Levity, Severity, the Confessional and YOU!

At First Things there is a good piece about toughness when it comes to preaching and discipline and gentleness in mercy, especially with penitents in the confessional. It is hard for priests to find that balance out en plein air of the world. For the priest who is awake to his own standing before God, it is easier in the confessional.

The First Things piece starts with an anecdote about the great Chateaubriand:

Chateaubriand’s autobiography, Memoirs from Beyond the Tomb (US HERE – UK HERE), evokes a series of times and places as various as the author’s life. But there is one episode which, while conjuring up something of Brittany around 1780, also expresses a perennial reality.

The schoolboy Chateaubriand is being prepared for his first confession by a severe-looking priest, “a man of fifty with a stern appearance” (in Robert Baldick’s translation). Having read a frightening book about the eternal fate of those who hide their sins in the confessional, the young lad grows unbearably anxious. When the day comes, he is shaking with fear and scarcely able to stammer out his sins. Then the priest prepares to say the words of absolution.

If Heaven had shot a thunderbolt at me, it would have caused me less dread. I cried:
“I have not confessed everything!”
This awe-inspiring judge, this delegate of the Supreme Arbiter, whose face filled me with such fear, became the tenderest of shepherds. He clasped me in his arms and burst into tears.
“Come now, dear child,” he said, “Courage!”

It was, Chateaubriand recalled, an instant of supreme happiness, like a mountain lifting from him: “I shall never experience a like moment in the whole of my life.”

Of course, what Chateaubriand didn’t know is that later in the day, Inspectors Javert and Clouseau arrived and placed the priest under arrest for hugging a minor in the context of the internal forum, subsequently to be suspended without delay by Bishop Bouboule Culottesdebeurre and then prosecuted until his reputation was completely destroyed.

Seriously… as if those images weren’t serious enough… my point is, as we head into Holy Week…

… do NOT be afraid to confess everything, all mortal sins.   Go ahead and be a little nervous, but do NOT be afraid!  Father will treat you well.

Review my Tips For Making A Good Confession, which are always available in this blog.

Fr. Z’s 20 Tips For Making A Good Confession

We should…

1) …examine our consciences regularly and thoroughly;
2) …wait our turn in line patiently;
3) …come at the time confessions are scheduled, not a few minutes before they are to end;
4) …speak distinctly but never so loudly that we might be overheard;
5) …state our sins clearly and briefly without rambling;
6) …confess all mortal sins in number and kind;
7) …listen carefully to the advice the priest gives;
8) …confess our own sins and not someone else’s;
9) …carefully listen to and remember the penance and be sure to understand it;
10) …use a regular formula for confession so that it is familiar and comfortable;
11) …never be afraid to say something “embarrassing”… just say it;
12) …never worry that the priest thinks we are jerks…. he is usually impressed by our courage;
13) …never fear that the priest will not keep our confession secret… he is bound by the Seal;
14) …never confess “tendencies” or “struggles”… just sins;
15) …never leave the confessional before the priest has finished giving absolution;
16) …memorize an Act of Contrition;
17) …answer the priest’s questions briefly if he asks for a clarification;
18) …ask questions if we can’t understand what he means when he tells us something;
19) …keep in mind that sometimes priests can have bad days just like we do;
20) …remember that priests must go to confession too … they know what we are going through.

Also, for PRIESTS….

Fr. Z’s prayers for before and after hearing confessions

Fr. Z’s prayers for before and after making confessions


I hope you will be able to say each time you go…

“I shall never experience a like moment in the whole of my life.”

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    “20) …remember that priests must go to confession too … they know what we are going through.”
    It is always very comforting and edifying to find a priest in the line for confession, Father, for this very reason. Our confessions are heard by fellow sinners. It is very strange when you think about it, and wonderful, too.

    All regular penitents know what an occasion of grace the Sacrament of Confession can be, but I have often wondered what it is like on the other side of the screen. Hearing confessions is both a power and an obligation, but I have often wondered if it is as much of a grace hearing confessions as it is making one’s confession. Is it an occasion of growing in sanctifying grace?

    Are there often occasions of actual grace, where the penitent’s confession will make the priest take serious stock of his own life, to the point of bringing him to repentance on a given issue, or inspiring him in some area of his life? Do priests often find wisdom coming ” of the blue” in hearing a difficult confession?

    For example I once heard a priest mentioning to other priests that when he was first ordained, he felt the Holy Spirit helping him very perceptibly. In other words, what is it like for the priest, typically, in the order of grace?

  2. tamranthor says:

    I was blessed to have been put in charge of forming first penitents. One fine year, First Penance came along, and I lined up my little charges and marched them into the Church. One particular boy, who was something of a cutup, was particularly wiggly and nervous. I watched as he entered the confessional, and then when he emerged, he literally leaped and danced across the front of the church over to his kneeler to say his penance. Sheer joy.

    I often think that the reward God offers to priests for having heard all of those years of confessions is to allow them to hear First Confessions. It must make for some serious smiles.

  3. maternalView says:

    Another tip:
    Frequent confession actually makes it easier to go

  4. jaykay says:

    “wait our turn in line patiently;”

    Ahh. Mea maxima culpa. I’ve frequently given in to impatience, audibly – if lowly – expressed at this one! You all know the scenario: confession at lunch-break in a busy city-centre Church, longish line waiting, time passing while one, or more, penitent takes about 10 minutes, clock ticking return-to-work-wise, still a good few in line before me, barely suppressed sighs, looking at watch, etc. etc.

    That said, I don’t think I’ve ever emerged (finally) with any residual bitterness at the delay and consequent lateness on return to work. Thanks be to God for that, and thanks also for the inestimable resource available in these confessions. That’s something that, regrettably, for too many years in earlier life I passed by. And I’m always greatly uplifted by the number of young people who come.

  5. majuscule says:

    I think of the tired old meme about the grumpy scold of a priest in the confessional. Does he really exist? Or is this the conscience of the person who is supposed to be making the confession…and perhaps an excuse not to go…

  6. Antonin says:

    I mean in MY younger years…women were all same age as me in 20’s and 30’s

  7. Discerning Altar Boy says:

    I recently attended a parish mission given by my chaplain. It was so powerful to see the priests confess to one another before going to their posts to hear the faithful’s confessions.

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