QUAERITUR: The Holy Spirit revealed to me that I’ve been an ass.

From a reader:

I woke up this morning and had an epiphany from the Holy Spirit- I’m an ass. I don’t want to be one anymore, so I would like to confess this and amend my life ASAP.

One problem. I don’t really know how to confess this. While “ass” used in this way is a completely legitimate usage according to the dictionary, I doubt I can just tell my confessor “I’ve been an ass in thought, word, and deed for the past several months now“.

What’s a good way of confessing this?


Well… that’s what I call a great start!  Refreshing.

Confessors like direct talk, free of obfuscation and verbiage (for those of you in Columbia Heights, that’s “just say it and be brief”.

The best way you can start to convey that you have been an ass, is to make your good, complete confession, in direct language, concisely, revealing all your mortal sins in both kind and number.

Then, if there is no one in line, or if you have made an appointment before hand, you might make a “general confession”, especially considering the really big things of the past.  Be brief.  You don’t have to go into a lot of detail.

And don’t be mulish about confessing everything.

Then, at the end, ask for a penance, absolution, and then say that you will amend your life.  “Amend your life” is another way of saying that you realize that you have been an ass that that you are not going to be an ass anymore, any kind of an ass, a sinning jackass – never again, quod Deus averruncet!

I end with the admonition to every single reader of this entry to stop being unrepentant asses and…



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Be brief, be blunt, be gone!

  2. APX says:

    Just curious, is it okay to say “ass” in the confessional in this context? I’ve often wondered this too. Sometimes there are no other nouns that accurately reflect what one has been. I have gone through the “synonyms” for ass and they don’t mean the same thing. “A stupid, foolish stubborn person”. That about says it all.

  3. mamajen says:

    LOL! Best quaeritur ever!

  4. samwise says:

    I think St. Francis used to refer to himself as “brother ass”

  5. I’ve confessed ‘being a bloody idiot’, ‘going on a bender’, ‘being a bitch’, and ‘letting rip’.

    But I’ve also confessed kind and number at the same time when it’s mortal ‘being a bloody idiot’.

    Venial ‘being a bloody idiot’ I try to confess as well, even though I know that a good Holy Communion makes up for it.

    The priest usually just laughs. This is a good humiliation in and of itself.

  6. capchoirgirl says:

    Samwise: I think that was his general term for the body: “Brother Ass.” But then again, I’m a Dominican, so I could be wrong. :)
    Going to confession today. I would LOVE to confess like this. :)

  7. Unwilling says:

    The bad thing about the good-ol’-days of the one universal liturgy in the TLM, corresponding to the bad-thing circuses we see nowadays, was the tendency of many priests to rocket through the familiar and silent texts as fast as possible (sometimes, faster than possible). I seem to recall that there might have been a rule that the priest was *not permitted* to say the Mass [Introibo … Deo gratias.] in less than 11 minutes! [Woah! You “seem” to remember a rule that “might” have been that I have never heard of.]

    When I converted, I was told that Confession should take as long as it takes. The penitent may need some guided soul-searching and some help unpacking what being an ass by definition (stubborn, obstructive, etc.) means in terms of actual sinful acts (refused to answer just questions, refused to attend the wedding, spitefully withheld his allowance, etc.). I was told, specifically, not to think about whether or not the lineup is long. [Do your examination of conscience before you get into the confession. See this.]

    I would be inclined never to go to Confession, if there were a *danger* of the time being “squeezed” and my essential act of contrition [The Act of the Contrition is not “essential”. The priest must have sense that you are penitent and that you will amend your life. That is essential. The Act of Contrition gives voice to the proper attitude, but the priest could also get a sense of your attitude in other ways.] being compromised. Is my thinking scrupulosity? [No. But you need additional information..] How does one find the “golden mean” between reverence for the Sacrament and practical consideration of others waiting? [Again, go to that link, above.]

  8. Gregg the Obscure says:

    I made a general confession a couple years ago and it was very helpful. I am still too often an ass myself, but I would surely be worse without the grace of that and subsequent confessions. In some cities there are religious orders that have very generous confession schedules which can easily facilitate an unscheduled but lengthy confession.

