ASK FATHER: Converts trying to make 1st Confession –

francis confessionFrom a reader…


My family and I are converting to the church from Protestantism. We are a family of six and we have been turned away from confession at multiple churches because the half hour before Vigil and Sunday Mass wasn’t enough time for the priest to hear our confession. Of course, a half hour actually means 20 mins as the procession and “getting situated” makes a half hour 20 mins. We have been told to “make an appointment.” I hesitate to make an appointment because that would prevent anonymous confession. The only mid-week confession is about 1.5 hours away at the Diocesan Cathedral. I can only surmise that everyone receiving the Body and Blood of Christ must not sin much…

Question: From my observation of availability and praxis, do Catholics actually believe what they say about confession?

Yes, those who have been adequately instructed believe.  However, when for decades lay people have seen that priests and bishops don’t seem to care about A, B or C, they, too, will stop caring about A, B or C.  It stands to reason.  If you turn your back on the Blessed Sacrament, don’t genuflect or kneel, use confessionals as broom closets, invade the sanctuary with all sorts of folks with questionable roles, use dopey junk music, tear out statues, build ugly churches….

Joanna Bogle is a British convert to Catholicism who wrote a book about conversion in 1994 entitled, Come on In, It’s Awful (UK HERE).  Hold on to your hats.

Do not be afraid.  You have made the right choice, for this is the Church that Christ founded.  For that reason, there can be no other Church once we come to figure that out.

As you and your family move more deeply into the sacramental life of the Church, the Enemy of your souls, Satan, will throw up tremendous roadblocks to stop you. Many of those roadblocks will come from Catholics.  They will even come from some bishops and priests.  We are, after all, a pretty weak and sinful lot.   I shudder at the idea of what might be were the salvation of the world to rest on our shoulders.  BRRRRR

Fortunately, it does not.

God has used 20 centuries of feckless and craven bishops, lazy, vain and ignorant priests, gossippy and bitter laity, grasping and shiftless religious to build up the Church and His Kingdom.

God does not choose those who are worthy.  He chooses those whom it pleaseth Him to choose.  Sometimes our more heroic sides come out, built up by the grace God gives us.

It is sad that, in our day and age in many places, the wonderful and essential Sacrament of Penance (Confession, Reconciliation, whatever we are calling it these days) has been so neglected, so restricted.

Christ Jesus left us this beautiful sacrament as the ordinary means to obtain forgiveness for our sins.  GOD gave us this sacrament because HE wants us to use it.   This is HIS will about how we are to approach Him.  He gave us this sacrament to avoid Hell, to grow in holiness, to resist sins.  But, nowadays, based on published schedules in many parishes, the Sacrament of Penance has been kicked to the proverbial curb, marginalized, shunted to the corners of the calendar, and, if you are luck, given space for a few brief moments before the Saturday vigil Mass.

You would think that liberals, who consider infallible Pope Francis’ pronouncements on things like global warming or redistribution of wealth – matters that have nothing to do with the Roman Pontiff’s brief – would give even more consideration to his pronouncement on things that the Roman Pontiff really does have a stake in, such a the importance of going to confession!   Time and time again during his still short pontificate, Pope Francis has underscored the important of the Sacrament of Penance.  We even have iconic photos of him hearing confessions and going to confession himself.

What more do these priests and bishops need, for all love?

One of the problems at the heart of this dearth of confession times is the silence in priestly formation and current literature about cura animarum, the cure or care of souls.  This is where the terms “curate” and French “curé” come from.  Those with the care of souls are too teach, govern and sanctify the people in their charge.  They duty bound before God, angels and men in this care of souls.  They will be called to account to God for the care that they give.  If they help many souls avoid Hell and come to Heaven, they will be welcomed into the joy of their Master.  Those who do not, and who let souls slip through their fingers, will be left in the outer darkness.

Fathers, if you are parish priests and have the obligation to hear confessions, hearing confessions can help to keep you out of Hell. If you are parish priests and you don’t hear confessions or you won’t teach about confession, you will probably go to Hell. Just try to deny it. Just. Try.

Back to the questioner, a couple things.

First, in your preparation to make your profession of faith and enter the Church, go ahead and make that appointment with the parish priest for this important sacrament.  If you are concerned about anonymity, ask that the priest meet you in the confessional, perhaps getting into “the box” a few minutes before your scheduled time.

