When Confession isn't so great

#1

So most of the time I have okay confessions where the priest acting in the person of Christ says things that range from somewhat helpful to really helpful. But about once or twice a year I have one where the advice or reflection or whatever is not so helpful. By that, I don’t mean that the priest yells or refuses to absolve me or says something I don’t want to hear about my sins, it’s more like he makes some observation that isn’t quite on point, but because I need to get in and out of the confessional quickly (there’s generally a line and/or Mass is starting in a few minutes), it’s not really the time to go into a big discussion.

I’m not blaming the priest as these situations seem to happen when I am frequently upset and crying in the confessional. I have had a problem with crying in confession since I was about 13 years old and it kept me away from confession for many years, but because of my indulgence practice and First Saturday devotions, I now have to go twice a month. While the frequency of confession means I am less nervous about it and I no doubt benefit from the graces I obtain, sometimes I can’t hold it together in there, especially since I have had a whole bunch of deaths among my family and friends in a short time. I feel sorry for the poor priest having to figure out in 30 seconds what to say to this dithering person in his confessional.

I do diligently think about what the priest says to me but sometimes I just can’t make heads or tails of it or figure out how it applies to my life. I come away hoping I was absolved of my sins (which are mostly the same ones over and over, primarily getting impatient with others) but it doesn’t give a good feeling that I understand many people have after confession. I even worry a little bit that I somehow made a bad confession even when I use a written examination of conscience beforehand (this last time I even used two different ones). I figure this is just me being overemotional and the confession was probably good from a sacramental standpoint even if I was a blubbering mess and the priest’s advice wasn’t a pearl of wisdom at this one particular time.

Has anybody else dealt with this situation where their confession didn’t feel like the greatest? What’s a good way to approach it when these situations occur?

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#2

Any chance you could find a single confessor and make it a point to see him (or at least see him the majority of the time)? Every “bad” experience I’ve had in confession has come from a stranger.

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#3

I rarely go to the same priest twice for various reasons , including not being in the same area all the time, having to get a confession in when my schedule will permit, and having to see the priest who’s available which at a parish with 4 priests, or priests who visit , is not going to be the same guy every time. I also don’t think it’s necessary to see the same priest every time for a 5 minute confession. They’re all supposed to be Christ when they go in there, so I’m seeing the same person, Christ, whenever I go in.

So the vast majority of priests I see are "strangers’. The vast majority of advice I get in there is also very good. I haven’t noticed any connection between getting better advice from one who knows me or not.

Even if I personally know the priest, I almost never go face to face unless it’s a big penance service event where most of the priests are hearing confessions out in the open without confessionals. So the priests who I know in person wouldn’t know me anyway. They don’t see me that often to be able to make the connection “oh, here’s Bear again.”

Anyway, I reckon even if I were seeing the same priest 24 times a year (unrealistic), he would occasionally pop off with a clunker of a statement. Mostly I’m just looking for ways to think better or feel better about it when it happens, not ways to guaranteed prevent it because you can’t.

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#4

I wish I had a pearl of wisdom to share. I’m usually so grateful to receive absolution I have to concentrate on remembering my penance, let alone recalling any guidance or counsel father might have given me. I’m sorry this last trip to the confessional was less than ideal. If you’re going twice a month maybe just chalk it up to the law of averages? I wish I had a helpful suggestion but I can pray for you and hope you receive consolation soon.

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#5

I don’t say this to give you a big head, but you’re probably more spiritually advanced than most. The triage advice the priest is trying to dispense in five minutes might be a little “basic” for someone with your level of self awareness and practice.

That said, I can’t see how the priest giving slightly “off” impacts the validity of the sacrament at all, so I think you’re okay there. Definitely had “bad” confessions myself.

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#6

I think you’re right. Maybe it’s just God giving me something to be patient about. It’s not a big deal anyway. There will be another confession coming up in 2 weeks. Also, the last time this happened it was with a priest who is new and young and he may be still developing his skills at confession. He didn’t say anything that bad anyway, I’ll continue to think about it as it may be useful later though it’s not right now.

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#7

And I’m sorry you have so much on your plate right now. If you ever just want to vent, hit me up.

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#8

Thanks BoomBoom, it’s good to know I’m not alone in having had this experience from time to time. Before I returned to active practice of the faith, I only went to Confession at most twice a year because I kind of dreaded going. Then for many years I did not go at all. So i didn’ t really experience any confessions that were off the mark because by the law of averages, when you’re only going twice a year or not for years, there’s less chances for them to happen.

I estimate that since I went back to active practice, I’ve probably confessed 70 times and I’ve had maybe 3 times where it felt “off” (plus one time when a priest yelled but that was okay as it actually made me stop the sin and I haven’ t repeated it since). That’s pretty good odds. I’m probably overthinking this.

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#9

I once lamented to a very experienced priest who is an excellent spiritual director that I felt like my advice in the confessional was too generic. I basically give one of three speeches, depending upon which sins are confessed and by what age and state of life of person. He said it’s better to be too generic than too particular. Sometimes I go into greater depth with people if that’s warranted, but generally I’m trying to give them two or three sentences to help them out and send them on their way. What I will do is to give spiritual advice about spiritual issues. What I will not do is give marriage counseling or therapy, since that’s not the best forum for it–I tell those people to take my card and set up an appointment. Almost no one does, but I make the offer.

