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Author Topic: Catholic confession is not therapy, Vatican warns  (Read 2273 times) Average Rating: 0
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« on: June 03, 2009, 06:24:45 PM »


Quote
Confessing in the Catholic church has long provided material for Hollywood screen-writers, with a dark wooden booth, a priest's stern silhouette glimpsed through a screen and the uttered phrase "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned."

But, according to the Vatican, real life confessions are in danger of turning into cosy counselling sessions, which is why priests are to be issued with a handbook instructing them to give their flocks a sharp reminder of what sin is all about.

Explaining the initiative, an official at the Vatican office on clergy told Vatican Radio that the declining number of churchgoers who went to confession were confusing it with "a psychiatrist's couch". "An ever decreasing number of people see a clear difference between good and evil, between truth and lies and between sin and virtue, and therefore fewer are taking confession," said Archbishop Mauro Piacenza.

Piacenza said priests would also need to spend more time in the booth. "It's not always easy to find a priest ready to listen to the confessions of the faithful for hours," he said.

If "therapy" is a program of healing (or "salvation", from "salvus", "uninjured, healthy"), then shouldn't confession be a type of therapy?
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« Reply #1 on: June 03, 2009, 06:26:57 PM »


Quote
Confessing in the Catholic church has long provided material for Hollywood screen-writers, with a dark wooden booth, a priest's stern silhouette glimpsed through a screen and the uttered phrase "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned."

But, according to the Vatican, real life confessions are in danger of turning into cosy counselling sessions, which is why priests are to be issued with a handbook instructing them to give their flocks a sharp reminder of what sin is all about.

Explaining the initiative, an official at the Vatican office on clergy told Vatican Radio that the declining number of churchgoers who went to confession were confusing it with "a psychiatrist's couch". "An ever decreasing number of people see a clear difference between good and evil, between truth and lies and between sin and virtue, and therefore fewer are taking confession," said Archbishop Mauro Piacenza.

Piacenza said priests would also need to spend more time in the booth. "It's not always easy to find a priest ready to listen to the confessions of the faithful for hours," he said.

If "therapy" is a program of healing (or "salvation", from "salvus", "uninjured, healthy"), then shouldn't confession be a type of therapy?


Because much psychotherapy is confession without absolution.  It goes nowhere.
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« Reply #2 on: June 03, 2009, 06:33:09 PM »

I guess they just want people to pop in the booth's rattle off their list of sins and be gone.

I prefer the way my SF does it. He tries to get to the root of the problem, and work with me.

What good is clipping off the top of the weed if you're not going to pull out the root?
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« Reply #3 on: June 03, 2009, 06:59:47 PM »

Here is the full article from the AP referenced by Jetavan.

http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=D98ILCBG2&show_article=1

VATICAN CITY (AP) - A Vatican official is lamenting that many faithful no longer confess their sins, and says some confuse a psychologist's couch for a confessional booth.

Archbishop Mauro Piacenza has told Vatican Radio the sacrament of penance has been experiencing a "deep crisis" for decades. Piacenza, an official for the Vatican office on clergy, says fewer people distinguish between good and evil, and as a result don't go to confession.

The archbishop said in the interview Tuesday that if faithful don't have a sense of sin, they might "confuse" confession with "the couch of a psychologist or a psychiatrist."
He says the Vatican plans to publish this year a kind of handbook on confession to drum up enthusiasm among Catholics toward the sacrament.


Mental illness and sin are not one and the same, though one may be a manifestation of the other. 

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« Reply #4 on: June 03, 2009, 08:24:56 PM »

I've heard more than one Catholic priest bemoan the people who come into the confessional, especially if there's a long line, and basically just babble about their problems and make excuses for their sins and look for validation.  One monk with whom I was close with who heard confessions Saturday night before the vigil mass absolutely hated it when people did anything more other than "I did this and this and this".  For him, confession was just that.  If you're looking for real spiritual direction (eg anything more than confession of sins), one should make an appointment. 
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« Reply #5 on: June 03, 2009, 08:31:34 PM »

I've heard more than one Catholic priest bemoan the people who come into the confessional, especially if there's a long line, and basically just babble about their problems and make excuses for their sins and look for validation.  One monk with whom I was close with who heard confessions Saturday night before the vigil mass absolutely hated it when people did anything more other than "I did this and this and this".  For him, confession was just that.  If you're looking for real spiritual direction (eg anything more than confession of sins), one should make an appointment. 

