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Faith/Spirituality Forum: Confession question

by Catherine Frakas 23 Mar 2001

Confession question QUESTION from Shelly on January 11, 2003 Dear Brother Ignatius,
I read your response to Jane about confession and I would like to ask your advice. My situation is almost the same as hers except I was baptized at birth but not raised in the Faith at all. I led a bad and sinful and evil life before and unfortunately for years even after going through the RCIA and making my First Communion. It was about seven years ago when I went through the RCIA program and I made my first confession, but I did not confess much because I did not understand the importance of confession and of confessing all mortal sins in kind and in number. Only a couple of years ago through the reading of good, orthodox Catholic books and reading questions posted and answered on great websites like yours and EWTN did I learn the truth about Church teachings like confession. I had been going to confession for my recent sins once I realized how necessary it was, but then I realized that all my mortal sins since baptism had to be confessed and I had never confessed to all those sins before.
So, last year before Divine Mercy Sunday I sat down and wrote down all the mortal sins I could think of. I prepared by going over my conscience for weeks and when I finished writing it all down, my confession was several pages long. I went to a different parish and made an appointment to see the priest. I read my whole confession to him and he talked to me about it and the whole thing took and hour and a half. After it was over, I went to the Adoration chapel and felt absolutely no peace whatsoever. Instead I felt guilty and that I was still in sin. Then I realized I had held some things back out of embarrassment so I knew even though I really tried to make a good confession, it was still invalid because I had not been completely honest about a few things. I did not want to go back to the priest and tell him what I had done because he had just been so kind as to sit with me for so long and I had just wasted his time for nothing.
To make a long story short, for several days after in despair I went to several different parishes and talked to several different priests and they all told me that I was being scrupulous, that no parish priest has the time to sit with me for so long, that a confession of the length mine was was unheard of, or not to worry because I had been forgiven and all that was necessary was to have repentance in my heart and it was not necessary to confess to it all, and another priest even told me it was okay just to say I broke all the commandments and that would be enough. That did not sound right to me so even as they absolved me, I did not think the absolution was supposed to be given so I didn't believe them. Doesn't the Church really teach that all mortal sins have to be confessed in kind and in number?
Does God want me to be obedient to these priests even if I think they are wrong? None of the priests around here seem to believe that all mortal sins have to be confessed so I don't know what to do. I know the Eucharist is Jesus and I do not want to recieve him if I am still in sin so while I do go to mass, I do not receive communion. And I have fallen deeper in despair and I feel certain that I will go to Hell even if I make a good confession because how can I know with absolute certainty that I have confessed to all mortal sins? Maybe I will forget one or not think of one as mortal when it really is and have it on my soul when I die and not be allowed in heaven. I also read that story a year ago about the old holy nun that you mentioned in your response to Jane, the one everyone thought was in heaven but was really in Hell. If she tried to live a holy life yet did not confess properly one sin and went to Hell, then I don't have much hope. The only hope I do have sometimes is that I read that Jesus told Sr. Josefa Menendez that a soul has until their last breath to repent of their sins and that they can still be saved. But I think that soul would have to have perfect contrition and I do not know if that happens too often.
I apologize for the length of this question, but I would greatly appreciate any advice that you could give me. Thank you, Brother Ignatius.
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, OLSM on January 19, 2003 Dear Shelly:
Your story of how these priests responded is unfortunately a common story. Confession is more of the most important things in the life of the Church. Without it we can lose the sanctifying grace needed to reach heaven.
For any priest to teach in error on this subject, or to discourage a person from making a proper confession is risking his own soul to hell.
Scrupulosity is certainly to be avoided, but the proper approach when a priest suspects scrupulosity is to educate the penitent on the doctrine of Confession, the nature of sin in general and mortal sin in particular, and the theology of Absolution. Then after being instructed in these things if the penitent is still scrupulous the priest needs to deal with that problem pastorially (rather than dismiss the person).
With that said, let us examine your situation as you have related it:
All sins before your baptism are gone. They do not need to be confessed unless you wish to make a General Confession as a religious exercise. But in actuality, all pre-baptism sins are wiped out of existence.
Post-baptisal sins, if mortal, MUST be brought to the Sacrament of Confession.
Your conviction on this score was laudible -- to sit down and honestly examine yourself and make a list of all the sins you needed to confess.
After your confession, your conscience properly instructed you that you were not finished with your confession (that you held some back). Thus it is proper and necessary to go back to Confession to confess not only the sins you withheld, but also the sin of withholding them in the first place.
BUT..... to my knowledge, you do not have to go over the entire list again.... Those sins that you did confess and were absolved by the priest are gone. All you need to deal with now are the sins that you withheld.
Yes, the Church does say that we must confess in kind and number. To merely confess I broke all the commandments is NOT good enough. We do not have to give the nitty-gritty details, but we do need to confess the specific types of sins and how often committed (to the best of our recollection).
Mortal sin cannot be absolved merely by repentence in one's heart. Mortal sins MUST be brought to the Sacrament of Confession. Any priest telling people they do not have to come to Confession for mortal sin, is committing a mortal sin and is endanger of losing his soul in hell. Shame on him.
As for a priest not having time to listen to a couple hour confession, any priest who refuses to listen to a couple hour confession, in my opinion, should be suspended and sent to a monastery in the mountains of Turkey for re-education and to regain his faith and obedeience.
It is through the Priest that we may gain reconciliation. If a person as so many sins that it take 10 hours to confess, then the priest BETTER listen. Now, again, we do not need to tell our life's story, or go into nitty-gritty details which would make the confession longer than needed, but we must be allowed to take the time needed to clear our conscience, confess all known sin, and receive whatever advice the priest has, and receive absolution.
You go back to the first priest that you had the long confession with, confess that you left out some things that are grave sins, confess those things, and receive absolution.
Of course, if what you left out is not grave sin, then you do not need to go back. Venial sins can be absolved by good works, receiving the Eucharist, etc. But if they were grave sins, you MUST go back -- but you don't have to go over the long big list again.
God Bless.
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