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“Ask a Priest: What If a Confessor Didn’t Want to Hear of My Forgotten Sins?”
Q: Years ago, I led a sinful lifestyle. I have since returned to the Church and have been going to confession regularly. I still sometimes remember old sins from my past that I have inadvertently left unconfessed. It’s nearly impossible to remember everything I’ve done, though I am truly sorry for all of my sins, remembered or forgotten. When I remember a sin, particularly if it seems serious, I make a note or try to remember to mention it at my next regular confession. Recently, I remembered a handful of sins from years ago that I don’t think I have confessed. And a couple of them I do believe are serious matter, though I didn’t realize how serious at the time. I went to confession to a priest I’d never been to before, and I told him when my last confession was but that I wanted to confess older, forgotten sins. He basically told me that I need to believe in God’s mercy and that going back to these old sins was equivalent to Jansenism, and he only wanted to hear anything from my last confession until now. I was very flustered and taken aback. I confessed my most recent sins out of obedience to the priest and said nothing more. However, I now am feeling confused and very unsure about what to say at my next confession. I know I didn’t intentionally withhold sins. So, was that a valid confession? Am I in a state of mortal sin for not insisting on saying my whole list? I’m confused and unsure what to do next. – M.R.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: It’s good that you have returned to the practice of the faith and are taking advantage of the sacrament of confession.
If you remember objectively serious faults from the past and feel better bringing them before God, you could mention them the next time you go to confession. What you want to avoid, however, is burning your energy by stewing over the past.
Perhaps that priest detected that you had an unhealthy focus on the past and were being scrupulous. He was likely trying to help you to look ahead, not behind.
You don’t sound particularly scrupulous; rather, you are simply remembering these sins from the past. Nor does it sound as though you are falling into Jansenism, a heresy dating to the 17th century that basically denies the necessity of free will in receiving and using grace.
From what you say, your last confession was valid. You did your best to make a good confession, and you were simply trying to be obedient to the priest at the moment.
My suggestion is that any past sins you didn’t get to say last time, just mention them the next time you go to confession (preferably with a different priest). And then leave them in God’s hands.
Or better yet, think about doing a general confession. You could take Part III of the Catechism as a guide. Do your best to prepare the confession. Then make an appointment with a priest, letting him know that you will need ample time for the general confession.
Our Lord wants you to be a saint. His grace can help you become one.
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Father is correct M.R. as long as your were sincere in confessing sins, your sins are absolved. God is MERCY.
I believe God is more concerned with your now PENITENT ‘new life’ with Him. (attending Mass, offering up your old ways to Him in the Penitential Rite, praying for the intentions of others, Offering Up your good works ‘quietly’ for those days of ignorance of God. That’s what makes God happy, your change of heart.