What It’s Like Hearing Confession 19

Fr Jason Smith

A good friend of mine asked me to write about what it’s like to hear confessions.

The truth is, a priest can’t say much about the content he hears in confession, but in nearly every confession I have heard, I have said the following:

God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son, has reconciled the world to Himself, and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. Through the ministry of the Church, may God grant you pardon and peace, and I absolve you of yours sins, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

For many Catholics these are among the most consoling and the most powerful words they hear. For a Catholic priest they are among the most joyful to say.

I have had the privileged of experiencing how this simple but profound prayer has a power far beyond any council or insight I can offer.  It renews, heals, transforms, and most importantly, forgives; not just in theory, but in reality.

I wish I could have had a camera to take a picture of people’s smiles after hearing their confession; some have such a radiant joy, only a picture could transmit the emotion. To know that my own priesthood has brought so much freedom and joy to someone else is in itself a true joy.

I think it’s important to emphasize this point, since many, myself included, wonder what the priest will think about how terrible and wretched the sins we confess are, and it is probably the number one reason why we stay away.

Yet what the priest remembers, and what he wants to offer, is the joy of forgiveness.

In short, that his been my experience of confession; both as a priest offering forgiveness, and as a priest receiving absolution when I go to confession, as well.

19 comments

  1. Hi Fr Green, I agree, those words are the most beautiful and consoling prayer of faith & forgiveness. They illustrate simply, a profound reality of how much Divine love, healing and Mercy that we receive in this sacrament. Sometimes a negative image exists, regarding baring our souls to a priest. But the priest is “in persona Christ”, as at Mass, the priests stands for Christ, while it is Christ himself that bathes our souls in His Precious Blood that He shed for our sins.Because God loves us better than anyone else is capable of loving us. He goes to find the lost sheep, untangles it from the thorns, and cradles us in His arms, as the Good Shepherd, and like the prodigal son, every sin is forgotten by Our Father, who rejoices at the return of His lost child. This is the message that our generation needs, to experience the intimate relationship that we all have with God, in the sacraments. Thank you Fr for your website, for spreading God’s Word. It is great to see young men, of our generation, finding joy in their vocation. Thanks be to God for the gift of the Sacred priesthood to His Church. You are in my prayers.

    • Well, bicycleforthemind, I think the Padre can answer for himself, and I’m sure he will. But here’s my two cents.

      Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar; to God what belongs to God…

  2. Thank you for your question. The situation in Ireland is a thorny one, and there is no easy answer. Sin always leaves deep wounds, and even more so when we are dealing with the grave sin of child abuse. For this reason I can understand how some are surprised and even outraged that a priest wouldn’t divulge information to authorities for such a horrible crime. That said, what the priests and bishop say in the article is correct: what is heard and said in confession stays there, and can never leave that forum. That is the teaching and practice of the Church for which many who confess are so grateful.

    Now, one thing I can add to what the priests said in the article is that perhaps confession is a step closer to receiving proper council and help in a forum that the abuser might otherwise have not sought without the security of the seal of confession.

    That said, however, the article leaves the impression that the priest is giving out absolution to abusers easily, whereas the truth is that a priest does not have to absolve the abuser of his sins without signs of a true repentance, which in my opinion should imply seeking help in a forum other than the confessional. In short, because of the seal, the priest may have a privileged position to motivate an abuser to seek help elsewhere where authorities can intervene, which the abuser might not have otherwise done.

  3. Hey Father,

    How I thank God for our Priest, that we can indeed actually hear these words. What a blessing it is!!! Thanks for sharing. God Bless, SR

  4. Thank you for your words of wisdom on Confession. I also think it is truly humbling for the confessing penitent to say their sins out loud to someone else while repenting of them. I think confession and being absolved of your sins is the best healing a person can get. God Bless.

    • Confession is a sacrament of healing and restoration. It certainly is hard to say things that we regret doing. Humility is obviously important here, but more than that, it’s love. It is as Saint Peter said to Jesus: “Lord, you know that I love you.” And he does.

  5. Matthew 16:18” And I Say to you, You are Peter and upon this rock will I Build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I Will Give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind upon earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew.16:18-19).
    Explanation:”That the keys are those to the kingdom of heaven and that Peter’s exercise of authority in the church on earth will be confirmed in heaven show an intimate connection between, but not an identification of the church and the kingdom of heaven.” (New Standard American Bible). NSAB is the official Bible in the US.
    Confession is therapeutic, but not mandatory as per the above explanation.

    • The USCCB uses the NAB (New American Bible) for Catholic liturgy, and so it is the one I normally reference here, just as an arbitrary standard. It’s not my favorite translation, but they are all just translations, after all. That’s why I prefer the original Greek, Nestle-Aland version. I’ve been using it for about 20 years now and can’t put it down.

  6. The NAB was created based on the directive of Pope Pius XII’s encyclical,’Divino Afflante Spiritu’ and the decree of Vatican II to clarify dominant Mediterranean Christianity.
    Confession should be recommended for those seeking counseling. Venial sins are forgiven at Mass. and need not be confessed. The problem s that Confession is introduced at the time of a child’s First Communion. The child is trained to confess venial sins and faults which are embedded into the memory.
    Thus, people who crave counseling and the forgiveness of Confession, as expressed by you, are often deprived of this sacrament.
    Further, sins once forgiven are forgiven. There is no need for ‘womb to tomb’ past life regressive guilt as practiced by Charismatics.
    “Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards,
    our vineyards that are in bloom.” -Song of Solomon 2 v 15
    – “The Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.” -1 John 4:14
    “I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee.”- Isaiah 44:22
    “There is therefore now no condemnation.” – Romans 8:1

    • “Thus, people who crave counseling and the forgiveness of Confession, as expressed by you, are often deprived of this sacrament.”

      To say that follows from my suggestion to consider making frequent confession a regular habit might be taking it a little too far.

      Let’s not go to extremes. The problems like the one you are describing occur when we absolutize and not help people with pastoral education proportioned to their age and understanding.

      There is more to confession than just counseling. To reduce it to that is to overlook its sacramentality. As a sacrament, the aim is to strengthen one’s theological virtues and draw closer to Christ. Let’s not forget that. Sacraments are not psychological placebos.

      • Sacraments are not psychological placebos.
        You are right. Belief in repeatedly confessing sins already forgiven, mistakenly link grace to sins confessed.
        The Forgiveness comes from God, our Father. ‘While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him and was filled with compassion’. (Luke15:20).
        The Eucharist, whether spiritual or sacramental, is touching the garment of Jesus, and being healed.
        ‘For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.’ (James2:10).
        He who sins in one, sins in all.
        At the penitential rites at Mass, venial sins are forgiven, and need not be confessed. Their sins and evildoings I Will Remember no more.” (Hebrews10:17).
        Incidentally, i am into Distress counseling; i too sometimes need counseling. I do so by appointment; the session includes confession.
        At Mass, the celebrant’s sins are forgiven ‘operatis operandi’. This should also be extended to the congregation. A General Absolution before or during Mass will help to solve this issue.
        The Council of Trent’s reports should be reaffirmed in the modern theological context.

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