Arn't they doing that by just going to confession?  They took that time slot out of their day to go and do whatever they think confession is.  If the priest wants it to be something else, maybe he should teach them that while they are in confession.  I would think it's the priest's prerogative here...
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« Reply #6 on: June 03, 2009, 09:02:44 PM »

I've had nothing but good experiences going to confession. One priest that I knew personally liked giving face to face confessions, and always had excellent spiritual advice. The booths are things of the past. I guess people still watch old flicks Roll Eyes
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« Reply #7 on: June 04, 2009, 02:25:17 AM »

I almost always do the "booth." I guess they are more common up in Boston.

I am in NYC right now, and today I went to confession. Ugh---all I got from the priest was some psychobabble about how I need to focus less on my sins and more on how I'm a "good person." He helped me with that by NOT giving me a penance.

I decided to come up with my own penance: to pray that the new guidebook finds its way into that priest's hands...

Fortunately my experiences with confession have almost always been much better, including with so-called "liberal" priests.
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« Reply #8 on: June 04, 2009, 09:58:54 AM »

I've heard more than one Catholic priest bemoan the people who come into the confessional, especially if there's a long line, and basically just babble about their problems and make excuses for their sins and look for validation.  One monk with whom I was close with who heard confessions Saturday night before the vigil mass absolutely hated it when people did anything more other than "I did this and this and this".  For him, confession was just that.  If you're looking for real spiritual direction (eg anything more than confession of sins), one should make an appointment. 

There is an interesting piece in Fr. Alexander Schmemann's "Journals" about this (in Russian). As the Dean of St. Vladimir Seminary and as a priest, Fr. Alexander had the responsibilty to hear confessions of very many of his students, and he actually grew to dislike it that among American young men and women, there is a sort of "expectation" that the Confession will be a psychotherapy session. He wrote that it is sad that there is no distinction in people's minds between the Holy Mystery of Confession on the one hand, and a routine spiritual conversation with your spiritual Father on the other. You shoud NOT, in Fr. Alexander's opinion, expect that during the Holy Confession the priest will ask you many detailed questions, "address the root of the problem," etc. And that is so not only because the priest does not have enough time (others are waiting, etc.) - no, it is so because the Holy Mystery of Confession is PRINCIPALLY different from spiritual conversation/therapy/healing, different by its mere nature. The Holy Mystery of Confession is, basically, "I sinned!!!" It's a "catharsis" during which all three parties involved - the penitent, the witness-priest, and God - are simply looking at the person who has realized his/her sin, guilt, shame, and cry, and sense - feel - savor the need to get rid of the sin and to move on. This is the moment of simply "throwing yourself down" to the bottom of the Cross, and NOT the moment of rational search for the "root of the problem" (which all three of the involved parties actually already KNOW anyway). The rational dissection of one's behavior and the search for therapeutic measures in order to correct behavioral problems belongs to a completely different "domain" of the priest's work, i.e. to the routine spiritual guidance sessions.
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« Reply #9 on: June 04, 2009, 10:09:19 AM »

