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Thursday, March 06, 2008


Over and over again, I have written about the Sacrament of Confession. And indeed, I love this sacrament, and I still cry when I consider my twelve-year confession and what it was like to be forgiven so unconditionally.

It's still a powerful experience, because of the memory. I remember what the priest looked like, what he was wearing, his joyful expression, and his true concern at my own condition, evidenced by my tearstained face. I had been crying for over 45 minutes by the time I arrived into his presence, and even though I had merited Hell, he was thrilled to be the one to welcome this prodigal daughter home.

I love this sacrament, but I still struggle. Among practicing Catholics, it's easy to get into a conversation about "face-to-face or behind the screen"? What are the merits of each? And does it really matter?

As I mentioned, the best Confession of my life was face to face, and to this day I can't remember it without crying. Additionally, there's something to be said for the humility required for that. Yet I typically choose to go behind the screen. Some of that has to do with the positioning; it's so proper to kneel, and the only way I can kneel to receive God's mercy is behind the screen. Sure, sometimes there's enough room between the priest and the chair to kneel in a face-to-face confession, but I have found it's much easier, less clumsy, and just more obvious to kneel behind the screen.

But there's another reason...I usually go to Confession at my own parish, and I know the priests well. Two of them wrote me recommendation letters to two Grad schools, and the same two were references for my current position. And unless I was dying, I wouldn't even THINK of going to my boss for Confession! So I admit it's my own imperfection, my own pride that inhibits me (except for the confessing to one's boss who happens to be a priest thing. That's different.)

Yet I have stood in front of classrooms of adults in RCIA, of parents returning to the Church, and in small groups, proclaiming the Seal of the Confessional, the fact, as reported by priests themselves, that they can't remember who sat in front of them, what they confessed, and what they said in response. It is truly the Holy Spirit who acts, it is the authority of Jesus that forgives.

And yes, I believe it...but doesn't my own action make my a hypocrite? I fear that it does, because the BIGGEST reason I have for an anonymous confession is that if I sit in front of Father Favorite I fear I will sugar-coat my sins or even go so far as to omit something serious! It's far better to give in to that imperfection of a lack of humility, than to avoid telling Jesus what he already knows so he can offer me sacramental absolution!

There it is. I'm just a Catholic struggling like anyone else. And if going behind a screen makes me go to confession, darn it I'm going to go!

Yet there is still a failing there; besides the issue of humility; I fear that my Confessions are becoming too rote. Too often I'll read through an examination of conscience, and, besides already being aware of my favorite sins, I just toss the publication aside thinking, "I don't do any of that!" And then I feel pretty good about myself. That's not accurate. Because, really, I know that I'm no saint. This has been bothering me for awhile. Either I'm not being honest with myself and God, or I need to find something more substantial! Yet although I have a few that are quite difficult...they aren't doing the trick. This prompted me today to send an email to a blog-buddy and ask him if he happened to have a "brutal" examination of conscience. What he sent me was good, and I can use it...but it's not enough.

I still haven't found something brutal enough. Nothing that makes me squirm. Which means that it's not the examin I'm's me.


The problem with making regular Confessions is that they can become too rote. Yet sometimes things happen to remind us of God's grace, and I really need to remember that. Because so often I think I'm not sorry enough, and sometimes, I'm not sorry at all although I know I should be!

A few years ago, I had an incident at work and I went into the chapel to pray and was still angry. And self-righteous. I did not intend to go to Confession, because I know that "contrition" was not something that I had. But something told me to go, anyway. That "still, small voice" asked me, "Don't you think you should let God be the judge of your sorrow?"

I realized I could go...and confess my lack of sorrow. It was a sin. It was up to my confessor to offer me absolution or not, and I was fully prepared not to be absolved. So I stood in line, and then I went...face to face. And I told Father what had happened (for the purpose of context) and that I wasn't sorry. But I knew where I was, so told him, "I know that what I did offended God..."

And that was it. I began crying, crushed by sorrow. There in the chapel, in front of the Blessed Sacrament, I had acknowledged that I KNEW what I had done was wrong...but I wasn't sorry. It took the grace of the Sacrament to bring me to true Contrition.

To this day, I have no idea how Father kept a straight face. I had come in defiant, and even proudly so...and I left in a puddle of remorse. How do you maintain your composure in the face of such an instantaneous conversion? Seriously?

So you'll never hear me complain that face-to-face confessions are bad...two powerful incidents in my life involved such confessions. Yet, I prefer the screen, I prefer being able to kneel. I prefer that the priest not know who I am, because that is an imperfection of mine. Maybe one day it won't matter to me...and I suspect that will be the day that I die, when I have nothing else to lose.

