I have often heard priests say that we should not bring a “shopping list” to confession. I find it difficult to explain my personal life. Is it all right for me simply to list my sins?
The sacrament of reconciliation was instituted by Christ so that we could be reconciled to God and to the Church by receiving absolution and penance from the priest who ministers the forgiveness of God. The “confession” part is necessary first of all in order that the priest can make the judgements necessary to advise us, clarify any matters of conscience as necessary, help us to be truly contrite, and ask us to do a suitable penance.
We must explain the circumstances associated with a particular sin if they affect the gravity of a serious sin (for example if a lie has gravely damaged someone else’s reputation). In addition, we may wish to talk about the way that we are trying to lead a prayerful life, or to mention some difficulty or crisis we have encountered, which forms a context for a sin that we have confessed. Some people go regularly to the same priest so that they can receive advice more closely suited to their daily efforts to live a devout life.
However, such additional things are not obligatory. A person may wish to celebrate the sacrament frequently, as encouraged by the Church, to receive extra graces, or to fulfil the conditions for gaining an indulgence. Any Catholic is entitled to use the sacrament even if only to confess briefly some venial sins, listen to some appropriate spiritual advice from the priest and receive penance and absolution.
Personally, I think that it is not helpful to refer to this kind of confession as a “shopping list.” Many people find it difficult enough to make a simple confession of their sins, and would be perplexed by the thought that they had to do something else in order that their confession should be a good one. It is probably more important today to emphasise that the sacrament is not simply a chat about our life in general but involves the humble and contrite recognition that we are indeed sinners in need of forgiveness.
Catholic Dilemmas column published in the Catholic Herald
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