Why You Aren’t Going to Confession

A few weeks ago a friend of mine asked me why Catholics don’t go to confession anymore.  She’d been to Mass with family members who are Catholic and no one had gone to confession beforehand.  My friend had noticed what has come a sad and unfortunate trend in many Catholic parishes.  People just aren’t going to confession like they did a generation ago.  In fact, a 2008 study conducted by Georgetown University revealed that 30% of Catholic go to confession less than once a year and 45% don’t go at all.  This reluctance has given confession the nickname of the “lost Sacrament.” The lines for Communion are long, but there’s often no line at all for the confessional.  So what’s changed in the last 20 years?  Certainly not the teaching of the Church.  Catholics are still taught that grave or serious sin wounds our relationship with God and it must be confessed.  We have to feel sorry for our sin, promise not to commit it again and ask for God’s forgiveness.  If any of those three elements are missing, then our sin remains with us and we are separated from the grace of God in a way that can have eternal consequences.  Why do we believe this?  Because Christ gave His apostles the power and authority to forgive sins (John 20:23) and this same authority has been handed down through the bishops.  Church law asks every Catholic to make a thorough and complete confession at least once a year.  The Church asks us to do this because, like any good parent, it’s for our own good.  In confession, we encounter the love and mercy of Christ and we’re strengthened by God’s grace to resist sin and overcome our attachments to it.  Confession is a Sacrament of healing.  It heals and restores our relationship with God and our faith family.
Often, people stay away from confession because of unhealthy (and even sinful) pride.  They rationalize that whatever sins they’ve committed are trivial or unimportant to God and don’t rise to the level of serious sin.  We can be very very easy on ourselves.  And Jesus knew our human nature very well when He instituted the Sacrament of confession.  Speaking our sins aloud to a priest exercises our humility which is the foundation of all the other virtues.  Humbly asking God to forgive us in the presence of His priest puts Christ in the center of our hearts and not our own pridefulness.
Sometimes people avoid confession because they have forgotten what sin is.  They no longer look to the Ten Commandments or Church law to guide their behavior.  So long as they haven’t robbed a bank or murdered anyone, they think they’re okay.  They’ve adopted a “follow your own conscience” point of view.  If they don’t happen to believe that missing Mass on Sunday or using artificial birth control or lying in their business dealings is sinful, they why would they need to go to confession?  The problem with this kind of logic is that you can use it to justify almost any action.  This is the relativism that says you can do whatever you want so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.  Where exactly is THAT point of view in the Gospel?  You end up turning yourself into the ultimate moral guide and you take away God’s proper role in your life as King and Savior. 
Finally, people may avoid going to confession because they’re embarrassed to tell their sins to a priest.  Believe me when I tell you that priests have heard it all.  You couldn’t possibly confess a sin that they haven’t heard dozens or even hundreds of times before.  The priest isn’t going to condemn you or chastise you.  He’s there to listen to you and offer you the love and mercy of God in absolution.  Confession is for our own good  as members of the Body of Christ, which is His Church.  God is always waiting for us there, in the “forgotten” Sacrament of love.  He’s calling to us to come to Him and experience His mercy and forgiveness.  When we stay away, we not only hurt our own souls, but we hurt our Lord as well.

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