5 fears about going to confession, and how to overcome them

Don’t get me wrong! I am not for a moment advocating excessive drinking and getting drunk! But sometimes when at a party, a wedding, or some other social event, someone with a few drinks under his belt starts to loosen up about deep, dark, secrets that he would never discuss when sober, and invariably I end asking him if he’d ever brought his concern into confession. Usually, there is a major balk at the idea, and the person will say, “Oh, I could never go to confession! I’d be too ashamed!” I then ask him “if you were very sick, would you be ashamed to go to the doctor?” They usually get the point.

Going to confession is like going to the doctor for your soul. But of course, some people have fears about confession that they would never have about going to a doctor. These fears, while perhaps understandable, keep people away from the healing touch of Christ. As a priest, I have the great advantage of knowing what it’s like to be on both sides of the screen. I need to go to confession like anyone else, but I also get to be the one hearing the confession and offering absolution. So permit me to discuss and dismiss several common fears people have about confession:

#1: “If I even attempted to walk into a church, the roof would fall in!”

Sorry! It’s never once been observed! Church roofs today are equipped with specially constructed spiritual beams that keep the plaster, shingles, and tiles all in place even if the worst of sinners should enter, and they come with a lifetime guarantee!

#2: “If I actually told my sins to a priest, my confession would cause him to have a massive heart attack!

Believe me! You don’t have to be ordained very long before you’ve heard everything! There is nothing you can say that is going to shock a priest. What took all of your strength to say is probably just another typical day hearing confessions for the priest. Don’t be afraid! We’ve heard it all!

#3: “It’s been so long I’ve forgotten how to go!”

If that’s the case, all you need to do is say to the priest, “Father, it’s been so long I don’t remember what to do nor do I even remember the Act of Contrition,”  and the priest will take it from there. All you need is a desire to go!

#4: “I could never tell Father ‘So-and-So’ that! He knows me! What will he think of me?”

What he’ll think of you is that he is someone whom you trust completely with something very personal that he knew was hard for you to find the courage to talk about. He will not be ashamed of you. If anything, he will have greater love and respect for you because you are trying to change and overcome your sins. When I go to confession, I find it more powerful to sit face-to-face with a priest I know and lay it all on him. It actually feels wonderful knowing I have told my worst deep embarrassments to someone I know and that he understands and is encouraging me. If Father can be compassionate and forgiving, how much more does Jesus understand and forgive!

#5: “God would never forgive me THAT!”

Suppose Adolf Hitler, right after he shot himself, had a moment of regret and asked God to forgive him. Do you think God would forgive him? Of course! If Satan himself should ever turn to God and say, “Father, I’m sorry for rebelling against you, and I’m sorry for harming your creation all these years! Please forgive me!” Would God forgive him? We know the answer is “Yes”. So if God could forgive Adolf Hitler or Satan – with all the evil they did – do you think He will refuse to forgive you your sin, no matter how serious it is? Remember that God is trying to get us into Heaven, not to keep us out!

When the Lord Jesus was revealing the Divine Mercy to St. Faustina, the priest who was her confessor was having difficulty figuring out whether the apparitions she reported were real or fantasy, so as proof, he asked Faustina to ask Jesus to reveal to her what the priest’s last mortal sin was. When she asked Jesus “What was Father’s last mortal sin?” Jesus responded, “I don’t remember!” Jesus did not die on the cross to hold us forever accountable for our sins but rather to take them away and forget about them! So don’t be afraid to bring your sins to Jesus for forgiveness, no matter how serious they may be. He WILL forgive you!

“Okay, but what if I keep committing the same sin over and over?” Well, one thing a priest is never allowed to ask you is: “Will you promise me you will never commit that sin again?” He can’t ask that because you can’t promise that. All that you can promise is that you’ll try, even if in the back of your mind you know you may fall again.

“But does God ever get tired of forgiving us? Does He ever say we’ve exhausted our supply of forgiveness? Will He ever say, ‘Hey! you’ve confessed this over and over and nothing changes! It’s time to bite the bullet and stop?’”

We might think He should – but He doesn’t! I find sometimes when I go to confession that the priest should say that to me, but he never does. God always forgives me, over and over and over, even if I don’t think He should. God has patience with me when I’ve lost patience with myself. That only tells me that God loves me even more than I love myself! Sometimes the hardest forgiveness there is to receive is not God’s but our own. If we’re afraid to go to confession, maybe it’s because we don’t feel we deserve to be forgiven. Even if you don’t think you’re worth forgiving, God does! Don’t be afraid. He is longing to forgive you – He died to forgive you – let him!