There is an interesting piece in Fr. Alexander Schmemann's "Journals" about this (in Russian). As the Dean of St. Vladimir Seminary and as a priest, Fr. Alexander had the responsibilty to hear confessions of very many of his students, and he actually grew to dislike it that among American young men and women, there is a sort of "expectation" that the Confession will be a psychotherapy session. He wrote that it is sad that there is no distinction in people's minds between the Holy Mystery of Confession on the one hand, and a routine spiritual conversation with your spiritual Father on the other. You shoud NOT, in Fr. Alexander's opinion, expect that during the Holy Confession the priest will ask you many detailed questions, "address the root of the problem," etc. And that is so not only because the priest does not have enough time (others are waiting, etc.) - no, it is so because the Holy Mystery of Confession is PRINCIPALLY different from spiritual conversation/therapy/healing, different by its mere nature. The Holy Mystery of Confession is, basically, "I sinned!!!" It's a "catharsis" during which all three parties involved - the penitent, the witness-priest, and God - are simply looking at the person who has realized his/her sin, guilt, shame, and cry, and sense - feel - savor the need to get rid of the sin and to move on. This is the moment of simply "throwing yourself down" to the bottom of the Cross, and NOT the moment of rational search for the "root of the problem" (which all three of the involved parties actually already KNOW anyway). The rational dissection of one's behavior and the search for therapeutic measures in order to correct behavioral problems belongs to a completely different "domain" of the priest's work, i.e. to the routine spiritual guidance sessions.
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« Reply #10 on: June 04, 2009, 11:12:43 AM »

I've heard more than one Catholic priest bemoan the people who come into the confessional, especially if there's a long line, and basically just babble about their problems and make excuses for their sins and look for validation.  One monk with whom I was close with who heard confessions Saturday night before the vigil mass absolutely hated it when people did anything more other than "I did this and this and this".  For him, confession was just that.  If you're looking for real spiritual direction (eg anything more than confession of sins), one should make an appointment. 

There is an interesting piece in Fr. Alexander Schmemann's "Journals" about this (in Russian). As the Dean of St. Vladimir Seminary and as a priest, Fr. Alexander had the responsibilty to hear confessions of very many of his students, and he actually grew to dislike it that among American young men and women, there is a sort of "expectation" that the Confession will be a psychotherapy session. He wrote that it is sad that there is no distinction in people's minds between the Holy Mystery of Confession on the one hand, and a routine spiritual conversation with your spiritual Father on the other. You shoud NOT, in Fr. Alexander's opinion, expect that during the Holy Confession the priest will ask you many detailed questions, "address the root of the problem," etc. And that is so not only because the priest does not have enough time (others are waiting, etc.) - no, it is so because the Holy Mystery of Confession is PRINCIPALLY different from spiritual conversation/therapy/healing, different by its mere nature. The Holy Mystery of Confession is, basically, "I sinned!!!" It's a "catharsis" during which all three parties involved - the penitent, the witness-priest, and God - are simply looking at the person who has realized his/her sin, guilt, shame, and cry, and sense - feel - savor the need to get rid of the sin and to move on. This is the moment of simply "throwing yourself down" to the bottom of the Cross, and NOT the moment of rational search for the "root of the problem" (which all three of the involved parties actually already KNOW anyway). The rational dissection of one's behavior and the search for therapeutic measures in order to correct behavioral problems belongs to a completely different "domain" of the priest's work, i.e. to the routine spiritual guidance sessions.

Yah here is the problem though.  I know some other liturgical theologians who make the same distinction = spiritual conversation vs. confession.  They would even go so far as to say that you can have anyone as a spiritual guide, including a nun, monk who are not ordained, or even a spiritual brother or sister.  After "talking spiritual things with them" and basically giving them your confession you can then go to a priest for absolution.  See how this can be a problem? 

I'm gona go take a look at what some of the fathers say about confession, but I would be willing to bet that they would say that the priest needs to get to the root of the problem, as many have suggested.  I'm not sure why Fr. Schmemman says that a priest shouldn't be doing this in confession.  What is the difference between them coming to your office and talking to you about the roots of their problems, vs. them doing it in front of God, and TO God....seems to be the same thing to me. WHy do we have to dichotomize. 
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« Reply #11 on: June 04, 2009, 11:46:36 AM »

