A reader on going to confession

From a reader:

I know you love to hear good things about Confession.  I just wanted to share that I went to Confession today with a most humble, wise, and kind priest.  I was on the verge of a panic attack before even though I try to go to confession every two months or so.  It never gets easier before – but oh the afterwards!  Today’s confession was one of the most heart wrenching, beautiful, and serene experiences I have had in my life.  If they could just bottle the feeling after absolution, or if every person experienced the same joy just once in their lifetime, they would come back for more always.

God is good.  Jesus loves me.  All is right in my little corner of the world.

Go to confession!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Thanks be to God.

  2. APX says:

    As someone who suffers from anxiety attacks prior, during, and sometimes even after Confession despite going on a weekly basis, and whom had the same type of confessor up until about two weeks ago, I can empathize. Unfortunately I don’t get those warm fuzzy feelings anymore, but when I did, they were most wonderful.

  3. Stumbler but trying says:

    About 10 or 15 years ago, after having been away from thew Church for a long time, I remember when I first went back to confession. I remember feeling dead towards my faith but knew that without my faith I would surely die so I decided to start anew by making a good confession. I went to my home parish where I had made my first holy communion and confirmation as a child. I was nervous yet remember looking forward to “freedom.” I went in, started my confession, but had to stop because during a very emotional moment in my confession, I noticed the priest was reading the sports page of some newspaper. I was taken aback and asked him, “I’m sorry father, am I taking up your time?” He stopped, put down the paper and looked at me, “No, continue. I was just reading the sports page.”
    Had it not been for the power of the Holy Spirit and His love for me, had I not been determined to look for Jesus again after so long, and love of the Catholic Church, I would have gotten up at that very moment and left the faith, never looking back.
    I finished my confession and it has been a roller coaster ever since but I remain determined at the foot of the cross, to remain steadfast no matter what I see, hear or feel.
    I remember and I pray for all priests and for all the faithful…I thank God everyday for having given me the strength to look beyond what dear Father C was doing that day in the confessional when I came back after so long. I still try and remember him in my prayers.

  4. Long-Skirts says:


    December twenty-second
    Three days before
    The Fest.

    I sit in coal-black
    Waiting for my guest.

    My conscience
    I spy the dinge and dirt.

    The howling wind
    And icy sleet
    Intensify the hurt.

    So out into
    The dark
    I trod in sleety snow

    Searching for
    The evergreen
    Of hope the Christmas glow.

    The scent of incensed
    Stained glass of midnight blue

    Is where the whipping wintry
    Has blown me in to view

    The altar
    Poinsettias Christmas trees

    Red green
    I fall upon my knees.

    For in a
    Shadowed corner
    Quite private there’s a door

    Above a light
    Glows ever green…
    Of hope, “Go sin no more!”

  5. Gregg the Obscure says:

    I had the privilege of confessing a few days ago. The priest said many things to me, most of which I had heard or read before, but in that moment they had a greater impact in helping me to change for the better.

    This year I had the new year’s resolution to go to confession at least once in each calendar month. I did so and resolve to continue on that path. Some people are privileged to have more numerous opportunities to participate in this sacrament. I’m trying to change jobs so that I can join that number.

  6. backtothefuture says:

    I go to confession every week or two. The cleaner your soul, the more Jesus in you, and the more graces you receive during communion.

  7. joan ellen says:

    Long Skirts: It is so good to see you in your words. Thanks.
    APX and Stumbler: Please just keep going. It gets better and better. No words can describe the graces that become almost palatable with persistence. After 21 years of almost weekly confession I have gone from dread, fear, anxiety, etc. to peacefulness and more joy at receiving our Blessed Lord. The 2 Sacraments are so closely united…but since it takes a Sacrament to remove Original Sin and it takes a Sacrament (ordinarily) to remove a Mortal Sin…and it takes a Sacrament to heal the damage done to the community whether public or private (paraphrase PVXVI 2012), it is as backtothefuture says “The cleaner your soul, the more Jesus in you, and the more graces you receive during communion.”

    I wonder if anyone knows how family, friends, neighbors, others who were Baptized Catholic, maybe made their 1st Holy Communion, never learned how to go to Confession, and may be or may not be Confirmed. Can they just learn to go to Confession and go…even after say 40 + years after their 1st Holy Communion?