Second, you might pen a brief letter to your local bishop, and describe to him how hard it has been to figure out how to go to confession and ask him why confessions are not more available where you and your family live.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Joanna Bogle is a cradle Catholic but I understand her husband is a convert.

  2. aliceinstpaul says:

    I feel for this family. We lived for a long while in a parish where hours were limited and confessors were even more problematic.

    Often than given reason is too few priests, too many duties. But why they view this duty is subordinate to parish council or staff meetings is, IMO, because their judgment is clouded by evil. Screwtape letters clarify the mind on this.

    The Devil wants to keep you from confession. Sometimes he does this by having confessors, even when you do find them, that are tell you your sins “aren’t bad” or ” aren’t serious”. They have forgotten how to clean their own souls and yours.

    Keep seeking a priest. Sometimes religious priests of different orders or priests like members of Opus Dei come to churches for prayer events or holy hours. Sometimes they hear confessions. Maybe there is a retreat center near your town you weren’t even aware of, and those priests will hear your confession. Keep seeking someone who is committed to healing your soul. Pray to our Lord for this. ask Mary to intercede to find you a confessor. I will pray for this for you.

  3. boredoftheworld says:

    I’m stunned that the priest receiving this family into the Church hasn’t worked all this out already. When my wife and I entered the Church… back in the 90s, good grief has it been that long already?… the procedure was to have a priest from another parish hear the first Confession of candidates. Certainly we weren’t cut loose to go figure out first Confession for ourselves without guidance, which is what it seems like is happening to the people here.

  4. Benedict Joseph says:

    What a painful question.
    What a perfect answer!
    I would only add don’t be too attached to anonymity. I understand your comportment in relation to it entirely, and it is too my preference. It seems to promote a more “regular” and concise confession – the therapeutic conversational model appears to raise its head more often in “face to face” confession. However, over the years I have found face to face confession to have an unexpected consequence – the diminishment of an unhealthy and undo shame that can effect this penitent. Sin is painfully serious, but Christ is not scandalized by our sin – He understands sin and thus remedies it. Heathy guilt is a grace and a survival signal. Undo shame is counterproductive.
    Perhaps for a first confession “face to face” might understandably be a leap too far. But at some point, with the right confessor, make an attempt. It does have something going for it.

  5. graytown says:

    Due to extensive travel in the States I get to attend many Parishes.
    A great sign of a well run Church – how often are the Sacraments made available ?
    Confession should be available before every daily Mass.

  6. Sword40 says:

    Great advise, Father Z. Our FSSP priest makes confession available before and after Mass. Only after there is no one else in line does he come down for coffee after Mass. He also makes himself available any time during the week. Yes, we have daily Mass. After our transitional deacon is confirmed in Lincoln, Neb. this October 22, we will have two priests available for confessions.

    I sometimes think I’m living near “heaven” on earth.

  7. APX says:

    I can empathize with the writer. Though not a convert, but rather a revert, it took me two diocese and three cities to find a priest who would take the time hear my confession. I even had one priest flat-out refuse to hear my confession because “he doesn’t hear confessions outside of scheduled times” (he didn’t have any).

    I finally got frustrated and angry enough to drive two hours to another city where the FSSP were and had my confession heard by one of their priests. Looking back, it really was for the better. It’s worth it to make a good thorough confession that hasn’t been made in a long time.

    Perseverance pays off on these things.

  8. iamlucky13 says:

    How frustrating. Still, one option I hope isn’t terribly inconvenient is to try to have a couple of you receive each week over multiple weeks. Ideally, show up before confession starts, as sometimes there is a line. Yes, it’s possible Father might see you on his way in, but in my experience, most priests are pretty deliberate about walking straight to the confessional without looking around and risking making those waiting feel conspicuous. It sounds like the questioner asked about extending the confession times, and that idea was rejected?

    If ever a priest made an extra effort to hear confessions longer than normal, for converts must be the most worthy time!

    “Question: From my observation of availability and praxis, do Catholics actually believe what they say about confession?”

