. Huge response.

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Here’s a Year of Faith approach… here’s a New Evangelization project.

This, instead of all the blather, is how it is done.

From a reader I have known for many years:

Your recent post brought to mind an experience of many years ago.

A priest became pastor of a smaller rural parish, of approximately 300 registered families. The first Sunday of Advent, he announced to the parish that he wanted no Christmas presents from the parish that year – no gifts of money, or food, or gift certificates. Instead, the present he wanted from his new parish was for every member of the parish to go to confession during Advent.

To that end, he would add times for confessions during the week, bring in outside priests, and make the sacrament as available as possible.

To his surprise, the parish took him up on his offer.

He said that, during the four weeks of Advent, he initially tried keeping track of the numbers of penitents, but was only able to keep track of the numbers of those who had not been to confession in more than 20 years – nearly 200, in his small parish! Many of the penitents told him that the reason they had been away is because no priest had told them they should go, or even invited them to go. Because of one priest’s invitation, an entire small town grew in grace through the sacrament of confession.

What a fantastic story.

If he encountered in a rural parish 200 people who had not been to confession in 20 years, imagine what numbers there must be in urban parishes.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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


    I sat upon my back porch step
    One dark Good Friday noon
    And saw a robin red-breast rest
    To sing a soft sad tune.

    The melody it brought me tears
    As damp cool winds blew by.
    My soul it felt the stab of spears…
    My sins that made Him die.

    But robin of Good Friday noon
    Your blood-red breast reminds…
    That we must stop…confess our sins
    Now death…she holds no binds.

    And when on dark Good Friday noons
    Red-breasted robin sings,
    Confess your sins at Sacrament
    And sprout red-robin wings.

  2. PA mom says:

    Awesome idea!!! What a great gift to him, and FROM him!

  3. acardnal says:

    I hope the priest provides good quality Examinations of Conscience handouts for them. Sometimes folks who have been away from this sacrament for so many years need a little help in that area having been overly influenced by the the world, the flesh and devil for decades. I know I did. Kudos to Father!

  4. FloridaJoan says:

    PA Mom, my thoughts exactly ! Both gave gifts ! I have heard it said … it’s better to give than to receive. Father really proved it to be true. Isn’t it amazing how the Holy Spirit uses others to bring us to the Father ! God bless this priest and Father Z for encouraging us to go to confession.

    pax et bonum

  5. amymev says:

    Sending this idea to my pastor right now!

  6. RichR says:

    Great idea! Fr. gets the gift of divine consolation.

    I would echo the above comment about an examination of conscience. Some of them out there are so vague that they are uninformative or incite scruples. Find a clear mortal/venial sin list that guides people through a good examen and walks them through the ritual.

  7. lizaanne says:

    I know personally of a priest who did a similar thing. His parish no longer had a proper confessional (guessing it was removed, because it was an older Church), so he had a very beautiful one built, inside the Church. The kind with separate sides with doors, and screens, kneelers, and red/green lights, and even a side for those who would like face to face should they choose.

    He had a wonderful increase in confessions after a proper setting was put in place, and the parish was welcomed and encouraged.

    If you build it – they will come!!!

    God is so very good!

  8. VexillaRegis says:

    What a great idea! I hope the parishoners still gave their priest temporal gifts for Christmas though. :-)

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  10. St. Epaphras says:

    This priest gets it. Thank God for every priest who gets it. The Sacrament of Penance is not just about being absolved of mortal sins. Yes, we go for that reason, but I think most have barely scratched the surface of the graces we receive from a sincere and humble confession of “just” venial sins. As a convert I am still amazed at the difference frequent confession has made in my life — all of my life. Things I thought were impossible to change, things like concrete walls, started to crumble. One, then another, then another. The Church says there is a special Sacramental grace here, and you can take that to the bank. We meet Our Lord in Penance in a unique way; it’s our chance to have a real encounter with Him and ask Him for ALL we need. I think many see Holy Communion in this way and do ask Him for much, but do we forget Jesus sitting in that confessional wanting to give us not just forgiveness but healing, light, strength, virtues, and everything our souls need?

    The Church says go to Confession often to overcome those habits of sin. Yes! It works. The devil hates it with undying hatred because it weakens his power over us, and when we wage an all-out attack on sin in our lives using Confession, Communion, prayer, and acts of penance he gets in an uproar. Good.

  11. This post choked me up. What a wonderful story. Why don’t all priests encourage and teach like this?

    Whether we are simply ‘dumb’ and don’t know any better, or just don’t get around to going, or avoid confession from fear or discomfort – we all need to be reminded and charitably encouraged to go frequently. What are the rest of the priests doing? Why are they priests if they aren’t interested in helping the laity with the gift of this merciful sacrament?

    Challenge the laity! We just might surprise you.

  12. Wonderful, just wonderful and moving. God bless this man and God bless those who partake in the sacrament of penance!

