Faith: What is confession like for the priest?
Hint: It's not about the juicy details
I was once sitting with a woman at a funeral luncheon and the topic of confession came up.
This is often a thought-provoking topic for those who are not familiar with the Catholic faith, as was the case with her. She said, to my bewilderment, that hearing confessions would be enjoyable for her.
That is not the usual response I hear, so I asked her why she thought that.
She responded, in essence, by saying that it must be enjoyable getting the “secrets,” the “juicy details” on people. This response was interesting. It got me, a priest, thinking about the fact that I do really enjoy hearing confessions, but certainly not for that reason.
Any priest that I know who takes their priesthood seriously would say that confession is a privileged place to be, even a joyful place to be; yet, they would not say so because of the “details” that confession affords the priest.
In fact, most priests I have talked to on this (myself included) almost always forget what they have heard in confession, which happens for two reasons.
One, because God will often give grace for us priests to forget what we have heard. Two, because sin is just not interesting. Satan loves to tempt all of us into thinking that sin is captivating, and because of that we need to hide it out of fear and shame.
In reality, sin is — well — boring.
Satan is very uncreative, and he just repeats the same things over and over. Yet, Satan tempts us to think that we are all alone in our sinfulness, and so we just need to hide our brokenness, try to forget about it, and isolate ourselves.
Yet, there are catastrophic effects in psychologically stuffing anything down.
Things that are not brought to the light will continue to plague us — sin included. Sin is why confession is needed.
Yet sin, the “secrets” of a person, is not why confession is a privileged and joyful place to be for the priest.
Sin is boring. God’s mercy, however, is amazing. Being the conduit of Jesus’ mercy is one of the most incredible and humbling parts of my priestly ministry.
To see someone, bereft in shame, reveal the sorrows of their heart and then encounter the mercy of Jesus Christ is a consolation beyond words. These are consolations that I do not deserve, yet ones that I am honored and humbled to see.
I’ve heard a priest say that confession is a joyful place to be because the priest gets to encounter a person who regrets their sin and wants to come back to God. It would be agonizing to be with someone while they commit a sin; this is not what confession is.
We as priests get to see God’s children encounter their all-merciful Father in Heaven. As such, confession is privileged not just for the priest, but for those going to confession as well.
Confession truly is a great gift God gives us, a joy beyond words. It is a part of my ministry that I love, and do not take for granted.
Father Matthew Miller is the sacramental minister of Our Lady of the Lakes Parish churches, including St. Christopher’s in Nisswa, St. Alice in Pequot Lakes and Our Lady of Lourdes in Pine River.