Is Confession optional?

I’m a convert to the church. I have been Catholic for 12 years now. When I first came into the church I tried to go to confession about every 2 months. Then I went about 3 times a year. Then I didn’t go at all for a few years. I’m so confused. Over the years I’ve met Catholics who say they don’t believe in confession and some that just don’t go for whatever reason, but these same people receive communion every Sunday. My parish is extremely large and has one 45 minute reconciliation time on Saturday afternoons. It just doesn’t seem important. I hear that back years ago people went to confession weekly. What’s changed? Is it or is it not important and how often should someone go?

Dear friend,

The Church’s teaching on this has NOT changed. You have been listening to the wrong people! Jesus didn’t give His priests the ability to forgive peoples’ sins as an add-on to simply asking His forgiveness directly. He deliberately breathed on them and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven. And whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” (Jn 20:23)

The ‘retained’ part shows us that the priest can be objective about the sins we confess in a way that we cannot just by ourselves. Granted, it is more difficult to hear ourselves acknowledging our sins before a person we can see and hear. And it should be! After all, our Blessed Lord paid a high price for the sins we have committed against Him–shedding His own blood! The least we can do is humble ourselves in asking His forgiveness in this way. On the other hand, when the priest absolves us, we have the complete assurance that our sins have indeed been forgiven.

Also, going to Confession at least once a month is a good rule of thumb–regardless of how many people there are in the parish. This is what I do. I just go to a local parish-to the same priest who has gotten to know me and the ins and outs of my relationship with God. I just get in the line like everyone else. One is less likely to forget sins when one goes more frequently. One is also less likely to repeat them because of the grace we receive from the sacrament.

Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.

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