ASK FATHER: Haven’t been to confession for 40 years

seal of confessionFrom a reader…


I’m 49 and haven’t been to confession since I was about 9 I say prayers every day and pop into church now and then to light candles the thing is I’ve not been to well recently and would like to make a confession but not to sure what to say could you please help

How about,

“Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It’s been about 40 years since my last confession. I think I’m going to need some help from you for this confession.”

It would probably be best to make an appointment for this confession, since it might take some time. Father can help you out through the mechanics of the sacrament.

It would be helpful to make a good examination of conscience beforehand. Sit down, grab a pen and paper (just remember to keep anything your write secret, and burn it or destroy it some other way once you’ve made your confession). Organize your sins in, say, chronological order if you want, taking each decade and thinking back on what you’ve done.

While everyone should confess all mortal sins in kind and number, when we’re talking of a confession covering 40 years, it’s okay if the numbers aren’t exact (e.g. “I missed Mass a lot when I was in my twenties, Father. There were a couple years there when I only went on Easter and Christmas, and at my best during that time, I probably only went ten-twelve times a year.”  Still, try and be as thorough as possible.

Don’t gloss over sins.

Don’t try and make yourself look better so that the priest won’t think ill of you (the priest will already think you are a hero for coming to the sacrament).

Don’t meander and tell stories. That time you got rollicking drunk with your buddy and sole the enemy school’s goat mascot might be a hilarious anecdote, but this is not the time. Stick to the sins: getting intoxicated, stealing, leading someone else into sin.

In the end, just do it.

Just go.

At the end, say, “for these and all of the sins of my past which I cannot now remember, I am sorry and I beg the Lord’s forgiveness.”

And mean it.

You’ll be okay.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    And know that not only the saints and angels but your heavenly Father will be rejoicing. God bless.

  2. When this reader does go … Congratulations, and thank you for accepting the Mercy of the Lord. He was always waiting for you. Now is the perfect time to come back to the faith. Go further and keep going! He is always with you (and so are we, at least Fr Z and his readers :) )

  3. BarefootPilgrim says:

    There’s a reason you’re saying prayers every day, popping into church, and lighting candles. Jesus Himself is drawing you back! Ten years ago, I said “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It’s been 25 years…” Oh my. Father knew what to do.
    You’re ten tons lighter when you walk out of the confessional. Be not afraid!!!

  4. Norah says:

    My time of lapse was about the same as your reader. Thanks to my grandmother I never walked past a Catholic Church without going in, lighting a candle and saying a prayer to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. I just floated out of the confessional.

  5. KateD says:

    And then, after confession, (well, absolution :) you’ll feel like you are walking 15 feet off the ground….no kidding. It’s an amazing spiritual euphoria. For me, subsequent confessions have not had that same effect as that first one after decades of not participating in the sacrament of confession. GO!

  6. StJude says:

    Priests are so wonderful… there is nothing to fear. They will help you through it.

  7. Diane says:

    God Bless You. List your sins and go on in. I did the same thing quite a few years ago, after about 25 years away and I’m so glad that I did.

  8. cdet1997 says:

    “I say to you, that even so there shall be joy in heaven upon one sinner that doth penance, more than upon ninety-nine just who need not penance.”

  9. catholiccomelately says:


  10. Patti Day says:

    My confessor reminded me twice not to miss out on the promises of the upcoming Divine Mercy Sunday.

  11. gramma10 says:

    Jesus loves you soooo much.

  12. Bthompson says:

    I have not been a priest long (7 months today), but already I can say with total certainty that the most beautiful confessions are the proverbial “big fish.” There is such a sweetness in telling someone that literally a lifetime of sins is no match for the smallest portion of the smallest drop of Christ’s blood, if one is truly repentant…

    That is to say: As a sinner myself, I love hearing confessions!

  13. Norah says:

    Great post father.

    Thank you for your priesthood.

  14. gracie says:

    Father Zuhlsdorf gives great advice. As he says, just do it.

    Having said that, may I suggest you take time to memorize the Act of Contrition. Like you, I returned to the Sacrament after an absence of 40 years and have found that memorizing the words surrounding the confessing of my sins helps me to focus on the sins themselves.

  15. mpmaron says:

    I skipped for 30 years or so.

    Learning the script and bringing a copy in with you, along with your list, will help ease your mind. It works for kids as well.

    I wouldn’t sweat it for three reasons: all your anxiety will seem pretty stupid after you’re done; the priest is an old hand and will help you; Christ is an even older hand and he will help you.

  16. yatzer says:

    When I came back after years and years, I had forgotten not only the act of Contrition, but even that there WAS such a thing. Fortunately, there was a copy in the Confessional. The priest helped me limp through the whole confession, and I pray for him often, whoever he was.

  17. oldconvert says:

    I remember how hard it was to go to confession after decades away. It’s amazing the excuses one can make for oneself, right down to “I don’t want to make a fool of myself when I can’t remember what to do and say.” Listen to Father’s advice, here. Just dive in and do it. There are advice pages on the net, if you are worried about formulae, just google on “confession”, but the priest will understand the problem as soon as you tell him it’s been forty years (you won’t be the first lapsed Catholic he has encountered after all!).

  18. daughter of poor gemma says:

    I am a convert, just past my fourth Easter. Every time I go to confession (which is about twice a year, thanks to it only being offered on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons around here) I have asked the priest for help, only to be met with complete silence while I flail and ramble. I really wish I could find a priest who would help me to confess properly.

  19. kelleyb says:

    I just asked Our Lady to pray for this person. I will continue to pray for you. God bless! You are my Easter hero this year.

  20. Pingback: Pastoral Sharings: "Second Sunday of Easter" | St. John

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