I really hate confession. I didn’t go for a really long time. My mom has had her confessions abused more than once, I am kind of afraid of priests, and I have gotten some of the worst advice in my life in confession. On top of all of that, I struggle with scrupulosity and anxiety that is so severe when it comes to religion that sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t be Catholic because it makes me think God hates me.
Last week, I was doing everything I could to keep myself from falling into a million pieces when I walked into confession, so I named my mistakes and temptations as fast as I could, but I hesitated at the end. I was lost in the mire of sins I maybe had committed and the magnitude of sins I hadn’t meant to commit, but you suggested, “Maybe also for the sins you can’t remember?”
You couldn’t know this but this sent me into a tailspin of thinking I was too stupid to remember my sins, and recounting in my head if I had memorized them well enough before I came in. I had decided to go to confession on a spur of the moment, what was I thinking? Who was I fooling? I didn’t deserve forgiveness.
You had prayed at the beginning that I would make a genuine confession, so I tried to stammer out an explanation for what I was really thinking.
“I guess, and for the sins I don’t even know I’ve committed,” because really, those are the ones that terrify me. Those are the ones that make me afraid to close my eyes at night. The terrifying guilt I carry for the sin of existing imperfectly, of knowing that I will never be just like all of the other people God and the Church seems to love so much.
You told me next that we couldn’t sin unless we meant to, and for a second I thought you were going to have the words of Hope I needed. Then, you added “unless you are lying to yourself,” and before my act of contrition, you told me to say it, “if you are really sorry for your sins.”
“Unless you are lying to yourself” and “If you are really sorry for your sins,” haunts me every day since then. I got out of confession and the band was playing Reckless Love and I thought for a minute that God really did love me, but then I couldn’t get those words out of my head. A prayer team prayed over me for the chaos in my life right now, and I felt better for a few minutes, but I could still hear your voice. A week later, today, I read a Scripture about evil people and sin for Bible Study, and I couldn’t stop the tears.
You might be thinking, well, it sounds like you may have some hidden sins going on. Sure. Ok, maybe I do. I have a million things in my life I am trying to keep up with and I am failing everything. I can barely stand to even say the word sin, but I am so lost in the difference between my sins and my failures in life that are not actual sins. I am trying not to be sorry for things that aren’t actually sinful, because some days I apologize to God for existing, and I’m pretty sure that’s not what He wants either, so there’s another sin or failure.
This is a thing about the Catholic Church that I think is so dangerous. It is so popular to pound our chests in repentance for all of our sins, but we aren’t allowed to take any credit for our goodness because that is all God, and we are prideful if we take it. “Catholic guilt” should not be a joke. It is terrifying and debilitating. It is a monster that haunts me every day. You are where that monster comes from.
You create the fear that even the sins I have confessed are not enough, I must confess more. You create the fear that if I am scared I don’t know of a sin, I’m actually sinning even worse than I thought because I’m lying to myself about it. It’s the everlasting curse of you can’t sin without knowing it “unless you should have known better.” I ask myself after every decision about sin I make, “Is God going to tell me I should have known better?”
The truth is, this world is an absolute mess. Every single day is full of thousands of decisions to be made and with every decision to do one thing, something else doesn’t get done. There are pros and cons to every single thing. I neglected the house cleaning, but I was trying to take really good care of the kids, I neglected the kids, but I was trying to clean the house, I neglected my husband, but I was trying to treat my body like a temple, and vice versa. And so on. I am lost in the never-ending claims of the saints that they are the worst sinners, and my own terror of being a sinner because sinners go to Hell. (I’m a cradle Catholic and I’m a theology major, I know that we are all sinners blah blah blah, but this is about emotions, and how this feels.)
The truth is, I am terrified of Hell. So terrified I used to be afraid to live my life, so I tried to turn it off. I am trying to be Catholic, but every time I get closer to thinking Jesus loves me I hit this wall. Last time, another priest in another confessional told me to leave the Church, this time, you sent me into a head spinning panic of sin and guilt.
Father, we are supposed to call priests Father, because we are supposed to call God-Father. You are supposed to be God to us. We are supposed to meet God in confession with you.
I want to believe that Jesus loves me, but you are telling me it’s a lie. You are telling me His mercy is not for me. I will continue to go, because I believe His love is there whether you are giving it to me or not, but do better.
Do better, so that other women don’t look themselves in the mirror and see this horrible construct you have created in your own mind.
Do better, so that little children don’t wish they had never been born because they are so scared of Hell.
Do better, so that no one ever believes they are intrinsically evil and God can’t love them.
Do better, so that no one else ever cries at night because they are afraid you are right.
Do better, so that people can see their mistakes and try to improve them without fear.
Do better, so that we don’t have to be afraid of who you have shown us God is.
Do better, so that Catholics aren’t walking around the world wounded by you and hoping they’ll be able to save their horrible souls.
Do better, “Fathers.”
Earn your title.
I wish you the peace of Christ and hope. I forgive you, and I pray that I continue to forgive you, and I pray that others may not be hurt like this, and I pray that others forgive you too.
Catholics, pray for priests.