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Help! I’m not sure I received absolution at my confession!

Paul Matthew Photography/Shutterstock

Katrina Fernandez - published on 03/16/17

Confession and absolution are essential stabilizers for the spiritual life...

Hi Katrina,

A few weeks ago I made what I thought was a conscientious confession of my sins. I’ll give you one example — I said I don’t pray enough, days go by when I don’t pray. The rest of my sin sort of flowed from that. At the end of it, the priest told me that next time I should base my confession on the Ten Commandments. His message: he didn’t want to hear about it unless it fit that rubric. I was pretty stunned so I’m not 100% sure whether he gave me absolution, but I don’t think he did.

So, if you are at the age and situation in life where you don’t get into too much trouble — yet you know in your heart that you have not exactly had God at the center of your life, what do you do?



Dear Anonymous,

What do you do? Possibly find another confessor.

If the larger sins flow from the smaller ones, then it only makes sense that we need to keep the smaller sins in check with regular confession. While it’s true that we only need to confess the mortal sins it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be confessing the regular sins we struggle with on a daily basis that ultimately impede us from holiness. Just because you haven’t committed theft, murder, or adultery doesn’t mean you shouldn’t present yourself for confession.

I’ve never been a huge fan of turning people away from regular use of the sacrament by suggesting only the big mortal sins are the only ones worthy of being confessed. That’s why so many people feel like they don’t need the Church or the sacraments because it creates in them a false sense of goodness. Too many people refer to themselves as “good people” simply because they aren’t cheating on their spouse or stealing. But I argue that every time an employee looks at Facebook on company time they are stealing wages.

To be fair, you must ask yourself if you were completely clear in what you were communicating to the priest (and I must ask if there were language difficulties).

Still, little sins left ignored and unexamined will escalate into bigger problems. So yes, you may be in a stage of your life where you stay out trouble, but no one is ever in a stage of their mortal lives where they are free from sin. Confession and absolution are necessary to our spiritual growth. Aside from providing graces that help us to resist sinful behavior, Confession helps us to grow in our own sense of self-awareness. Through repeated confession we come to recognized unhealthy patterns we’ve  developed and need to work on. And let’s not forget, we seek heaven for our eternity, not hell. Confession and absolution are essential stabilizers for the spiritual life. If your priest isn’t absolving you for your “little sins” than you should seriously consider finding another confessor.

And you might want to consider finding a spiritual director who can really help you in learning to make a good examination of conscience, and to really go into the confessional with a clear sense of what you want to say, so there can be no risk of being misunderstood.

I’ve included a good guide based on the Ten Commandments for your examination of conscience and an Examen created by Fr. Timothy Finigan that you can print out and carry with you.

I wish you the best and remember to include your confessor in your regular prayers.  

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