Pride is a terrible thing, everyone. Fight it with all you have.

Potayto / Potahto, Tomayto / Tomahto

Just by way of explanation, the "preferred" term these days is "Reconciliation". I grew up hearing "Penance" and "Confession". I have adopted Mom's term from childhood, but as an adult, I have adopted that term fully. Reconciliation is only part of the Sacrament, and it's very important...that's the goal. But "reconciliation" presupposes some sort of willingness to admit faults and make amends for them. Thus the term "Penance" comes into play. For when we go to Jesus in this Sacrament, we are asked to do penance for our sins. So some use this term and focus on this aspect. My Mom's term was "Confession" and I have come to love this term because it includes everything. If you only look at it on the surface, it seems to be only one facet - the act of confessing one's sins. Yet "Confession" is required to get to Reconciliation, and then receive one's Penance.

But if we look at this in the totality of what we believe, we also see the term "Confess" in scripture regarding our beliefs. We "Confess" Christ. We "Confess" our belief in Jesus Christ, and we "Confess" that we are followers and thus "Confess" publicly, Jesus as our own identity. Thus, Confession has a LOT more to do with who God calls us to be than just this one sacrament. Yet without this Sacrament....we cannot properly confess the Savior who died for us. We confess to Him in order to be a part of Him.


I love Confession, as much or more than I dread it. And I avoid it, and let the little things build up. Lent is beautiful as it shines a spotlight on the blemishes and pits in my life, and maybe I wrote this post because I'm already squirming. (Even though I went to Confession last week). We should ALL be squirming right about now, though, if anything is going RIGHT with Lent, whether we consider ourselves to be failures or not.

Because if we can consider the wounds of Christ and not be convicted, well...there is something hugely wrong with us.

One of the blessings for which I thank Jesus is the Sacrament of Confession...because even as I struggle with all my sins, I know He is there through His chosen representative, and offers me mercy in a very personal way. Whether I'm behind a screen or sitting in a chair, I know I am in the presence of Christ...such that my heart has been converted on the spot.

Going back to the issue of screen versus in-person, I will say this: All day long, many of us stare at screens, or talk on phones, or both, maybe while sitting in cubicles.

And then maybe we go to the church because we need to go to Confession. All day long, we've been in a box, and there's been a barrier between us and someone else, and if there's conflict, often those conflicts are erased when the barriers are other words, when we are in person.

We are usually more honest in person, believe it or not. And we are more open to being honest and forgiving when we look someone else in the eye.

So maybe it's proper, when trying to be reconciled with Jesus Christ, that we come to him without any kind of barrier. It's too easy to make Confession rote by looking at a screen, just as we do every day, all day. It's easier to depersonalize ourselves, deemphasize our sins, and separate ourselves from the priest who is standing in for Christ, if there is a physical barrier that prevents us from being identified.

Sure, I can visually focus on the presence of Christ if there's a screen, and listen to the priest clearly no matter who he is, if I can't see him. And as I am an imaginative person, it helps me to do this. But for sake of virtue....might it be better to get over myself and start going face to face, no matter what I have to say?

In any case, if you have been away, go again soon. Don't wait to be "sorry enough", or "perfect enough." It's not your job to perfect yourself. And as I have experienced, sorrow is often not necessary upon entering the sacrament. If we are open to what God wants from us, if we are willing to ADMIT we are wrong, even if we have no sorrow, God can still use that, far more powerfully than if we had come to him full of pride but thinking ourselves to be in the right.

Trust Jesus. He died for you. Thank Him for that. And be willing to be honest...with yourself, and with Him, whether you speak to Him behind a screen or to the face He chooses. Your salvation depends on Him.


mgibson said...

We're so alike, unbelievable. I have been struggling with this myself (well, not the whether to go face-to-face or not part, the actually GOING part) and finally got myself off to the box yesterday. We humans, so conflicted! We want it, but we don't want it, we want it, but we don't want it... bah.

