ASK FATHER: Away from the Church for 17 years, but I want to return

penance_confession_stepsFrom a reader…

I am a baptized Catholic who strayed far away, dabbled in Buddhism for 17 years, and now realize all that was ridiculous nonsense. I want to come back to the Church. Where do I start?

First, good for you. You heeded the urging of the Holy Spirit, who never lets a single one of us go, so long as we are open to that which is good, beautiful and true. When we stray into dark and twisty places, God still works on us with graces to help us back to the straight road.

Your return to the Church and to reception of the sacraments is not complicated.

Go to confession!

That’s it.

Examine your conscience well, and go to confession. If you need to, make an appointment with a sound priest and have him help you with your confession.

What happens when you make your sincere confession? What happens even if you sincerely can’t remember every thing?

WHAMO! All your sins will be forgiven, taken away, gone, eradicated, washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb.

Though your sins be red as scarlet, they will become as white as snow.

There is no sin so horrible that we little mortals can commit that God will not forgive provide we ask for forgiveness.

So, friend, relax, look at your life with honesty, and go to confession. That’s it.

Then you will be able to go to Communion again just as if it were your First Holy Communion all over again.

Bless you.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    “What happens even if you sincerely can’t remember every thing?”

    Yep, even if you forget to mention certain things, that you honestly had meant to confess to, but had a sincere purpose of confessing anyway but got…confused, stressed, whatever: don’t be distressed. Just… relax, knowing His Mercy covers all. Oh, so often it happens, particularly if there’s a queue (would that there were always!)

  2. Jason Keener says:

    First, welcome home to Father Z’s reader! Buddhism and spiritual teachers like Eckhart Tolle are very popular these days because they offer the seeker ways to avoid or re-frame suffering, especially the suffering that many of us experience through our overactive imaginations that dwell upon the past, obsess about the future, or make up other distorted stories about happenings in our lives. Christ Himself told us in the Gospel of Matthew that we are not to be anxious about tomorrow or what we will wear, eat, etc., so living in the “power of now,” rightly understood, as Tolle teaches, is one idea that is generally consistent with the teachings of Christ.

    Having said that, it’s important to realize that while Catholics can safely make use of some of the psychological tools offered through Buddhism or teachers like Tolle, there are things in Buddhism and the works of Tolle that are very contrary to the Catholic Faith and should be avoided like the plague (moral relativism, pantheism, etc.)

    For those who want to learn more about a safe Catholic approach to mindfulness, active contemplation, or trustful surrender to Divine Providence, I would recommend a course called “Introduction to Catholic Mindfulness.” It is taught by an orthodox Catholic psychologist.

    Finally, before anyone sends this post to the Holy Office of the Inquisition :-), the Catholic Faith had always made use of elements of truth wherever they are found, and these elements of truth form what we call the Perennial Philosophy.

  3. Gaetano says:

    You may even hear what the priest said to me in my case: “This was the most important thing you’ve done in the past __ years!”

  4. Ralph says:

    One of the enemy’s strongest lies is that our sins are so terrible that forgiveness and reunion with the Church is impossible. Rubbish!

    Good for you letter writer for being brave enogh to turn around from the wrong road. Welcome back to the Church!

  5. Ave Crux says:

    So happy for you! The Father will receive you with all the joy of the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son…..He will put on you the first robe and ring and kill the fatted lamb for a Feast! …..

    “For there is more joy in Heaven over the return of a single lost sheep, more than over the 99 who are just and have no need of repentance…..”

    You have Our Lord’s Word for it!

    Enjoy, bask in the light of His Love, and plunge deeply into the waters of His grace in the Sacraments…..!

    Your adventure is just beginning! Just follow His lead and He’ll lead you to the heights of sanctity!