-Fr ACEGC

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#10

Yeah, it’s been very rare for me as well. I’ve never broken down or anything but I’ve had one or two awkward interactions, one where the priest was very huffy and cutting me off (even though I wasn’t rambling or going into minute detail or anything.) Law of averages, like you said.

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#11

If you can tell me without breaking the seal…is one of them the Christopher Walken monologue from Pulp Fiction? :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

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#12

Thanks, Father. If all the priests are doing a similar approach then it’s working pretty well. Also if I’m seeing different priests then I’m getting all kinds of variations on their “three speeches”. I like that idea of variety :slight_smile:

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#13

I have learned two things about Confession: confess your sins in number and kind (ie, don’t explain the circumstances of each individual instance of sin like this: “well, my mother was in a bad mood and she was cooking dinner and my dad walked in a told her the car was broken and then I walked in and all I did was ask what’s for dinner and she yelled at me and I yelled at her. And then on Thursday…” All of that should be condensed into “I yelled at my mother twice.”)

And the second is: for a regular confession, just spend 5 minutes or so with the examination of conscience. I was so relieved because just examining my conscience was such a terrible burden that I practically had hysterics in the confessional once (extreeeeemely embarrassing: not recommended!!!), so this advice was very helpful to me.

I have had priests vary in their advice, but if it doesn’t seem applicable to me, I don’t worry about it. For some reason, a lot of them seem to come down hard on the sins I am not sure whether they were sins at all. Sigh.

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#14

I generally agree with the leaving out of background, but if I am confessing a sin like, “I was angry at God this week” then I need to explain what happened that made me angry at God (example: a friend of mine died at a very young age, it seemed unfair, etc.) I didn’t just roll out of bed angry at God for no reason.

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#15

It sounds like this may be a frequent situation for you since you also mention deaths in your first post.

I have definitely had times when I was angry with God and I think it would be helpful, if possible given your schedule, to speak with a very good priest about this.

It is not so much the theology that counts here but the “how” to deal with the situation. It is really hard to praise God in all things when one of those things is a death or very unfair thing that happens.

It is hard when something happens to us to accept that God is sending this to help our souls become what He wants them to be. Really, God? You want my soul to be this shape?

But it is through practice that we become perfect, and part of practice is A. messing up, and B. analyzing the error and learning from it.

I think acknowledging your feelings of sadness and anger is important, and for me, simply learning to do that was really helpful. I would be all in a dither, but when I asked myself what I was feeling and got specific about it (not just stressed out or overwhelmed, but sad or angry [my usual ones]), then I calmed down a lot but also I was able to sort of evaluate and say, yes, I feel very sad because someone I cared about has died, or I feel angry because someone crashed into my car, and these feelings are the normal reactions to this sort of thing. Treating myself the way I would treat a friend in the same situation helps a lot too.

Well, I may be totally off-base about where you are coming from, but I feel like you were saying some of the same things I have said before, iyswim.

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#16

I can not tell you what a great thing this is that you are doing!!!

Just a quick example: when I was quite young, I wanted to return to the Church and went to Confession. The priest said they had changed Confession to be reconciliation and I needed to understand this better before I could receive the sacrament. He gave me no help in how to find this out (this was before the internet), so I ended up not returning for 7 more years. If he had done what you do, saying pick up a card and call me for an appointment, I wouldn’t have wandered for 7 more years.

I wish I could give you a gazillion likes for doing this!!!

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#17

I have had it happen where it wasn’t the best feeling afterward, but there was still something I could look back on and see the beauty of it all. At the very least, I like to imagine the blood of Jesus raining down on me when the priest says the words of absolution.

Maybe you could try going to a different parish for confession every now and then. Try finding one where you think there will not be a line.

Maybe you would benefit from spiritual direction. Sorry you have had so many losses in your family recently.

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#18

Thanks for the good advice, Annie.

It actually isn’t a frequent situation for me, which is why it was so startling. The latest death (which I found out about on Christmas Eve via social media) just set me off.

But your advice is good nonetheless. I also like the part about “acknowledging your feelings of sadness and anger”. In this case I was angry at the overall situation, not just at God. It was an unusual situation. Thank you for your post. It says a lot of things I too was thinking the last couple weeks.

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#19

Thank you, GladTidings. I’ll try to focus on the absolution, I think.

Spiritual direction would be nice but I have absolutely no idea where I’d find someone I would trust to do it and also find the time to have it. I’ve resigned myself to just bumbling along for now.

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#20

I’ve had some very good confessions where I went in real nervous and wanted to throw up but the priest was friendly and calming and his advice was to remind me that everyone sins and hard to see how small some sins are in the grand scheme of time, so it’s not good to obsess about our sins.

But I’ve also had some very strange experiences in confession. I had a priest tell me that my sins I confessed weren’t sins. A different priest, I confessed something saying I wasn’t sure if it was mortal sin or not and he proceeded to tell me the concept of mortal sin isn’t real and it’s outdated, what matters is loving our neighbor.
I had a very recent confession experience where the priest said “ah nice” shaking his head up and down after every sin I confessed. I’ve had Priests remind me that he sins too and I should pray for him.

One priest, every single confession he would say the exact same advice, wouldn’t matter the sin. If I confessed lying he would say “well how do you like it when people lie to you?” If I confessed jealousy he would say “well how do you feel when others are jealous of you?” Family members of mine who went to confessions with him said he would say that exact same advice also for any sin confessed. Makes me wonder if someone confessed murder would he say “well how would you like it if someone murdered you?”

When I have these strange experiences I try to focus on the healing and mercies of Christ

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