Diocesan News

Local Priests on Why It’s Good to Go to Confession

Priests in the Diocese of Brooklyn are hoping for long lines on Reconciliation Monday. (Photo: Unsplash)

ASTORIA  — There are many Catholics who, if they’re being honest, would admit that they rarely, if ever, go to confession. And the reason wouldn’t be because they feared the priest might divulge the sins they confessed to someone else.  

The Seal of Confession, a strict rule, prohibits a priest from disclosing anything he hears in confession to anyone. It’s a rule  a priest would never violate, no matter what sins a person confesses.

While the Seal of Confession is well known (both within the Catholic Church and in popular culture) there are many aspects of confession, formally known as the Sacrament of Penance, or Sacrament of Reconciliation, that are not as well understood, and that makes it, perhaps, the least discussed of the Church’s seven sacraments.

Since Monday, April 11 is Reconciliation Monday — a day the Diocese of Brooklyn encourages Catholics to go to confession — The Tablet decided to reach out to priests to find out what they think the public should know about the sacrament.

“The sacrament of confession is a breath of fresh air,” said Father Christopher Heanue, rector-pastor of the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph, Prospect Heights. “I use the imagery of the baggage that we carry around with us in life. The baggage of sin weighs down on us. We can leave it there in the confessional. We have come out renewed, refreshed, and lightened.”

Why, then, are so many Catholics reluctant?

“I think it is difficult for people to come to a priest and express what they did. They think they’re unworthy of God’s mercy,” said Father Vedran Kirincic, administrator of Most Precious Blood Church in Astoria. “But they should come because they can experience God’s love for them.”

The Sacrament of Penance is a gift God has given to enable the faithful to become closer to him, Father Kirincic added.

The role of the priest is to serve as the representative of Jesus Christ, who is really the one who forgives the person confessing. “Christ is there to heal you of your guilt and shame,” said Father Michael Perry, a retired priest.

Churches offer parishioners a choice when it comes to confession. They can choose between the traditional confessional in which one kneels and the priest hears the confession through an opaque screen, or opt for a face-to-face sitdown with the priest.

However, faithful who choose the latter should be careful: A face-to-face meeting is not meant to be a therapy session where you talk about your problems, priests cautioned.

One problem is that many people spend too much time thinking about the human aspect of the priest-parishioner interaction in confession and not enough about the spirituality of it, said Father Francis Colamaria, pastor of St. Helen Church in Howard Beach. That misunderstanding might be keeping people away, he noted.

“If you’re worried that after you confess your sins, the priest is going to look at you funny the next time he sees you in church, don’t worry. It’s not going to happen. God gifts priests with amnesia,” he said.

Another common worry: People think it’s wrong to confess the same sins every time they go to confession. “Even if they’re repeating the same sins, what I’m hearing is ‘I love you Jesus,’ ” Father Colamaria said.

One way to encourage people to go to confession is for priests to talk about it, said Father Kevin Abels, pastor of Our Lady of Angels Church in Bay Ridge. “The more we talk about it from the pulpit and let them know that priests go to confession, too, the better,” he said.

According to Father Perry, there is strength in numbers. “If people see others go, they might go too. They might say to themselves, ‘If everyone is going, why not me?’” he said.

All of the priests interviewed by The Tablet said Reconciliation Monday has done a lot to bring people back to confession by making the sacrament widely available. Churches are open for long hours on that day and priests will be on duty to hear confessions.

Confession can have long-term benefits, Father Heanue said. “There’s also something beautiful about confession, which is that the more we avail ourselves of God’s mercy, the deeper our spiritual life grows,” he added.