    To add a lay voice to what Father said, yes! Although too many priests have allowed the importance of the sacrament to wane in their priorities, I know of several parishes where confession is available multiple times a week – in a couple wonderful examples, even daily. As for us lay folks, quite a few do recognize the importance of the sacrament. We may not talk about it in passing, but in parishes where the importance of confession and reality of individual sin is well-preached, you will often find long lines, confirming no small number of Catholics do believe what is taught.

  9. papaefidelis says:

    I have long complained that in virtually every (arch)diocese in which I have possessed a domicile or quasi-domicile over the past quarter-century, confessions are heard (aka “the sacrament of Reconciliation is celebrated”) only on Saturday afternoon, from 4:38-4:41 pm. It would make sense to me that confessions be heard when folks are already at church (before Mass) or, heavens forbid(!), even during Mass (as at a Carmelite monastery when I used to live in NW Indiana). Instead, I have to cancel all plans in order to show up at St. Helburga the Astonishing Parish to be shriven at 4:39 pm or else forego Holy Communion until I can make it at just the precise moment, sometimes that being many weeks later. It should not be such a challenge to receive sacramental absolution. It has become easier, I will confess, just not to sin.

  10. WesleyD says:

    Even though many Catholics ignore confession these days, I have been lucky to live in four different dioceses where the vast majority of churches had a full hour for Confession on Saturday afternoon.

    Your correspondents’ letter might seem to indicate that he/she wants all six members of the family to attend confession in a single session. If his parish only allows half an hour for confessions (which, as he says, really means twenty minutes) then that might be impossible. In that case, the family might be able to achieve this goal by not having all six try for the same session.

    Of course, it would be even more wonderful if they found a nearby church that has longer confession times! The website has confession times as well as Mass times on it, and it can find the churches nearest your zip code. And now that I think of it, I’d better get to confession this week. Thanks for the reminder!

  11. I am very surprised that the parish which is helping this family into the church left them on their own to make a Sacrament. In the parish where I work, the family would receive First Penance from the pastor, at a time mutually convenient and arranged by the director of RCIA / RCIC. It would then be noted in the sacrament books. And a certificate issued. How would the home parish otherwise know that the sacrament was received? I don’t blame a priest for asking a family of six who are not from his parish to make an appointment. He would need to ascertain if they were properly catechized before hearing their First Penance. Something is odd here.

  12. medman53 says:

    As a recent (7+ years) convert to the Church, I recall my own RCIA experience well. The Priest who shepherded us through the process made a point of ensuring that I received the Sacrament of Penance before the Easter Vigil. There was NO doubt in my mind that it was to be done!

    At the time, our Parish was aligned with a Newman Center in the area. Going through the process with a bunch of college kids was invigorating. Their enthusiasm was contagious. Our Priest encouraged that by remaining after the last RCIA meeting to hear Confessions from those (like me!) who had yet to receive the Sacrament.

    As a lifelong Protestant, I dreaded entering that little room and I still struggle with the process. However, I recall vividly the profound sense of relief at hearing my first words of Absolution from Father Ken!

  13. iamlucky13 says:

    “As a lifelong Protestant, I dreaded entering that little room and I still struggle with the process. “

    As a lifelong Catholic, I still struggle with the process. The devil and my own pride try to deter me by filling me with doubts about my contrition, how the priest will respond, how busy I am with other tasks that confession will take time away from, etc.

    Yet never once have I had a confession I’ve regretted, even when the priest has had to say difficult things about habitual failings I was afraid beforehand he would say. Surprisingly, those are often the most gratifying confessions.

  14. Mike of Arkansas says:

    Fr. Z writes: “God does not choose those who are worthy. He chooses those whom it pleaseth Him to choose. “

    Forgive me, but that sounds to me more like Calvinism than Catholicism.

    [Then St. Therese of Lisieux was a Calvinist.]

  15. lmgilbert says:

    If one cannot admire the pastoral zeal, charity or wisdom of pastors who are very parsimonious with the sacrament of Penance, still the worldly professionalism of these men is astonishing.

    If there is a Year of Reconciliation, nothing moves. If the Archbishop requests that hours for confession be expanded throughout the archdiocese, nothing moves, not even in the cathedral parish. If a parishioner writes three letters to the cathedral rector asking for Confession before Sunday Masses, nothing moves. Yet, there does come a response to one of them that he can begin thinking about expanding the hours for confession when he gets an assistant. He gets the assistant, but nothing moves. Rather, in this case the parishioner moves to another parish for the sake of his own salvation.

