Confession Q&A with Father Rob Jack
Q: What are common fears about going to Confession?
A: People fear revealing things about themselves that may look them look bad or appear less than “nice.” They want to keep the mask on without ever having to reveal the dark things in their heart.
They also fear the stigma that some “stranger” knows something that could be used to hurt them, their job, marriage or family or status. Even the idea of standing in line makes them think others are looking at them and judging them negatively or wondering what they may have done.
Q: What is the most important thing for people to know about going to confession?
A: They are welcomed in to find healing and mercy from God who desires to forgive their sins and lighten their burdens and give them insight into themselves, their lives and even their behavior. It is not a place of accusation, hence the term “confession.” The priest is there in the person of Christ to listen, to confirm, to challenge, to encourage and even comfort.
The person who confesses his or her sins with a sorrowful heart not only receives forgiveness from God, but also grace from God to help overcome to commit the sin again.
Q: What if I have not really done anything wrong?
A: People sin in big ways and small ways every day, but they often become numb to its effects. Some will justify their sins by saying, “At least I did not kill anybody.” They will continue to go to holy communion knowing fully well they have missed Sunday Mass without a good reason, or watched pornography on the internet. These are mortal sins.
Small things add up to big things. People are very interested in their bodily health. Physical health affects how they live What they do not realize is that spiritual health is even more important. The human person is both body and soul. If one is neglected, both will suffer.
Q: What if I don’t want my parish priest to know what I have done?
A: St. Pope John Paul II said the priest should be a prisoner in the confessional for the good of the people. Personally, I prefer when people go behind the screen to confess. It gives them the safety of anonymity and eliminates distractions.
Every person in the parish is a sinner, including me. It is a part of our fallen human condition. I was placed there by the Bishop to be a spiritual father to the people. It is my mission to help them get to heaven. The priest is not one who “takes down the names of all the bad people.” He helps people get out of the holes they have dug for themselves and start over again with the grace of God.
Q: Are my sins too bad to confess?
A: When a person holds in some of the terrible mortally sinful deeds they may have done — life for example, an abortion — it has a negative effect on the person’s life. Our lives were not made to carry such evil burdens in our hearts. God’s desire is that we spill them out to the priest so that we can be freed from the agony and emotional turmoil caused by holding it to ourselves for so long. Sometimes this can even be a type of pride: “My sins are so bad I can’t be forgiven, or will shock the priest.” Have I been shocked? Yes. But I have tried not to show it and instead let them say to God what they need to say.
For more on this subject, see our companion pieces: “Be not afraid: A priest shares his thoughts on the gift of confession” and “How to Return to Confession,” as well as Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr’s February letter and our February columns by Steve Trosley, Father David Endres, and Jeanne Hunt.