26 thoughts on “5 fears about going to confession, and how to overcome them

  1. Evelyn says:

    Hello Father, thank you for this article. I have gone to confession on and off over the years, and confessed a mortal sin, but still left feeling that I hadn’t fully confessed properly, and in fact that very sin got worse. I started going to confession monthly after that to keep trying, but then it fell away completely and I stopped going. I had also felt rushed in the confessional and not taken seriously – I know that Jesus said to Saint Faustina that we are not there to judge the priest and that regardless of who the priest is, that Jesus Himself will forgive sins through the priest – but it put me right off confession, and I’ve felt petrified about going ever since. BUT, I continued to go to church and pray, and just over this last Easter it has been playing on my mind to give it another try. Every time I passed the confessional queue I felt I had to do it, but was too scared to. Finally I decided that I just had to do it for the sake of my relationship with God, for my soul, and, well, I don’t like the alternative (eternity in Hell)…

    So I went. I was petrified. The priest – regardless of who he was – happened to be the perfect one for me in that moment. To say that I left with a burden lifted from my soul is an understatement. I felt light, happy, joyful, relieved, but am now on my guard because I feel that Satan will try to attack more now and get me to commit that sin again – but I pray to God daily to give me His grace. I am commited to go to monthly confession now. One issue I have is that I may not necessarily get the same priest again…

    I left the confessional wondering how in the world we in the West don’t promote this sacrament more – make it more widely available – encourage more lay spiritual direction with frequent confession. The shortage of priests may be one reason but I was dumbfounded that we, as a Church, cannot do more to encourage this sacrament. Or what can we do? Yes, it is scary, but it is the greatest balm in the world.

    If anyone has doubts or is scared, just dive in, do it. Keep trying. God will help you, no matter how long it’s been, he waits in there for you to be healed. You won’t regret it.

    • Thank you for your witness Evelyn! I am so pleased to hear of the peace you have received. What you have just shared is the best way to get people to understand why they need to go to confession. Sadly, many people don’t bother to go no matter how often we talk about it. They excuse themselves for one reason or another. Once they experience the grace of this beautiful sacrament they want to receive it over and over again. Please keep sharing our story with everyone. Personal witness is the best way to win people back to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

  2. Henry says:

    What if I committed such an awful sin that’s really bad and confessed it to the father?

    • Henry says:

      P.S. Thank you.

    • Hello Henry, and thank you for your question.

      What you ask begs the question of why we have sacramental confession at all. Any psychologist worth his salts will tell you that holding something in and not getting it off your chest is like a cancer that eats away at you. Jesus was well aware of this, and that’s why he gave us this sacrament: so that we would know the Father has forgiven us and not have to assume He did. Have you ever heard the voice of the Father say to you from Heaven, “Yes, Henry, I forgive you?” Of course not. That’s why Jesus gave us this sacrament: so that we would hear a voice tell us we are forgiven. Having been hearing confessions for nearly 27 years I could relate countless stories of people who did precisely that: they prayed to God asking for forgiveness but only finally felt peace after they brought it to confession and got it off their chest. Hearing the priest say “I absolve you from your sins…” has led some grown Marlboro men to break into joyful tears. Remember that nothing you say is going to shock the priest; we’ve heard it all! So do not be afraid! Once you physically tell another human being who has the authority to forgive you in Christ and hear him say, “I absolve you from your sins…” you will know for sure you are forgiven and will leave with a great weight lifted off your heart.

  3. Sue says:

    I am so happy that I found this on the internet. I am going to confession today and am a bit nervous about going. I sometimes start feeling as though I am not worthy of God’s forgiveness, but reading this has made me feel much better. Thank you.

    • Thank you so much for sharing this Sue! I am elated that it helped you. Remember God ALWAYS forgives us, and if you walk out of the confessional with a sigh of relief and a sense that a heavy burden has been lifted off your back, thank God and tell everyone you know not to be afraid of confession; that being afraid of confession is like being afraid of taking healing medicine. Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones!

