Ask an Apostle: Do I have to go to confession?

John Christman, S.S.S answers your questions this month.
Catholic Voices

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Q: I am uncomfortable with the idea of going to reconciliation, but I would like to get some things off my chest. If I pray on my own and am truly repentant, will this be enough?

—Forgive Me?

A: Your question shows that you are already self-reflective and penitent. That means that you are attentive to the Holy Spirit working in your life. I hope you find that encouraging, knowing that God’s mercy is already active in your discernment. Also, you say you have the desire to get some things off your chest, which means you are sorry for things that you have done and want to confess to God and be forgiven. That’s really the biggest part of the journey: looking inward and acknowledging that we have sinned and fallen short. That can be difficult to admit to ourselves sometimes. But coming to that conclusion is already a grace-filled experience. So, know that God is already with you through this process of reconciliation.


The wording of your question requires a little unpacking. First you say that you are uncomfortable with the idea of going to confession. Why is that? Is there a theological reason? Is it because it requires vulnerability, allowing someone else to see a side of you that you don’t want them to see? Have you had a bad experience of confession? What is your reason? Getting to the bottom of why you do not want to go to confession will reveal an aspect of yourself to you. That doesn’t mean you “have to” go to confession. It simply means that you will know your motivations better and can work through them.

You also say there are some things you would like to get off your chest. This sounds to me like you want to unburden yourself of the things that are troubling you. It’s not always easy to find a safe place to do that. One nice thing about going to confession is that it is a safe place. The confessor is not allowed to share anything he hears in confession. Some dioceses even offer certain days in the year where every parish has reconciliation at the same time. So, you can go somewhere outside of your own parish if that makes you feel more at ease. More importantly, there can be great comfort in externalizing your thoughts––just saying it out loud. A good confessor will be compassionate, empathetic, and convey a sense of God’s mercy. The role of a confessor is not to judge but to acknowledge contrition and assure the penitent of God’s forgiveness. So, your final question “If I pray on my own, and am truly repentant, will this be enough?” is one perhaps only you can answer. God is free and God’s mercy is abundant. Will you be at peace and able to put these things behind you and feel the grace of a new beginning if you confess directly to God? Or would getting these things off your chest and hearing someone say in a sacramental capacity “You are forgiven” truly bring peace and offer the grace of a fresh start?

About the author

John Christman

John Christman holds degrees in art and theology and often instructs and writes in the fields of art, theology, and spirituality.

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