  13. APX says:


    I would echo the above comment about an examination of conscience. Some of them out there are so vague that they are uninformative or incite scruples.
    Or just plain wishy-washy. My roommate went to some spiritual conference a few weeks ago and was given an examination of conscience on the Seven Deadly Sins which left me scratching my head.

    An excerpt:

    Examination of Conscience
    Wrath -Am I afraid – to be weak, to be vulnerable, to be powerless?
    Greed – Am I afraid – to give up control?
    Lust -Am I afraid – to take the risk of loving and trusting others?
    Sloth -Am I afraid – to risk my gifts, and so, instead do nothing?
    Gluttony -Am I afraid – to be hungry, and to let God feed me?
    Envy -Am I afraid – that God loves others more than he loves me?
    Pride -Am I afraid – to be a child of God, who trusts that God loves me simply because I am his child?

    Find a clear mortal/venial sin list that guides people through a good examen and walks them through the ritual.
    When I was preparing to make my big Confession, I scoured the internet looking for a good thorough examination of conscience that wasn’t confusing. The best one I found was this one:

    It clearly indicates mortal sins from venial sins and imperfections, as well as clearly explains the 3 requirements for a sin to be a mortal sin, gives step-by-step instructions for how to go to confession (though, I went to the FSSP, so it would be helpful if there was an explanation for those who use the old formula of absolution. I walked in and the priest was muttering something in Latin, which threw me off. Fortunately, there was a woman there who explained to me that there was an additional prayer after absolution, which had I not known, I would have just left after receiving absolution. Not actually, though because I didn’t even know what the words of absolution were.) It also indicates that mortal sins must be confessed in both number and kind, but it doesn’t indicate that the penitent must indicate circumstances which change the nature or the gravity of the offense.

  14. APX says:

    @Tina in Ashburn
    Why don’t all priests encourage and teach like this?
    Because it would require them have to actually sacrifice part of their life in order to fulfill the duties of their state in life, which they willingly took on when they were ordained to the priesthood, to live a life of sacrifice for the sanctification of souls, etc. etc.

    There are some really holy priests out there, and then there are some whom are, yup, in need of prayers for their conversion.

  15. Imrahil says:

    Dear @APX,

    I wonder.

    I do not doubt that most of our priests are willing to sacrifice part of their life, etc.

    Some (I figure a tiny minority, if at all) might believe that it’s not good people Confess so often, as that’d be so preconciliar, etc., and you cannot undo your deed anyway, and you only have to get over it and start a new life (forgetting that, even for that, it is psychologically almost necessary to actually have, and not pretend to have, one’s sins forgiven first).

    Some (I figure quite many) might be very delighted if someone approaches for Confession, but have a bit despaired about the possibility to make people go to Confession these days.

    Some might have gone to sleep in their efforts after all these years where they sat and sat, slowly reducing the time, in the Confessional while noone came. I figure it’s not so much the sacrifice of time; it’s the sacrifice of feeling useless, sitting there all the time while noone comes; and that is harder, to hard at any rate as that I should allow myself to rebuke them.

    And what to do?

    Let priests choose how many opportunities they give for Confession, leaving room for special effort and sacrifice, but let the bishops require a fixed minimum (of, say, one hour per week and one hour average per day in the last week before Easter and Christmas) for them to sit in the Confessional on schedule, and not with “Confession opportunity on demand” (a certain way to make sure noone comes). As an additional benefit, organize these schedules per deanery. It need not be always Saturday; just as the liturgy-free day (where, of course, the priest will have a private Mass? wouldn’t he?) should not always everywhere be on Monday.

    The rest is preaching and catechesis.

    Also, on religious retreats and the kind, organize Confession opportunities, preferably with priests otherwise unknown to the participants. (Those unused to Confession might need the latter thing.)

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  17. @APX
    There are many reasons to be sure, not all are because of evil intent.
    I remember one priest admitting that he hoped his parishioners wouldn’t come to confession too frequently, that he’d ‘just die’ if they did because he’d never have time for anything else.
    Seriously? [Rueful chuckle over here.]

    Perhaps many priests don’t realize how much encouragement we need from the pulpit, and constant reminders to counteract the onslaught of temptations we have from every direction, if not just exhaustion and overwhelming depression from the battle.
    Forget the platitudes and spineless speeches – we need concrete direction “do this today”, “pray this way”, “give to the poor this week, and here is where to give”, “this week focus on not gossiping by not speaking about anyone who isn’t within earshot” and such.
    Perhaps this is the most charming characteristic of this story, the priest was refreshingly direct and simple in his request. And effective.

    Perhaps priests today are lost because they have never been trained in true spiritual direction methods – generally the only ones I’ve ever met with this capacity are over 80 years old and are in monasteries.
    I dunno – there are a lot of reasons.

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