  4. […] Another question I was asked was to comment on a response somebody had made saying that the priest’s forgiveness is only in the name of the church and not in the name of God, since no priest can forgive sins in the name of God. That is false. All one has to do is read John 20:22-23. The scene is the upper room where the Last Supper took place. The time is the evening of the resurrection. Jesus is appearing to the apostles for the first time on Easter night after his resurrection: “Then he breathed on them and said, ‘receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them; whose sins you retain are retained.’” (John 20:22-23) The priest does in fact have the authority to forgive sins in the name of God. Jesus gave the church and the priests that authority at his appearance to the apostles, the first priests. Notice that the Sacrament of Reconciliation was the first gift Jesus gave the church after his resurrection. Now that he had died to take away our sins he gave priests the authority to take them away in his name. So anyone who is trying to use the rationale that they don’t have to go to a priest for forgiveness because only God can forgive sins needs to reread the Gospel according to John. They are very much mistaken. In fact, anyone who has faithfully participated in the Sacrament of Reconciliation knows the peace that comes from the moment and will understand why Jesus in fact gave that authority to men. Just last week I was hearing the confessions of our third through fifth grade children in our Religious Education program, and after we finished, while I was talking with the children in the hallway, one of the boys said to me “I feel so good now! I feel like a weight has been lifted off me!” The other children all agreed. I told them that was the proof that they had made a worthy confession. Jesus gave this sacrament to us through the ministry of priests because he knows how important it is for us to have a human being tell us we are forgiven and not merely assume that because we knelt in church and asked God to forgive us that we are forgiven. I have a previous blog on this issue that goes into this topic in further depth. If you’d like to read that information, please click the following link:5 fears about going to confession, and how to overcome them. […]

  5. Marcellina says:

    I have a question. Whenever I try to confess I get so nervous sometimes I start having a panic attack in the church! This is of course horribly embarrassing! I normally go to my spiritual director and I am not afraid of him. I love and respect and trust him very much! But its super embarrassing to me to tell my sins,especially if they are serious sins. I think this is partly physical as well as spiritual,since I cant in the least control the panic attack when it comes. Looking for tips specifically on how to control the panic attack so it dosen,t make a scene in church!

    • Hello Marcellina, and thank you for your question!

      Do these panic attacks occur at any other times or just when going to confession? If they occur at other times you may want to mention it to your doctor. Sometimes medication settles those problems. If it is only while waiting to go to confession, then I would suggest simply reminding yourself that “Father has heard it all before” and nothing you say is going to shock him. What is very embarrassing for you is just another day hearing confessions for us. So don’t worry! He will not be ashamed of you or anything like that; he is there to heal you. What took all of your courage to get the strength to confess may not even be remembered by the priest afterwards, especially when he has a long line of penitents. Hang in there! Take a deep breath beforehand and tell yourself “Father has heard it all before!”

      • Marcellina says:

        Thank you very much for this advice,Father! I usually only have them before confession. I did talk to my doctor and she gave me some medication but it didn’t work:(

  6. Cathy says:

    I’m very thankful to God that I have found this article. I sincerely have longed for so long to go to confession and pour my heart out and confess all my grave sins however I’m very afraid that I’ll be judged harshly by the priest and that fear has always made me turn tail and flee. I was able to confess before to my uncle who is also a priest but I did not tell him all the sins that I wanted to confess because of that same fear and because I was afraid he’ll see me differently after that. I pray I will be able to finally go to confession this week and that I will not lose to my irrational fears. Your article has given me the gentle push I need. Thank you so much!

    • Thank you so much for letting me know, Cathy! You made my day!

      Don’t be afraid! Remember that we priests are there to heal and not to judge. It’s like jumping into a swimming pool. We sometimes stand on the deck for long periods of time afraid to jump because we don’t know how it will feel. When we finally do, we receive so much relief that we wonder why we ever hesitated. You’ll be in my prayers. Let me know how it goes!

      Fr. Carrozza

    • Lisa Ramos says:

      I will pray very hard for you Cathy😃! I hope you don’t let those feelings get in your way. Look at it this way(about your priest uncle) he would have respect that you are changed😃😃! And priests don’t get angry in confession; they rejoice that you have come back like the prodigal daughter!

  7. Lisa Ramos says:

    It seems so complicated now that I’m 50 and have beven practicing my Cat holic religion for 30 years. I used to suffer scruples at the beginning, and to some degree to this day, a general anxiety and dissatisfaction with my confessions since. I’ve learned to follow rules for the scrupulous even now that I have no real spiritual direction. I feel that I need general confession because I haven’t taken responsibility for sins I committed and never confessed 20 years ago. I confessed these sins but never understood the gravity of those sins. so in confessing them they seemed unimportant. I feel that I need general confession because I feel dirty with sin. I feel guilty that I didn’t take the advice of one priest because I honestly believed he misunderstood me and just went with my own discretion. I am a poor example of practicing my religion to my children since they see me have anxiety attacks about it. I am going to go to confession tomorrow after not being to confession for three months ( I usually go once monthly), but I hope that by writing this you will read it and say a prayer for me…after all the Holy Spirit transcends time and space.

