Hidden Pitfalls To Avoid In Confession

Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Toulouse – chapelle des reliques – Confessionnal PM31000752

Confession is a great Sacrament that is beneficial for everyone even for those who lack a complete knowledge on how to do it right. I’m writing this short article today assuming you already know the basics. It’s not a how to go to confession article, rather, it is to look at the finer more hidden things we tend to miss while in that little wooden box. And because they’re hidden that makes them all the more problematic.

Confession is not a place where we get spiritual advice. If a priest wants to give a little that’s entirely up to him. Confession is a place where we confess our sins and get absolution for them. Some people complain that the priest does not give them advice and he simply gives them a light penance to do and sends them on their merry way. They receive such behaviour as rude and impolite.

It’s improper for the priest to give anyone they don’t know advice. He doesn’t know you, so any advice he gives not having a good baseline for who you are and your situation can spell disaster for both of you. After all the Gospel tells us that one blind man cannot lead another blind man because both will fall into a pit.

Confession is also not a place where you go into great detail regarding your sins. One of the early Church Fathers, St.Gregory of Sinai made it very explicit in the Philokalia never to go into great detail about your sins. The reason for this is that especially if they’re sexual you can lead the priest into temptation and be a cause for his downfall. So, unless he asks (be it on his own head) do not go into great detail.

For example, there are lots of things that fall into the category of the thou shalt not kill commandment. One of them is anger or hatred towards a brother. But if you go into the confession and say, “I killed someone” when you only got angry at someone the priest will naturally inquire as to what exactly you mean.

But you don’t go into detail and by that I mean, word for word be descriptive. Keep it short, like, “I had lustful thoughts about women” but do not go into great detail on what those thoughts were exactly because you can be a cause for the priests downfall. Confession is not story telling time, it’s confess your sins time and in an orderly fashion.

Having studied forensics I must advise that this is not the type of thing you do in a police interview if you’re an innocent suspect in a murder. Usually guilty people play down the severity of the crime and do not go into great detail or they will say, “I did not hurt that man” instead of “I did not kill that man”. They tend not to use harsh words that associate them with the crime. A word of caution there incase you’re innocent and find yourself in such a situation.

But in confession not using too many provocative words or being overly descriptive will help the priest not to fall into temptation. I said a curse word, I got greedy and jealous of my friends, I got angry with my neighbour. There’s no need to go into any more detail than that.

The last pitfall I would like to mention is the one of encouragement or praise. priests who give praise to the person in confession calling them Holy or saying they’re good people who are doing a good job cause problems. Although done under the guise of encouragement such behaviour can spiritually damage even the most mature person in the faith. You throw people into the Lions den of “Spiritual pride” only to be torn apart by its sharp teeth when you do this.

They can become puffed up and it’s a dangerous trait. If you’re a priest who does this, stop it and if you’re a lay person who comes into contact with such a priest who exercises this, pay absolutely no heed to it. Don’t take him up on it in the confessional but literally drown it out and remind yourself that you’re nothing, a nobody who is never doing a good job and could always do better.

Priests tend to innocently do this to offer encouragement with a view to bringing people back to the Church, but it has the opposite effect and separates them from God through spiritual pride. If you do hear a priest do this, he’s probably not someone you’d wanna take spiritual direction from. St.Paul says we should build one another up in the faith and encourage one another, but if done the wrong way, can turn from encouragement into something else. To encourage another person in the faith really means telling them they should humble themselves more and pray more etc etc. Stuff like, “You’re an amazing person” is not encouragement but secular language that belongs to the world.

I once came across a family that was extremely puffed up. I was wondering why they were like this. It was not until I went to their regular confessor did I understand the problem. He told me that I was a Holy person and that my wife was very Holy. Likewise he told her the same about me. It was then I realized why many of his parish people were walking around with their heads in the air all puffed up. This is dangerous behaviour and I view it as a form of spiritual abuse so do be careful with that one.

Confession is a great experience, but don’t be fooled into thinking the devil doesn’t make his way into that tiny little box either to cause a bit of havoc for the priest and the lay person, because he certainly does. There’s nothing the devil loves more than two blind fools, so pray to God to open your heart and give you discernment so you can avoid all these mistakes.











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