A listener named Darby asks Father Dave about a recent issue she experienced during the Sacrament of Reconciliation. She shares, “I went to Confession the first time in a couple of years this past weekend. I had a lot of sins to confess. As I was stating my sins to the priest, I started with an internal battle I’m having right now. He cuts me short, and he gives me the blessing and my penance. So those sins that I couldn’t verbally tell the priest – are those still going to be forgiven?” She notes that she’s heard sins a person purposely withholds are not forgiven, and wonders if this would be a similar situation.
Father Dave affirms that she did not deliberately withhold her sins. “It is not required sacramentally for validity that the priest actually hears every single sin,” Father Dave begins. “One element of the Sacrament is contrition; he does need to somehow gauge that you are sorry for your sins. We do need to confess sins and not just say, ‘Hey, I’m a sinner.’” He notes that there may be many reasons why the priest cut her off. However, Father Dave underscores, “If the priest offers you absolution from your sins, he doesn’t say, ‘Only the ones that I’ve heard.’…So yes, you are absolved of those sins.”
Darby shares that the internal battle she brought to confession regards a struggle to forgive someone who has wronged her. Father Dave finds that many people talk through different elements of a situation beyond their sins while in the confessional. He says, “Sometimes it’s an ‘aha’ moment for the person. The priest can help the penitent kind of identify that.”
“My feedback to you would be that God’s forgiveness is not contingent upon [us], or even our own forgiving of ourselves. So we may need to continue to process our side of it, our human side of it, long after God has forgiven and forgotten,” Father Dave says. “The Psalms say that God puts our sins as far away as the east is from the west. So once those sins are absolved and gone, God’s not still harping on it, but you and I may still be.”
Father Dave acknowledges how there is not always time to discuss and process issues like this with your priest during the Sacrament of Reconciliation. “[The priest] is there to minister to many other people as well. Sometimes, if I identify something that sounds like it might be teased out in either spiritual direction, therapy, or a counseling session with the priest or some layperson, I might suggest that to the person in Confession. But I remind them that God doesn’t need that to forgive you,” he says.
Father Dave apologizes that Darby’s priest wasn’t able to tend to her pastoral needs more in that moment, but also suggests making an appointment for the Sacrament of Reconciliation for a longer confession rather than the standard hours. He affirms her feelings and says, “What you said is absolutely very real and very human. Often I find it helps for people to hear that God forgives me; now it’s my journey to either forgive myself or to work on whatever that is that I’m stumbling with.”