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Confession: Reconciling Advice and Reality | Catholic Life

Confession: Reconciling Advice and Reality

Have you ever corrected a priest in the confessional? I haven’t.

There have been times when I should have, such as when the priest seriously misunderstood the substance of my sins. There have also been times when what the priest said simply was not factually true. I don’t think that I will ever believe it is right to correct a priest on basic religious facts during confession.

When I went to reconciliation during last Advent the priest heard my confession (you’ll never guess what part of it was based on the following ;-)) and then responded that God hates lukewarmness and has said “because you are neither hot nor cold I will spew you out.” I nodded attentively and said something like “I’m Laodicea” as the priest paused to catch his breath. But then he continued on “of course you don’t have to worry about Jesus ever spewing you out, that was the Old Testament God who said that.”

I am obviously recounting this story from my memory which I don’t trust to be exact, and so it occurs to me that perhaps the priest was not mistaken about the location of the passage to which he referred. But if that is the case then the potential for heresy in the statement is even higher.

When I told Josh about the priest’s statement Josh suggested that I should have corrected the priest. After all, priests tend to have a few things that they say over and over again to penitents, and it is not good for this particular piece of misinformed advice to be spread around.

But that was absolutely out of the question for me. For me, reconciliation is supposed to be a time of humility, and instructing the confessor does not at all fit in with that. I suppose that if I thought that the misinformation were truly pernicious, I would later schedule a non-confession appointment with the priest and bring the issue up then.

It does strike me as quite possibly wrong that I see confession as such a structured time of hierarchical humility. It is not about the pursuit of truth in life or even my spiritual life; it is about shutting myself down in the hope that God will swoop in and clean up in the formally prescribed way.

I know that in reality the best answer is probably “it depends upon the situation, the facts, and all involved” but I suspect that most people are probably as dogmatic as Josh and I in our preferences for the “correct” course of action.

How about you? Would you correct a priest during confession? Have you ever?

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8 Responses to “Confession: Reconciling Advice and Reality”

  1. Michael 31. Mar, 2011 at 5:59 pm #

    I called baptism the sacrament of regeneration one time in confession and was scolded for calling it that. Did not ask why just nodded and accepted my penance, because that’s what I was there for. May have been the same priest who told me the catechism was written for protestants, but I don’t think so. Pray for our priest, they are the hands of Christ.

  2. Michelle 31. Mar, 2011 at 6:01 pm #

    I am not sure if I would. I know I have never done it. I have had one really bad experience with confession and it was with a priest I didn’t know who kind of had the attitude, “So, can you get on with it or what?” luckily, I went back….but this was the first time I attempted confession in probably 8 years (at the time) and he was really out of line to treat me that way I thought. But I didn’t correct him and I don’t really remember if I finished my confession or not.

  3. Sarah @BeatenCopperLamp 31. Mar, 2011 at 6:07 pm #

    Twice I’ve had priests act like absolution was optional, and I’ve insisted on it. Both also implied that I needed to “experiment” with life more and that partying or having extramarital sex wouldn’t be the end of the world. I was stunned and walked away considering the appointments like a bad first date – “I think I need to see other people.”

    Love the confession discussions, BTW.

    • Helen 31. Mar, 2011 at 6:41 pm #

      WHAT?! ackkkkk.

      I’ve had priests sort of obviously roll their eyes at me (at least that’s what I think they are doing), and tell me not to be too hard on myself, and even give me explanations for my actions… but to actually TELL you to sin? Wow.

    • Katie 01. Apr, 2011 at 4:58 pm #

      Yeah, I had this happen, too. :( The priest expressed, “In your youth you should experiment in the world so that you return to the faith knowing it’s the truth. Don’t come back until you’re ready to.” Ummm….thanks. Many times in confession I hear stories of the prodigal son, and maybe the priest was trying to get to that end, but the message left me disturbed.

      I sometimes see priests as doctors. I’ll listen through my appointment, but I might need a second opinion.

  4. Elizabeth Esther 01. Apr, 2011 at 6:36 am #

    I argue with my priests regularly–but I don’t think I’ve ever corrected one INSIDE the confessional. It just doesn’t seem like the right time. I can let them be wrong, you know? I like to be right. And I like to prove that I’m right. The confessional is a place for me to admit my wrongdoings, not cling to my rightness. I know nothing that would get me all in a self-righteous huff than for me to identify something the priest was saying that was wrong. I could go on and on but then I’d be writing an entire blog post. This is a great topic, thanks for bringing it up!

  5. Trena 01. Apr, 2011 at 7:12 am #

    Once a priest told me he wouldn’t make me do a penience because it was a holiday weekend! I should have corrected him because penience is part of the forgiveness process..so were my sins ever forgiven?

    • Katie 01. Apr, 2011 at 5:01 pm #

      Your sins are forgiven when the priests gives you absolution. I know this because I once had a priest give me a three part penance. I didn’t have a notepad. Trying to remember it, I concentrated on the first two conditions while he was saying the third. Afterward, I couldn’t for the life of me remember the third part. Of course, it meant I said prayers in place of it.

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