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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"

In Confession, I see my own weakness.

The third thing a priest sees when he hears confessions is his own soul.

It’s a scary place for a priest.

I cannot tell you how humbled I am when someone approaches Jesus’ mercy through me.

I am not over-awed by their sins; I am struck by the fact that they have been able to recognize sins in their life that I have been blind to in my own.

Hearing someone’s humility breaks down my own pride. It is one of the best examinations of conscience.

But why is confession a scary place for a priest? Because of the way in which Jesus trusts me to be a living sign of his mercy.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen once told priests that we scarcely realize what is happening when we extend our hands over someone’s head in absolution.

We don’t realize, he said, that the very Blood of Christ is dripping from our fingers onto their heads, washing the penitent clean.

The day after I was ordained, we had a little party, and my dad stood up and made a toast. He has worked his entire life as an orthopedic surgeon, and he was a very good one.

My whole life, his patients have come up to me at one time or another and told me how their lives have been changed because my dad was such a good surgeon.

So there my dad was, standing in the midst of these people, and he said, “My whole life, I have used my hands to heal people’s broken bodies. But from now on, my son Michael … um, Father Michael … will use his hands [at this point, he got choked up] … he will use his hands to heal broken souls. His hands will save even more lives than mine have.”

Confession is such a powerful place. All I have to do is offer God’s mercy, love and redemption … but I don’t want to get in Jesus’ way.  The priest stands in judgment of no one. In the confessional, the only thing I have to offer is mercy.

I get to sacrifice for you.

Lastly, when a priest hears confessions, he is taking on another responsibility.

One time, after college, I was returning to confession after a long time and a lot of sin and the priest simply gave me something like “one Hail Mary” as my penance.

I stopped. “Um, Father …? Did you hear everything I said?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Don’t you think I should get a bigger penance than that?”

He looked at me with great love and said, “No. That small penance is all that I’m asking of you.” He hesitated and then continued, “But you should know … I will be fasting for you for the next 30 days.”

I was stunned. I didn’t know what to do. He told me that the catechism teaches that the priest must do penance for all those who come to him for confession. And here he was, embracing a severe penance for all of my severe sins.

This is why confession reveals the priest’s own soul; it reveals his willingness to sacrifice his life with Christ.

He sees our sins as a burden that he will take up (with Jesus!) and offer them to the Father, while offering us the mercy of God.

Remember, confession is always a place of victory. Whether you have confessed a particular sin for the first time, or if this is the 12,001 time, every confession is a win for Jesus.

And I, a priest, get to be there.

That’s what it’s like … I get to sit and watch Jesus win his children back all day.

It’s flippin’ awesome.


Fr. Mike Schmitz is the director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and the chaplain for Newman Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. Every Sunday at Mass his homilies are recorded and are available on or iTunes. This article originally appeared on and is reprinted here with kind permission.


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