Testimony

Inside the Confessional: What Is it Like for a Priest?

A college chaplain talks about "the most joyful, humbling and inspiring place in the world"

Inside the Confessional: What Is it Like for a Priest?

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I was once riding on a shuttle-bus with a number of older folks on the way from an airport. They noticed I was a priest and started asking questions.

“Do you do all of the priest stuff?”

“Yep.”

“Even the confession thing?”

“Yeah. All the time.”

One older lady gasped. “Well, I think that would be the worst. It would be so depressing hearing all about people’s sins.”

I told them it was the opposite. There is almost no greater place to be than with someone when he or she is coming back to God.

I said, “It would depressing if I had to watch people leave God; I get to be with them when they come back to him.”

The confessional is a place where people let God’s love win. The confessional is the most joyful, humbling and inspiring place in the world.

What do I see during confession?

I think there are three things.

First, I see the costly mercy of God in action. 

I get to regularly come face to face with the overwhelming, life-transforming power of God’s love. I get to see God’s love up-close, and it reminds me of how good God is.

Not many folks get to see the way in which God’s sacrifice on the cross is constantly breaking into people’s lives and melting the hardest hearts.

Jesus consoles those who are grieving their sins … and strengthens those who find themselves wanting to give up on God or on life.

As a priest, I get to see this thing happen every day.

I see a saint in the making.

The second thing I see is a person who is still trying — a saint in the making.

I don’t care if this is the person’s third confession this week; if he or she is seeking the sacrament of reconciliation, it means the person is trying.

That’s all I care about.

This thought is worth considering: going to confession is a sign that you haven’t given up on Jesus.

This is one of the reasons why pride is so deadly.

I have talked with people who tell me they don’t want to go to confession because their priest really likes them and “thinks I’m a good kid.”

I have two things to say to this.

  1. He will not be disappointed! What your priest will see is a person who is trying! I dare you to find a saint who didn’t need God’s mercy! (Even Mary needed God’s mercy; she received the mercy of God in a dramatic and powerful way at her conception. Boom. Lawyered.)
  2. So what if the priest is disappointed? We try to be so impressive with so much of our lives. Confession is a place where we don’t get to be impressive. Confession is a place where the desire to impress goes to die.

Think about it: all other sins have the potential to cause us to race to the confessional, but pride is the one that causes us to hide from the God who could heal us.

Do I remember your sins? No!

So often, people will ask if I remember people’s sin from confession. As a priest, I rarely, if ever, remember sins from the confessional. That might seem impossible, but the truth is, sins aren’t all that impressive. They aren’t like memorable sunsets or meteor showers or super-intriguing movie — they are more like the garbage.

And if sins are like garbage, then the priest is like God’s garbage man. If you ask a garbage man about the grossest thing he’s ever had to haul to the dump, maaaaaaybe he could remember it. But the fact is, once you get used to taking out the trash, it ceases to be noteworthy; it ceases to stand out.

Honestly, once you realize the sacrament of reconciliation is less about the sin and more about Christ’s death and resurrection having victory in a person’s life, the sins lose all their luster, and Jesus’ victory takes center stage.

In confession, we meet the life-transforming, costly love of God … freely given to us every time we ask for it.

We meet Jesus, who reminds us, “You are worth dying for … even in your sins, you are worth dying for.”

Whenever someone comes to confession, I see a person who is deeply loved by God and who is saying he or she loves him back.

That’s it, and that’s all.