Question 2

Q How does one confess to very embarrassing personal sins of a sexual nature without telling the priest what he or she has done. Won’t Jesus forgive those kinds of sins anyway if one confesses to him personally?

A It is embarrassing to confess personal sins of a sexual nature. You will not be telling the priest anything he has not heard already. In moral theology, he has covered all possible sins of a sexual nature and has heard it all long before he even sits in a confessional.

The embarrassment can be minimized by simply stating the category of sin and the approximate number of times it was committed. There is no need to go into details; in fact, we are dissuaded from going into specific details. The Church bends over backwards to make confession as easy as possible by allowing the penitent to go anywhere and to any priest he or she wants to, and also to go anonymously by entering the confessional where the priest cannot see the penitent.

Finally, keep in mind that the priest also has to go to confession if he is foolish enough to commit sin. He understands your situation and your embarrassment, and he will be compassionate.

As far as confessing to Jesus personally—that is not an option. Jesus is the one offended by our sins, and He stipulates the terms of reconciliation, not the offender. After His resurrection, He appeared to His apostles and said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He then breathed on them and said “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (John 20:22-23) This clearly implies confession, because the apostles were not mind readers, and only sinners know what their sins are. Jesus has every right to demand we humble ourselves by confessing our sins to His representatives (priests) as part of our penance for sin. The sinner does not stipulate the terms of reconciliation.

We can always tell God that we are sorry, and it is good to do so frequently. However, only a perfect act of contrition can take away sin outside of confession. Perfect sorrow means that we are sorry for offending God because He is so good and deserving of our love. We are sorry solely because we have offended Him and not because of any punishment that may befall us because of sin: e.g., we deserve to be punished and because we are afraid of going to hell. There must be no selfish motivation involved, and that is difficult for most humans. Imperfect sorrow (selfishness involved) is sufficient for forgiveness of sin in the sacrament of reconciliation.

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