  8. majuscule says:

    I was attending monthly First Saturday Masses in another parish because they offer confession beforehand. This day the confession line was moving very slowly. Mass began and Father was still hearing the confession of the person ahead of me. Finally it was my turn. I was impressed by the humbleness and good council and unhurriedness of this priest.

    When he was later named pastor of our little parish I felt I already knew him. He is a very good man.

  9. Joseph-Mary says:

    My son works in a very secular environment. One of his co-workers was telling him how depressed he is and seeing a counselor and so on. Well my son invited this lapsed to come to confession at the big penance service at our parish this week. And the man came! After 12 years away! And he felt incredible relief and plans to return to Sunday Mass. I am so proud of my son to speak of his faith in his work environment and that this was the result.

  10. Nan says:

    @Joan Ellen, of course! He still loves us even though we were raised without Faith. It’s difficult to find Mass under those circumstances, and nearly impossible to find the courage to go to Confession but it can be done. They can even get more catechesis to supplement their minimal knowledge of the Church and get Confirmed. It remains difficult because people make assumptions about circumstances that aren’t accurate. Priests are kind but a bit clueless about those who weren’t raised with religion. It’s a different world.

    It’s difficult to hear the still, small voice of God when you have no reason to know he’s trying to get your attention.

  11. Deacon6 says:

    If a penitent sincerely forgets to confess a particular sin, is that sin forgiven? I was told by a priest that you are forgiven as long a you truly intended to confess, but forgot. Is that correct?

  12. APX says:


    Yes, but if you remember it, you must mention it at your next confession.

  13. Deacon6 says:

    Are you sure it must be mentioned at the next confession? I wasn’t told that by the priest! Any official documentation on this?

  14. jesusthroughmary says:

    The Baltimore Catechism teaches that whether you deliberately withheld them or legitimately forgot them, you must begin a confession by confessing any mortal sins that you did not confess in previous confessions.
    In the former case (deliberately withholding), your entire previous confession was not valid and you must again confess ALL mortal sins that were committed since your last valid confession, plus any others that were legitimately forgotten.
    In the latter case (legitimately forgetting), your previous confession was valid and all your sins were absolved, but you still need to confess the ones you legitimately forgot before you proceed to the ones committed since your last confession.

  15. APX says:

    My priest (FSSP) said it must be mentioned in the next confession otherwise you’re willingly omitting an unconfessed mortal sin.

  16. APX says:

    The Code of Canon Law addresses this:
    The faithful are bound to confess, in kind and in number, all grave sins committed after baptism, of which after careful examination of conscience they are aware, which have not yet been directly pardoned by the keys of the Church, and which have not been confessed in an individual confession (canon 988 §1).

    Forgotten Mortal sins are indirectly absolved by the Keys of the Church, but if remembered, still have to be absolved directly.

    Anyways, this is turning into a rabbit hole.

  17. Supertradmum says:

    The more often one goes to Confession, the more one sees hidden and persistent sins and imperfections. I wish more priests offered it more often. And, the laity might not know that most convents in Europe do not have their own chaplains anymore and rely on supply priests. Rarely do some contemplatives get to go to Confession more than one a month or once every two weeks.

  18. Stephen D says:

    I went to confession this morning and the woman beside me in the (very short) queue turned and whispered that she hadn’t ‘been for years’ and was feeling very nervous. I was able to assure her that she was going to confess to a very good priest and that I too once went after several years absence but that everything had been OK. She seemed relieved and I was relieved to see that she was still there when I came out and watched as she entered the confessional. Perhaps you would say a prayer for her and all those like her this Christmas.
    It reminded me of the story of a well known female English writer who, though lapsed for many years, decided to visit a Catholic Church on Christmas eve to look at the Crib. As she passed a confessional an unseen hand pushed her into it and she confessed for the first time in decades.

  19. pmullane says:

    Made a confession this morning, God is good in loving. More people seem to be going now than before as well, progress seems to be being made, as Confession was sadly neglected until our new priest arrived.

    StephenD that is a wonderful story, I can only imagine the rejoicing in heaven over the return of that lady.

  20. Will D. says:

    When I first decided to fully rejoin the church, I picked up a copy of A Pocket Guide to Confession by Michael Dubruiel (Amazon has it for $7 new). It discusses why to go to confession, how to do it, and how to examine one’s conscience. I think it would be a fine gift for the ordinary lapsed Catholic who wants to reenter communion with the Church.
    For someone that has been away for a very long time, or was poorly catechized, it may be useful for them to consult with the priest before making their confession.