  9. majuscule says:

    So this has nothing to do with political party affiliation…

  10. Fr AJ says:

    I like the “I’ve been a…” part. I have so many folks coming in confessing other people’s sins and not their own. [Ditto.]

  11. greasemonkey says:

    …and here I was looking for help with the Divine Office this morning? What an ass I am!

  12. Acanthaster says:

    Wow, praise the Lord for clarity!! Haha, that was awesome :)

  13. APX says:

    Marylise, I think you’re reading too much into this. The way I read this, the person came to the realization that he/she was is an ass in a particular way. The same way that even people who are living in the pits of grave sins, and at best are “spiritual” in the Bob Marley type spirituality can have the realization that, for example, “Wow, I was a real ass last night. Maybe I shouldn’t get so drunk? It seems like whenever I get drunk, I do something stupid to the people I care about. If I keep this up, I’m going to alienate the people around me. I need to stop doing this and go and apologize.”

    Until someone comes to this realization, and actually acknowledges it, change in behaviour can’t really happen. People remain in the “Pre-contemplation stage” in the cycle of change. Actually, the Pre-contemplation stage is on the outside of the cycle of change.

    Stating bluntly to one’s confessor this realization, and unpacking it to the particular instances where one was an ass, is a good thing and good for one’s humility…provided that they really actually believe this to be true about themselves. It’s easy simply think one is an ass and tell someone, but to actually believe it and go admit it to someone in authority…that’s where pride gets in the way in trying to avoid it. It’s very humbling to have to go do that.

  14. Desertfalcon says:

    I don’t have a problem in confessing the ‘Kind’ of ass I am but as to ‘Number’, I pray one day that I will be able to at least confess without having to use the phrase, “…more times than I can honestly recall, Father”.

  15. jbas says:

    Yes, just say what you did, and how many times, and don’t meander. It’s a sacramental ritual, not a casual chat.

  16. AnnAsher says:

    Once I got over having the experience of the priest making me feel better through the process of a mini counseling session whereby I was able to dialogue and explain and hear guidance and words of comfort – I began to experience the healing of the sacrament itself. I now have an aversion to mini counseling in the confessional. It is simple and direct and effective to *accuse myself* seek forgiveness, be given a penance and forgiven. It doesn’t gloss over the effect of my sins. It leaves the sacrament free and clear to do it’s work – for the focus to be on Jesus and not on me and my priest. I love this guidance you provide Fr Z. It stinks to be stuck in a communion line with penitents taking 10,15,20 minutes to confess and having the butterflies and anxiety grow and grow !

  17. norancor says:

    Another version I learned many years ago is:

    Confession: be complete, be accurate, and be brief.

  18. acricketchirps says:

    When asked, ‘how many times were you an ass, my child,’ I can always answer, ‘only once, Father.’ Now, do I have to mention it was over the single continuous period from about 2 minutes after my last confession?

  19. Kathleen10 says:

    It is an epiphany when that realization comes. I think that is one characteristic of wisdom, so it’s a good thing. The people who are the biggest ones probably never have that enlightening moment. They just go on and on…

  20. Unwilling says:

    Father, thank you for your comments, by which I am honoured. Your 20 points are excellent advice for what a Confession should be. I hope many will click on it.

    The rule I vaguely recalled as maybe 11 minutes was actually 15 minutes as this online text shows (editing a very bad scan at Internet Archive). Thank you again.

    We now come to inquire how much time is requisite for the saying of Mass in a proper manner. F. Molina says that an hour ought not to be considered too long. Nevertheless Cardinal Lambertini, agreeably to the general opinion of other authors, maintains that Mass ought not to exceed half an hour, nor to be less than a third of an hour; because, as he says, it cannot be celebrated with suitable reverence in less than a third…. Father Gobato speaking of the shortest time required by the learned for the celebration of Mass, says, it is generally understood to be about half an hour…. And he adds, that he should have great difficulty, ordinarily speaking, in believing that Mass could be said in a quarter of an hour. Hence Father Roncaglia (de Sacrif. Miss. cap. 4.) maintains as certain that a Priest, who says Mass in less than a quarter of an hour, cannot be excused of grievous sin.