    Question, how is the newly ordained assistant going to become a good confessor with so few hours available to hear confessions? How can he maintain his youthful, priestly fervor with this institutional suppression of the Holy Spirit and the chilling example of his pastor?

    God grant that no one dies in his sins because of him.

    One wonders if such a pastor will have someone to hear his confession when his time comes.

  16. lmgilbert says:

    Many years ago I had an eye-opening conversation with a friend who was pursuing a master’s degree in Scripture at Notre Dame. “The priesthood is all about sin,” said he. I have never heard this notion stated so succinctly before or since. After all, if the principal charism of a priest is to make the bloody Sacrifice of Calvary present on the altar in an unbloody manner, and that sacrifice is all about the redemption from sin, then the priesthood is all about sin. This is all the more clearly brought out in the unique power of priests to forgive sin, where the fruits of the Redemption are applied to individual souls.

    Yet I once worked out the mathematics for confession in a parish with 1000 people. I did this first by querying well-formed Catholics ( daily communicants), “Over the course of your life what have you been taught is the minimal frequency of receiving the sacrament of penance that the Church recommends?” We know that the Church commands yearly Confession, but I was asking what they have heard from the pulpit, from confessors and from catechists over the years as a recommended frequency. I separately queried about ten people in their 70’s. To a person they each said, “At least once a month.” If you work that out, with an average confession taking four minutes, it comes to about 17 hours of confession time per week in a parish with 1000 people if people are at all serious about their spiritual lives.

    By the same token, if you reduce the weekly confessional time to an hour a week with a parish of that size, at four minutes per confession that is only 15 persons a week. If each person in the parish only goes once a year, then only 780 people could make their confession. It is clear, then, that the allotted confession times in most parishes do not permit all the parishioners even to make their Easter duty. In other words, we are in a very bad way..

    Yet for what other reason do priests exist except to preach and provide the sacraments? To go to meetings? As I said in a letter to the editor of our local Catholic paper, “For this we spent $56,000 a year to put Johnny through the seminary?” For one hour a week or less of hearing confessions??!! It seems to me, at least, that with this widely pursued policy of one hour per week availability many priests are rendering themselves absurd.

    Evidently the lack of priestly vocations is not the only vocations crisis that we face. As hardworking as many priests are, if in fact “the priesthood is all about sin,” there seems to be a very widespread identity crisis among priests. Many of them seem not to have the slightest idea who they are.

  17. Ben Kenobi says:

    I still recall Fr. April smiling when he saw me make the sign of the cross for the first time after my first confession. It was face to face and scheduled after our last RCIA class. I specifically asked for Fr. April because he had helped guide me into the church, as the librarian. Thanks for reminding me of this, Father. :)

  18. Rob83 says:

    This reminds me that as bad as confession times can seem around here, it is still thank God far more easily available here than some other places (and because we like to buck some cultural trends, the local Jesuit parish both offers the most generous schedule of confession times and offer daily adoration to boot).

    It sounds like the reader has already consulted MassTimes for available times, it’s unfortunate the local parish RCIA isn’t arranging this. Perhaps the RCIA coordinator could pull some strings privately behind the scenes?

    The “by appointment” thing is awkward. Usually it involves calling the parish secretary to make the appointment, and the few times I tried it I tended to get a bit of attitude of “why can’t you come during the 15-60 minutes reserved on Saturday for this?” on the part of the the secretary. My impression has long been that some secretaries have taken it upon themselves to block access to Father as much as possible, whatever their reasons (usually it seemed protective of his time, priests have seemed genuinely surprised by the some of the deeds and misdeeds of their administrative staff).

  19. Matilda P says:

    I agree with philothea that this is a strange state of affairs, reminding me of the situations I often read about on another Catholic forum I frequent, where many well-meaning Catholics advise Protestants intending to enter the Church that all they need do is make a good confession, and that’s it. Perhaps it’s reading too much into this to say that this is the case here, but it certainly seems strange that not even the priest, presumably, who is receiving this family into the Church by affirming the faith, should not be looking into this very vital component of arranging their first confession.