    My experience since returning is that it gets considerably easier to go to confession once the big first confession is out of the way. I was fortunate in having a kindly older priest for that confession. He took it in his stride, not making a big deal out of my long absence from the sacrament. That allowed me to relax and get it done. Since then, I have gone just about every two weeks, and it keeps getting easier. Also, the graces given in the sacrament, and in the Eucharist, have enabled me to resist temptation more and more.

  21. VexillaRegis says:

    I just went to confession and I am now merrily bouncing around looking forward to Christ-mass! :-) Thank you, dear priests, for what you do for us “ordinary people” !

  22. APX says:

    @Stumbler but trying
    I remember when I first went back to confession. […] I went to my home parish where I had made my first holy communion and confirmation as a child. I was nervous yet remember looking forward to “freedom.” I went in, started my confession, but had to stop because during a very emotional moment in my confession, I noticed the priest was reading the sports page of some newspaper.
    Wow… I had a similar situation when I tried to go back to confession. I was having issues trying to find a priest who was actually in the confessional/reconciliation room when it was scheduled, and I was starting to get a desperate feeling. Being Saturday evening, I went to my home parish where I grew up and was still registered under my parents’ name. I explained the situation to the priest and was really hoping he would hear my confession after Mass. He flat out refused to hear my confession because it was outside of a scheduled time. He rudely told me that if I wanted him to hear my confession, I would have to come back the next time he scheduled them because he “doesn’t do confessions outside of scheduled times.” I felt so crushed and dejected when I left the church. By the time I got to my car I was spewing anger and various epithets. Long story short, my stubborn streak shone through and became even more determined to go to Confession.

    I ended up driving two hours to another city (City #3 by this point) to go find a priest from the FSSP, as Google revealed that their priests are quite good about hearing confessions. I ended up having a rapid reversion, much more intense than I had planned on, as I only planned on doing the bare minimum to avoid going to Hell. I wasn’t expecting having a complete conversion of heart. Now I’m actively discerning a vocation after spending the past almost year trying to drown out that pesky voice calling me, and God-willing, I will spend my life dedicated to prayer, penance and service to the Church and for both holy priests, but especially wayward priests.

    @joan ellen
    APX and Stumbler: Please just keep going. It gets better and better. No words can describe the graces that become almost palatable with persistence.
    The anxiety attacks are actually getting worse for me. It worked great for ceasing mortal sins, as my plan was to only go to confession once and never commit another mortal sin again so I would never have to go to confession again. Now the more I go and make devotional confessions, the worse the anxiety. I figure it’s just Satan trying to discourage me, so I just suck it up and go anyway. I offer up my anxiety and anxiety attacks for more graces.

  23. jesusthroughmary says:

    My parish had 6 hours of confessions this week with 2 or 3 priests at a time, plus 4 or more hours tonight – they will stay until the church is empty. One of the many blessings of our parish.

  24. VexillaRegis says:

    @APX: sorry to hear about your anxiety attacks. Of course the Devil has heard of your calling and wants to stop you from being a priest or a nun (I don’t remember if you are a male or a female.) But, may I ask, do you have a regular confessor? If not, maybe you should try that aproach :-) I will pray for you!

  25. The Masked Chicken says:

    There can be may reasons for an anxiety attack – physiological, psychological, or spiritual. I can think of five possible reasons off the top of my head, but I resist discussing them, as this post is to be a celebration.

    Keep doing what you are doing. God knows what is behind them. He will give you strength and wisdom to do as he wills.

    The Chicken

  26. APX says:

    I’m a woman, but I am not discerning a vocation as a nun, but rather a consecrated virgin. I don’t think I am being called to be a nun. Contrary to popular belief, being a consecrated virgin is a very distinct vocation for women, and not something to be used as a “fall back” vocation because someone either missed her vocation as a nun, or wasn’t admitted into any order, or who wants to feel like they belong to the church as a single person, etc. Sorry, this is a sore spot for me, as people keep telling me to look into religious orders because it’s a more secure vocation.

    As for a regular confessor, I had one for about two years (the same one who heard my Initial confession), but he was just transferred to literally the other end of the earth, and my back-up confessor is being transferred too. I am still adjusting to my new confessor. A regular confessor doesn’t help. It’s the nature of confession and the nature of my craziness. I have an irrational fear of being judged, particularly in social situations.

