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!