  20. Phil_NL says:

    Purely in terms of practical solutions, it might also be worthwhile to check if there’s a monastery not too far away – priests there can help too, and they tend to have a somewhat easier job in making time available, and of course the level of anonymity is a bit greater, as you’re relatively unlikely to see father ever again – unless you seek him out again. Of course, milage may vary hugely depending on his attitude, but a confession to enable a full conversion or a return to the faith is something most priests would gladly help with. For what it’s worth, said approach worked well for me when I had a big ‘one off’ to sort.

  21. drforjc says:

    I think the best solution is to make an appointment, but with another priest. “Meet me in the box” is just fine.
    The typical Saturday afternoon confession time is probably not the best time to do something this important and potentially lengthy, out of respect for both the priest’s time and that of other penitents waiting in line.

  22. Volanges says:

    It’s sad that this family has to jump through hoops for a sacrament that should be readily available to everyone at reasonable time.

    I can sympathize with them. For 7 years my parish had no scheduled Confession. One Pastor actually said, “Nobody comes so I’m not sitting there wasting my time.”

    In 2012 the new Pastor, appalled that there was no scheduled Confession, made himself available every Saturday from 1-2 p.m.

    The recently appointed Administrator (our Pastor died suddenly in January) added Adoration every Thursday after the evening Mass and offers Confession during that time. Plus I’ve noticed he’s often in the confessional just before Mass. He has also mentioned the importance of Confession in his homily.

  23. robtbrown says:

    Mike of Arkansas says:

    Fr. Z writes: “God does not choose those who are worthy. He chooses those whom it pleaseth Him to choose. “

    Forgive me, but that sounds to me more like Calvinism than Catholicism.

    Calvinism has negative Predestination.

  24. Titus says:

    I echo the sentiment that regularly scheduled confessions before Sunday Mass are an improvement over the standard fare in these United States. Twenty years ago, you had to drive the priest out of the rectory with fire and sword on a Saturday afternoon to confess. (I exaggerate only slightly.)

    Be that as it may, the interval here is problematic. Might I suggest making an appointment at a different parish? That would minimize the loss of anonymity: the priest might see you, but he is less likely to know who you are or to interact with you in the future.

  25. Joe in Canada says:

    I agree that it is surprising that the priest who will receive them into the Church has not worked this out in advance.
    I would think that the Bishop of the diocese, who is responsible for all Sacraments, would make some adjustments if he knew about the extraordinary difficulty some people have.
    Anonymity is certainly a right, but I wonder if it is worth it to postpone the Sacrament simply to be able to exercise that right.

  26. APX says:

    My impression has long been that some secretaries have taken it upon themselves to block access to Father
    This is where email and just talking to the priest himself is the most helpful route. Failing that, if the secretary is likely to get persnickety, just tell her you need to contact Father for a confidential matter (which this is) and leave it at that. She has no business knowing the reason for your need to talk to the priest.

    This was never an issue with priest from the FSSP- they don’t have secretaries. Need to go to confession outside of regular times? Just ask Father. If it’s Sunday after Mass and he’s normally visiting parishioners, ask him when he’s done being social if he could hear your confession.

  27. robtbrown says:

    lmgilbert says:

    Many years ago I had an eye-opening conversation with a friend who was pursuing a master’s degree in Scripture at Notre Dame. “The priesthood is all about sin,” said he. I have never heard this notion stated so succinctly before or since.

    Completely agree, but one addition is necessary. The sanctifying grace that forgives sin (including Baptism) also raises someone to supernatural life. Grace not only heals, it also elevates.

    The same is true for Christ’s Sacrifice as Perfect Priest and Victim. It’s life someone who has been fired from his job. Not only is his job restored, but he also sees his salary increased beyond anything he can imagine.

  28. Kate says:

    I’ve read that St. John Vianney would spend hours and hours in the confessional every day. It’s amazing what a holy priest can accomplish. With all of the concern these days about the management of parishes and organizational leadership and empowering laypeople…it seems personal holiness is sometimes forgotten. I am thankful for all the holy priests I’ve known in my life. God has brought many good priests into our lives, but I have also been willing to drive more than an hour to get to them. For the sake of our children and our family, I think nothing of driving more than an hour to receive the sacraments from a priest I trust.

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