“Why go to confession?”
I have heard many questions concerning the sacrament of penance in my two decades in the priesthood — so I thought addressing some of these issues head-on might be helpful for everyone.
Let’s get right to it.
1.) “Why do I need to go to a priest? I confess my sins directly to God.” Jesus himself established this sacrament when He said to His apostles, “Those whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, those whose sins you hold bound are held bound” (John 20: 22-23).
This power of forgiving sins continues to be handed down to every priest through the priestly ordination. Jesus wanted it to be this way … and no worries, He is still the one forgiving sins, through the instrument of the priest.
2.) “I have not killed anyone or committed a mortal sin, so why should I go to confession?” People take their cars in for a wash. They shower and wash their hands every day. Why not clean the soul?
Bird stains may be small — but they eventually burn a hole through the paint and metal of our cars. And how many dirty lampshades affect the quality of light in a room? Our souls need to be kept clean and holy for God’s grace to effectively shine through.
3.) “I don’t like the priest, and he is not a holy man. Why should I confess my sins to him?” Thanks be to God: The grace of Our Lord is not dependent on the holiness or personality of the priest.
The faithful receive 100 percent grace regardless of the instrument.
4.) “The priests have so little time. Our parish only offers confession for an hour every week.” If you prefer anonymity, all parish websites post their confession times, so you can always go the next parish down the street.
But more importantly, your parish priest or associate pastor should be open to hear your confession.
Just ask one of them — and work out a mutually convenient time.
5.) “I don’t know how to go to confession. I never memorized the Act of Contrition.” No worries here. Start by telling the priest how long it’s been since your last confession; then confess your sins and listen to the counsel and the penance of the priest.
If you don’t know the Act of Contrition, you can use this officially approved line from the Bishops’ Conference: “Lord, have mercy on me as a sinner.” The priest will give absolution and forgive your sins — then you are free to go in peace.
6.) “Even if I go to confession, I continue committing the same sins. What is the point?” St. John Paul II reminds us, “The grace proper to the Sacrament of Confession has a remedial power and helps remove the roots of sin.”
Frequent confession is like taking a strong antibiotic; over time, it lessens both the frequency and intensity of one’s sinfulness.
7.) “God loves me. Why confess if His love for me is unconditional?” God does loves all of us unconditionally, but as our Father, He appreciates it when we sincerely ask for forgiveness — and we do need to reconcile with Him and the church for our past transgressions.
He never tires of forgiving us.
Although this list is not exhaustive, I hope this will answer some of the more common questions and concerns.
I have been blessed to know many devout Catholics in the greater New York City area, so I reached out to John Abplanalp of New Canaan, Connecticut, and Ellen Baker of Darien, Connecticut — and asked them to share their perspectives on this issue.
John Abplanalp noted, “The value of confession to me is at least twofold, one in a reactive sense and the other proactive. Confession in a reactive sense is both cleansing and humbling, for which I am very grateful. In a proactive sense, this sacrament — with the appropriate penance and reflection — gives an awareness of how and where you can ‘go off the rails.’ It helps you mitigate both the frequency and severity of the sins you’re committing. All of this, done consistently, sincerely and appropriately, will help change how you interact with the world and how the world interacts with you.”
And Ellen Baker shared, “Confession gives me the opportunity to contemplate my human weakness and personal defects. During confession, I am open to asking Jesus for His forgiveness. Confession purifies my heart. It is a healing sacrament that gives me incredible grace. This healing Grace helps me to be a more loving and forgiving wife, mother, sister, friend and grandmother. I understand the importance of forgiving others. Jesus teaches me that forgiveness and love are the pathways to living in His love — knowing that I am His beloved daughter.”
Fr. Michael Sliney, LC, is a Catholic priest who is the New York chaplain of the Lumen Institute, an association of business and cultural leaders. This piece appeared earlier in LifeZette and has been updated.