  27. Margaret says:

    God bless you, APX, for your stubborn perseverance. One of my children is also an anxiety sufferer. It’s a lot to bear. I sometimes think that God gathers up all the graces from these “hidden” pains and crafts them into a beautiful crown to be worn someday in Heaven.

    I had a little Christmas miracle this morning. I had an impossibly narrow window of time to make it to Confession, and I arrived literally at the same time as the priest, yet there were already six people waiting in line in the church. Here’s the miracle– everyone was brief. I got through my confession and penance and out the door in the time allotted to shuttle a few of my teens to a service project and still make noon Mass. Ordinarily these kinds of schedules never work in my favor and go hideously awry. Deo gratias!

  28. The Masked Chicken says:

    Dear APX,

    We should not get too personal in the combox, so, all I can say is that this form of anxiety is more common than you think, especially among tender souls. We always think of going to confession in terms of sin, judgment, and justice, but this can cause some people to focus on the justice more than the mercy, on themselves more than God. Every sacrament is a chance to renew one’s love for God. If I may suggest, try focusing on the sacrament as a chance to tell God you love him, once again.

    As you get older, as you get to know yourself more in God’s eyes, the eyes of others and even of yourself will bother you less and less. St. Paul said that, “I don’t even judge himself.” That is very hard and a real test of love. There are two types of fear of sin: from servile fear and from filial fear. Servile fear is fear of sinning because of fear of punishment. It is the most common and lower form of fear. Filial fear is fear of sinning because of fear of offending the beloved. It is a higher and less common form of fear.

    St. John of the Cross points out that most people start out loving God with servile fear mixed in and, in his opinion, this is a good thing, early on, but as our love grows for God, as we begin to see ourselves within the love of God, servile fear changes to filial fear, which is a fear for offending the beloved. We lose track of ourselves and only think of the Him.

    My suspicion is that once you have passed through the discernment process you are going through, where the future looks like it is written in large letters with no room for error, whatever you decide, once you get settled in with the decision, your will relax a bit and the anxiety will decrease.

    If you were a little kid, I would ask you to tell God a joke (silently) when you get into the confession line (a nice joke – God has a sense of humor). If you can believe that God is on your side, that he loves you enough to laugh at even a joke told through shaking limbs by a penitent, then you begin to see that you are his. Oh, to understand that you are his. That is what you renew in the confessional – the belonging to each other.

    The Chicken

  29. Stumbler but trying says:

    @ APX
    The Lord is truly merciful. He gave me the grace to keep me on my knees, to look beyond that “sports page” and make my confession. I learned lots from that experience. I realized just how important praying for all priests really is. I realized how it must be difficult for some not to become bored and fall into some type of routine where every thing seems redundant…I don’t know.
    All I know is that after so many years, I am home to stay and have found a good confessor who is solid and . I have to drive to another city to get there but all the more worth it as I always think of that little drive as a faith journey to grow in faith, in love and in charity.

  30. St. Epaphras says:

    APX: I sure understand the anxiety, having experienced it many a time in a lot of situations (I am a woman too.) All kinds of reasons try to keep me away from Confession. You’ve probably encountered them all. The devil hates this sacrament and uses all our weaknesses to try and keep us away. I don’t have much help except to say I’ll pray for you, I greatly admire you, and I hope and pray that very soon Our Lord gives you the grace to forget the priest and see Him alone in that confessional. Believe it or not, now I nearly always look forward to Confession despite the nerves. It’s not only the absolution, which I surely need, but also the enormous graces from this encounter with the Lord Jesus that keeps me coming back.

  31. Sandra_in_Severn says:

    I went this afternoon and cried through mine, it has been a difficult month.
    With reading the other postings here, I am more intent on saying extra prayers for our confessors.

  32. StWinefride says:

    This is a lovely quote from St Elizabeth Ann Seton on Confession:

    Our Lord Himself I saw in this venerable Sacrament . . . I felt as if my chains fell, as those of St. Peter at the touch of the Divine messenger. My God, what new scenes for my soul!

  33. CatholicCoffee says:

    I went to confession last Sunday (I go every 2-3 weeks). Face to face, by appointment, not in church. It was a wonderfully profound experience. No anxiety at all (despite the fact that Fr. hardly knows me, this was only the second time he heard my confession), just awe at the Sacrament and the goodness of the Lord. So grateful to Jesus that He left us the Sacrament of Penance; and – reading that horrible story about the sports pages :-o – I am also grateful that I could confess to a priest who gave me all his attention, asked questions and did all he could possibly do to help.

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