Interesting topic. Coming from a background that didn't involve much confession, it was a very scary thing-and still is. It felt very awkward to me, simply because I had no idea how to go about it really, nor what exactly to expect. I had no idea how much I was to say or how little. Initially, I had to draw up a list, which I would read. Gradually I realized that all priests have different approaches to confession. It doesn't matter if they are American or European. One American priest I know just likes to hear the very basic sins, occasionally says something, but otherwise you just list the sins. Another Russian priest I know asks all sorts of probing questions (which I have wondered if they are really necessary), and wants to know every single last detail. I prefer something sort of in the middle. One time I was terribly depressed and in tears and there happened to be an RC church on the street. I just went in and in despair, went to the confessional (with a screen) and poured out my heart to him. I actually rather liked the screen and the fact that he couldn't really see me. It was neat. Interestingly, he told me exactly the same things the Orthodox priests say.
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« Reply #12 on: June 04, 2009, 01:29:54 PM »

Having also not been reared in a church which does not (at least in modern times) value or regard confession highly, and having read this thread with interest at the same time while examining myself to make my own confession tomorrow, there are a few things I want to share. Take them or leave them.

When I was Lutheran, one of my priests offered private confession and absolution.  I took advantage of that as much as I could.  HOwever, in the preparation to make confession, right before actually confessing, I would pray to the Lord that "I want to do better."  To me, this sounds more like psychotherapy than it does confession.  If confession, like all the mysteries, is to be a means on the road to the theosis then we need to clarify what theosis is.  And theosis IS NOT, as Archimandrite George of St. Gregorios Monastery writes, simply becoming a better moral person. It is becoming like Christ, in everything. And, I think that is what many of us, if not most of us are trying to do in confession.  We are aiming at moral perfection, not godly perfection.

And, perhaps this is mainly for those of us who are converts from a Protestant confessions (I really don't want to get into a cradle vs. convert controversy, just hear me out), I think a lot of us may have this belief when we go to confession that we are trying to appease this deity who is wrathful and hates sin.  We approach the confessional with fear and trembling (which is fine as this is the Lord), but without the clear immediate realization that his mercy endureth forever, especially at the confessional!  The confessional, to many, in my view, represents judgment and so we enter into a juridical mindset.  Yes, we need to be honest and forthcoming with declarations of "I have sinned" but that should not requireus to think for a moment that God is only our Judge and no longer our Saviour.  Surely, he is both.

There has been discussion here as to whether we should, in our confessions, go into the root of the problem since this is what psychotherapy does.  Sin does have roots and, for many, one sin leads to another which leads to another creating a domino effect.  We may not be consciously be aware of what it is.  In my case, I know that my lack of attentiveness to my prayers and fasting is often the culprit that can lead to other vices and obstacles in the attaining of theosis.  One sin gives way to another.  As St. John Damascene writes in his On the Virtues and the Vices, "You should also learn to distinguish the impassioned thoughts that promote every sin...It does not lie within our power to decide whether or not these eight thoughts are going to arise and disturb us.  But to dwell on them or not to dwell on them, to excite the passions or not excite them, does lie within our power."  (Philokalia, vol. ii, p. 337)

Thus, we should be very aware of what the roots of our sins are even if we are unable to control when or when they cannot drive us to further sin against our Lord and God. But we can learn ways to combat how much they will influence the nous, the intelligence.  With that in mind, confession is a therapy of the soul, but unlike modern psychotheraphy, it does not justify.  And let's face it, many of us do try to justify it (I know I do).  And we try to justify it because many of us see God in the Confessional only as the stringent Judge who goes by the letter of the 10 commandments.  Is Christ no longer our Saviour?  Of course, he is.  That should never be an excuse for us to continue in our sin, as St. Paul says in Romans "God forbid!", but it should remind us that confession is not a juridical act and that the Christian life is not simply trying to be and live morally, but it is to become like our Lord in every respect.  Yes, we have sinned and come short of the glory of God, but, thanks be to God, that's not the end of the story.

Just my thoughts.  Again, use them as you will.
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« Reply #13 on: June 04, 2009, 02:13:40 PM »

I've heard more than one Catholic priest bemoan the people who come into the confessional, especially if there's a long line, and basically just babble about their problems and make excuses for their sins and look for validation.  One monk with whom I was close with who heard confessions Saturday night before the vigil mass absolutely hated it when people did anything more other than "I did this and this and this".  For him, confession was just that.  If you're looking for real spiritual direction (eg anything more than confession of sins), one should make an appointment.  