    FROM St. Alphonsus de Liguori on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

  21. future_sister says:

    I agree with keeping confession short and to the point. Many of the priests I go with on a regular basis (I am limited as to where I can go due to no drivers license) try turning it into a counseling session and try helping me find excuses for why what I did wasn’t as bad as I thought.

    On the other hand however, the BEST confession I ever had was half an hour long, face-to-face (or side to side walking on a pilgrimage rather) with a priest I had never met before. He didn’t try turning it into counseling so much as try digging to the root behind all my sins and see where the deeper underlying problem was. He didn’t once try excusing my sins, he was quite hard on me helping me root out things I hadn’t even thought of in my examination, at the same time quite helpful with giving me advice for the future. He was such a great help and it was the first time that I ever felt comfortable revealing my soul to a priest that I went back to him the next day during a break just to chat with him… and proceeded to speak with him for two hours, including re-telling him everything I had told him in confession the day before and getting further advice and talking about other things and went even deeper into my past. That was more a counseling session. He was such an amazing priest that I am working to arrange for a 3 hour bus ride from school once a month to NYC just so I can have him as a spiritual director and not have to deal with the pity parties with the priests here on campus.

    Also, yes, St. Francis called his body Brother Ass. I just finished reading “The Little Flowers of St. Francis” I am discerning with the CFR sisters actually, and the priest who I was speaking about above is a CFR.

  22. Patti Day says:


    Wow, you have been blessed to find such a wonderful spiritual director. I will pray for you in your discernment.

  23. benedetta says:

    CFR priests are awesome confessors!

  24. Cafea Fruor says:

    LOL! I agree with mamajen, this is the best Quaeritur ever! I think that picture really adds just the right touch, too. :o)

    But I must admit, I can’t laugh too much, for I’ve been known to confess, “I’ve frequently been a curmudgeon,” before.

  25. MargaretC says:

    “I’ve been an ass in thought, word, and deed for the past several months now.“ This perfectly sums up my spiritual state.

    But since it’s a steady state, it’s hard to break it up into number and kind. “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. Since my last confession I’ve wallowed in bad attitude.”

    Actually, I may try that on Saturday and see what he says.

  26. The Cobbler says:

    “Wallowed in bad attitude” at least refers to an action (wallowing). Increase the specificity of “bad attitude” to “uncharitability” or “unreasonable anger”, or change the whole thing up with “held onto frustration” or something along those lines, and you’ve more or less got a kind-and-number-able version of “been an ass” (or at least parts thereof). For word and deed, see “spoken uncharitably” and whatever wrongful deeds were done.

    Point is, it’s possible to get at the essence of “being an ass” in a way that’s sufficiently non-fuzzy for Confession, and it can still be as generic or specific as long as it’s clear.

    Although, to be frank, I don’t think “been an ass in word, thought and deed” is all that far from qualifying in the first place, since “to be an ass” can refer as much to what you do as to the general personality. So, whatever you think is sufficiently clear for you and father to communicate, right?

  27. Minnesotan from Florida says:

    I realize that these comments have been about serious questions of the confessional and spiritual direction. But:

    Read in a plot summary what has gone before, if you haven’t the hours to hear the whole thing, and then hear the last several minutes of Verdi/Boito’s “Falstaff” from “I do begin to perceive that I have been made an ass” until the final fugue and ending, and then reflect on a remark of Chesterton that I only met yesterday, that “Falstaff was neither brave nor honest, nor chaste, nor temperate, nor clean, but he had the eighth cardinal virtue for which no name has ever been found.” [I suppose Chesterton meant an eighth virtue after the three theological and four cardinal virtues.] “The Soul of Wit, ed. Dale Ahlquist, p. 40.)

  28. James Joseph says:


    I have a bit of a devotion to the Venerable Ass that carried Mary and Jesus into Egypt.

  29. robtbrown says:

    From Oliver Twist:

    “If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble,… “the law is a ass.

  30. acardnal says:

    A axiom sometimes mentioned by priests of Opus Dei regarding Confession:

    Be Clear, Concrete, Concise & Complete.

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