    • Of course I will keep you in my prayers, especially while I am hearing confessions today.

      Here’s something simple to remember that I hope will help: remember that Jesus is trying to get us into heaven, not to keep us out. You don’t have to have what we call “perfect contrition” to have your sins forgiven. As long as you have even some regret for them, Jesus forgives you! It’s as simple as that. When someone makes one step toward Jesus He makes 1000 toward him. Read the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32. Remember that GOd is infinitely more forgiving than even the father in the parable Jesus gave. Do not live in fear! It has pleased your heavenly father to give you his kingdom!

      • Lisa Ramos says:

        Thank you for your reply! This really does help. I’ll think about the prodigal son as I stand in line and a kindly Father awaiting my return sitting in the confessional. Thank you for your prayers, Fr. Carrozza😃
        Lisa Ramos

  8. Rachel says:

    I am still a new convert into the Catholic Church and I’ve only been to confession once. I truly need to go but I’m just scared of not doing it right. Sounds crazy but that’s honestly what my fear is. I know once I go I will feel better.

    • Don’t be afraid, my friend! There’s no way to “get it wrong.” As long as you’re sincere in your desire to confess your sins you will do fine. Let the priest know you are new to this and I’m sure he’ll help you along. Remember that going to confession is like going to the doctor for spiritual healing.

  9. Eric, says:

    Hi,
    I have a desire to attend confession as I really need it. I’m a very nervous and fearful person in every walk of life, I have no confidence at all around others. Going to the shop can be a challenge for me, so just imagine how hard confession is. Ive gone before with great intentions, but then as the confession is been heard I fall apart and loose all confidence. The priest absolves me, but deep down inside I know I’m leaving confession with a lot of unconfessed sin. Pray for Me. This is a stumbling block to my holiness. And I feel it.
    Thank You and God Bless.

    • Hello Eric!

      I will definitely keep you in my prayers. Remember that going to confession is like going to the doctor for healing. Take whatever medicine is offered and do as the doctor says and you’ll be fine. The benefit of confession is that healing takes place immediately. As my column says, there is nothing you have to confess that is going to shock us; we’ve heard it all before, believe me!! A tip that may help: after confessing your sins, add, “for these and any sins which I don’t right now remember or that I don’t realize I’ve committed I am truly sorry.” This way, unless there’s something you’re deliberately holding back, every sin you’ve ever committed is forgiven and you can know that with certainty!

  10. denise says:

    This is exactly what i needed to hear. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

  11. Patricia says:

    I feel completely evil because of a horrible sin committed over 40 years ago. I’m sure the priest will be mad at me. I went to one of those open confessions years ago where everyone confessed their sins quietly to God at the same time. I learned later that type of confession does not forgive serious sins. I’ve received Communion only a few times during the last 40 years and now I feel like that was a horrible sin because I wasn’t really forgiven for the big one. I feel lost, terrified and unworthy. I am struggling now every day.

    • Hello Patricia! I’m glad you wrote to me. Remember, the priest is not there to get mad at you or yell at you; he’s there to heal you. What may be very horrible for you to mention may be just any other day in confession for him. As a priest, you are not ordained long before you’ve heard every sin imaginable! I guarantee you’re not the only person who has ever committed that sin, and Father will not yell at you, especially if you look for a priest whom you know has a kindly approach to people. If Adolf Hitler had asked for forgiveness, God would have granted it. If Satan himself should turn to God and ask for forgiveness, God would grant it joyfully. So if God would forgive Hitler or Satan, how much easier do you think it will be for Him to forgive you? Have you ever been afraid to jump in a pool because you thought the water was cold, and then when you finally jumped in you found such a relief? Well, confession is the same thing. Don’t be afraid! Tell the priest when you enter that you haven’t been to confession in forty years, that you are very nervous, and that you have something serious to confess. He will be very supportive and helpful, and you’ll probably make his day! I always feel rejuvenated after people come in with confessions after many years! Give yourself some peace and go to confession at once. Let me know how it works out for you! I will keep you in my prayers!

      Fr. Carrozza

  12. Joan Spano says:

    This blog will be very helpful.  I was impressed that Scott Hahn has said he has found it necessary to confess once a week in his attempt to live a life devoted to God.  

    ________________________________

  13. Great article. I prefer a monthly face-to-face with my spiritual director.

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