Aleteia’s Zoe Romanowsky interviewed Msgr. Charles Pope from the Archdiocese of Washington and heard a priest’s perspective on taking part in the Sacrament of Reconciliation:
Msgr. Pope, do you remember hearing your first confession? What was it like? I do remember. In the parish setting, anyway — someone may have asked me to hear confession before I got to the parish. But sitting in the confessional for the first time was memorable because there were some problems with the confessional. I was already feeling a bit nervous and someone came in and knelt down and then the screen collapsed and suddenly there was a person’s face staring into mine. She was embarrassed, since she expected an anonymous confession, and I got so nervous I fumbled around trying to find the absolution form, even though I had it memorized. So, it certainly was memorable in that sense! What has changed about how you heard confessions early in your priesthood and how you hear them now? The main thing is, I’ve learned to encourage people to go deeper with their confessions. What tends to happen is that people say what they did and didn’t do, and that’s fine; but the deeper question is why? What are the deeper drives? I find I’m more skilled now at being able to listen to the things people tell me and how they are related. There’s a long list of things I encourage people to reflect on when they’re preparing for confession, or afterwards, like the seven deadly sins, attitudes, arrogance, fury. Doing this helps bring confession alive. Many people get frustrated because they confess the same things all the time … but looking deeper is the key. What has listening to people’s sins day in and day out taught you about human nature? It’s taught me to have patience with the human condition. We all have our foibles; our struggles. There is a call to take sin seriously, but most confessions are people dealing with their struggles and I’ve discovered that people’s struggles and their strengths are closely related. Maybe a person is great at getting along with people, but they don’t stand up for things, for example; or maybe they are really passionate and make a difference, but they struggle with chastity. Our struggles and strengths are often related.
There’s much more. Read it all. And remember: go to confession!