  6. CanukFrank says:

    Sound advice. I was ‘away’ for 17 years, became bitter with the Faith as the sex scandals broke like a tsunami across the world – it seemed never ending- dabbled with Islam, got into Buddhism while continually denigrating the Faith. I even turned my family off practicing. When I was on vacation and saw my mum saying her prayers before breakfast THAT simple practice made me re-think my anger. Confession was my first step back on the road. I am still living with the consequences of my hatred toward the church; my youngest son (23 now) didn’t take his first Holy Communion or Confirmation, my middle daughter laughs at ‘patriarchal’ Christianity, my eldest daughter has other issues and my wife stopped going to church completely. We all love each other but I see so much ‘missing’ in the way they handle problems and how they see and think about the world that I rightfully blame myself. I live in hope and strength at this part of God’s plan for us…and practice my Faith again quietly, diligently and without fuss or pressure on anyone. I will defend vigorously (“ah, Dad, those pedo priests…”, “the bible is full of child sacrifice and violence”), catching up with basic apologetics (amazed at how much we didn’t learn about defending the Churches position in debate/arguments) and live in hope. It’s all I have but, yes, confession is a great step in coming home. Best wishes and keep reading Fr.Z!

  7. Nan says:

    If you forgot sins the first round, they’re covered under “for these and all the sins of my life I am truly sorry.” It’s okay to confess them when you remember. As your awareness of sin develops, you may realize there are additional sins to confess.

    It’s a bit terrifying but the priest will help you.

    Welcome home.

  8. Chiara says:

    Dear Reader –

    Please know I am praying for you. At one point, I was away from Confession and a lukewarm Catholic for over 10 years. I can personally attest that you will be absolutely blown away by the joy, peace, and lightness of soul you will experience when you go to Confession, as Father Z has so beautifully explained.

    Don’t delay! God cannot wait to hold you in His arms and forgive you! – Susan, ofs

  9. Serviam says:

    Welcome back!!!

  10. oledocfarmer says:

    On the “Be Truly Sorry” point….the point is not to FEEL sorry but to BE sorry. Being sorry is an act of the Will, not a feeling.

    St. Charles Borromeo had a niece who was greatly troubled that she didn’t “feel” sufficiently sorry for her sins. He counseled her that wanting to feel sorry is sufficient sorrow.

  11. wanda says:

    Thank you to the reader who is returning to the Church. May God bless you. Your return gives hope to those of us who have prayed for years for the return of loved ones to the practice of the faith and to the sacraments.

  12. Leppert says:

    Having recently been through a very similar situation myself I can testify to the power of the confessional and its ability to return you to the sacrament of communion.

    Confession felt like taking the entire weight of the world off my shoulders but communion (kneeling and on the tongue of course) had me literally in tears.

    A relevant question for other commenters or Fr.Z… my initial confession will necessarily have been of a general nature (remembering 20 years of sin in detail is difficult especially when 10 of those were in the Navy). As I continue to examine my conscience on a routine basis and recall various sins (some of which could well be mortal) do I need to add these to future confessions or are they covered fully by the original general confession?

  13. Will D. says:

    Ditto to everything Chiara said. I was away for a long, long time, too. When I finally got the nerve up to go to confession, I was amazed at how good it felt to get all that garbage off my conscience. My feet barely touched the ground when I left the confessional.

  14. Aquinas Gal says:

    That’s wonderful! Welcome back. Sending prayers up for you!

  15. Daniel W says:

    Thanks Fr Z,
    This post sums up why I keep coming back here.

  16. mo7 says:

    [T]here will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.

  17. Congratulations! Ask Our Lady to accompany you to and through your Confession. Believe me, She will be your motherly companion and help you. Ask the assistance of your Guardian Angel as well as all the angels and saints. :0) I am praying for you! God bless you!

  18. Back pew sitter says:

    Sadly, too many of us have gone far astray. Thankfully, we have come back. God is so good. Welcome back and God bless you.

  19. Precentrix says:


    That’s about it. Dear fellow-reader, I will hold you especially in your prayers. The process is simple – make a good confession. Just because it is simple doesn’t mean it will be easy. There will be obstacles in the way, including but not limited to simple human embarrassment. Be reassured that everything said in the confessional is 100% confidential and that you won’t have anything to say that the priest hasn’t heard before. These guys are very hard to shock.

    I will hold you especially in my prayers.

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