Anyway, my real point here is that you need this book - "Frequent Confession" by Fr. Benedict Baur. I discovered this book a year or so ago and it made a huge difference in my regular Confessions... and I think perhaps I need to read it again now! It's even one of the few books that I hope Mother will allow me to bring with me to the convent, as I suspect this will be a "problem" for me there as much as here, perhaps even more so since there we have weekly Confession with our chaplain.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this post. I'm currently in RCIA and have my first Confession next week. I'm greatly looking forward to it, but I'm very anxious about it at the same time. This post as well as some of your others on Confession helped calm my mind a bit. I've been reading your blog for a bit now, and thank you for making the time and effort to share your faith.

adoro said...

mgibson ~ Thanks for that recommendation...I will add that to my list of must haves! And it's nice to know some else out there is struggling with getting there...I am going to go again tonight before Stations and Mass.

anon ~ Well, welcome Home! I can tell you that all the RCIA candidates last year were nervous, too...and they ALL commented that it wasn't so bad as they thought and it was GREAT to be able to unburden themselves and know that it's all gone. That bit about looking forward to it and being anxious about it takes awhile to go away...and sometimes it comes back (as you can

God bless you - I'll keep you in my prayers. :-)

Melody said...

Confession behind the screen, or face to face? Whatever it takes to get one there! Most places offer either/or; which is fortunate. Because, as you point out, at different times the same person may choose the other option.
You comment,"Don't wait to be "sorry enough', or 'perfect enough.' It's not your job to perfect yourself", is right on.
By the way, I love the picture you used with this post.

Father Schnippel said...

I want to comment from the 'other side of the screen,' so to speak, and hit on a few topics here.

First, about the unwillingness to go to your boss (the pastor that you work for) for confession. That is not only perfectly acceptable, but I would think encouraged. The Church distinguishes between 'external forum' and 'internal forum' for a reason. External forum are things that are known and learned in the regular course of events, internal through things like spiritual direction and confession, which must be held in confidence. As a Vocation Director, I cannot hear the confessions of candidates or seminarians, I am not allowed by the laws of the Church to protect from even the appearance that something that I learned in confession could be used in a public way. I am thankful for this protection, that someone who has authority, a superior, cannot hear the confession of an 'underling.' Therefore, for example, the Archbishop cannot hear the confession of his priests for this same reason. So, I would think it applies to a pastor hearing confessions of his pastoral staff, as well. (Of course, in time of emergency, or in anonymous situations, this can be lifted.)

As to behind the screen or face to face, I grew up mostly going face to face, and still go that way, but have actually started going behind the screen as well. It gives me more comfort. It really is whatever you are comfortable with, and this priest at least does not mind either way. They are both legitimate options.

Stina said...

This post touched me very much. Thank you for writing it.

adoro said...

melody ~ The top pic is one I sketched several years ago. In fact, it started out as an error but when I put a line across it...I saw something else so kept making lines! The bottom pic is one of my favorites EVER, the artist's name is Olsen.

Father ~ Thanks for your comment! I didn't realize the Archbishop couldn't hear his priests' confessions. Never really thought about it before! But you know, you didn't answer one question buried in that DO you manage to keep a straight face when an on-the spot conversion happens right there in front of you? :-)

Stina ~ Thanks for your comment. Father Schnippel started it with his post on Penance from this week!

Father Schnippel said...


as to keeping a straight face when something dramatic, and sometimes funny, happens right in front of you,... hmmm perhaps another priest can answer that one b/c I haven't figured it out! (I usually smirk and say something along the lines of 'Ha! God got you!'

Seriously, it is a particular grace He gives his priests. It is a truly profound moment, and I try to see it as thus.

adoro said...


Jackie said...

Adoro, that was a truly beautiful post. Makes me want to go to confession right now, if only I could drive. Oh well...

Personally, I can't decide between face or screen. It usually depends on the priest. My pastor, when ever I go to him, I wish I had a screen. Why? Because I usually only confess venial sins and imprefections. (If I sin mortally, I go to a place with a screen or a priest I don't know.) And my pastor, when I confess anger, failures in my Lenten penances, etc, always makes commiserating faces (like "I know what you mean, I do that too). It always tempts me to take a lighter veiw towards my sins than I should and it kinda distracts me...

With another priest I know, however, I feel perfectly comfortable doing face to face. He keeps his head down, I know he's listening and taking everything seriously, and he only looks up when he wants me to clarify something and when he gives me my penance. I prefer Confessions that are more solemn, whether face to face or behind the screen.

Sorry for the long post. :)

Adoro te Devote said...

Jackie ~ Thanks for your comment, and I completely agree with what you said. Thankfully I haven't had the "commisserating" priest - that WOULD be distracting. (Although maybe for some people, it would set them more at ease.) The priests at my parish are of the latter type you describe - they sit with their heads down, listening.

And I love long comments, by the feels more like a conversation that way! :-)

Cathy_of_Alex said...

Artiste: Great post and what a fantastic thread of comments! Something I needed very much right now. Thanks and God bless you, my friend.

Your sketch is very appropriate for this post and very well done.