There is an interesting piece in Fr. Alexander Schmemann's "Journals" about this (in Russian). As the Dean of St. Vladimir Seminary and as a priest, Fr. Alexander had the responsibilty to hear confessions of very many of his students, and he actually grew to dislike it that among American young men and women, there is a sort of "expectation" that the Confession will be a psychotherapy session. He wrote that it is sad that there is no distinction in people's minds between the Holy Mystery of Confession on the one hand, and a routine spiritual conversation with your spiritual Father on the other. You shoud NOT, in Fr. Alexander's opinion, expect that during the Holy Confession the priest will ask you many detailed questions, "address the root of the problem," etc. And that is so not only because the priest does not have enough time (others are waiting, etc.) - no, it is so because the Holy Mystery of Confession is PRINCIPALLY different from spiritual conversation/therapy/healing, different by its mere nature. The Holy Mystery of Confession is, basically, "I sinned!!!" It's a "catharsis" during which all three parties involved - the penitent, the witness-priest, and God - are simply looking at the person who has realized his/her sin, guilt, shame, and cry, and sense - feel - savor the need to get rid of the sin and to move on. This is the moment of simply "throwing yourself down" to the bottom of the Cross, and NOT the moment of rational search for the "root of the problem" (which all three of the involved parties actually already KNOW anyway). The rational dissection of one's behavior and the search for therapeutic measures in order to correct behavioral problems belongs to a completely different "domain" of the priest's work, i.e. to the routine spiritual guidance sessions. 

Yah here is the problem though.  I know some other liturgical theologians who make the same distinction = spiritual conversation vs. confession.  They would even go so far as to say that you can have anyone as a spiritual guide, including a nun, monk who are not ordained, or even a spiritual brother or sister.  After "talking spiritual things with them" and basically giving them your confession you can then go to a priest for absolution.  See how this can be a problem? 

I'm gona go take a look at what some of the fathers say about confession, but I would be willing to bet that they would say that the priest needs to get to the root of the problem, as many have suggested.  I'm not sure why Fr. Schmemman says that a priest shouldn't be doing this in confession.  What is the difference between them coming to your office and talking to you about the roots of their problems, vs. them doing it in front of God, and TO God....seems to be the same thing to me. WHy do we have to dichotomize.  

I think the difference in approach is probably Ortho-cultural - coming from a "you need to commune each time before Communion" culture, prolonged confessions that do indeed investigate the roots of sin would take tremendous time and would likely delay the beginning of Liturgy; if confession is rather a Quartery or Semi-Annual event, then the prolonged search for the roots ("weed 'n feed") must take place.

Of course, I will disagree with the first approach, not only because of the "each communion requires confession" part (Let's not debate this here - pick another thread), but because the time will be spent either way, it's just the priest's decision when that is - and personally, I'd rather the confession and spiritual advice take place at the same time, just as diagnosis-treatment of illness should take place at the same time (or at least commence at the same time).
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« Reply #14 on: June 04, 2009, 02:58:21 PM »

I almost always do the "booth." I guess they are more common up in Boston.

I am in NYC right now, and today I went to confession. Ugh---all I got from the priest was some psychobabble about how I need to focus less on my sins and more on how I'm a "good person." He helped me with that by NOT giving me a penance.

I decided to come up with my own penance: to pray that the new guidebook finds its way into that priest's hands...

Fortunately my experiences with confession have almost always been much better, including with so-called "liberal" priests.
Is there a partial or plenary indulgence attached to that? Roll Eyes
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« Reply #15 on: June 04, 2009, 07:46:11 PM »

If there is, it's not in the official book. I guess I'll just have to wing it.  Wink
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« Reply #16 on: June 04, 2009, 08:32:53 PM »

I actually find this news sad. To me Confession IS indeed therapy. Not in the secular sense, but confession is a lot more to just "listing" my sins and then getting absolved. But perhaps I misunderstand the article, I don't know. Anyways, it will be good they'll have a "standard" to follow I suppose, rather than priests doing their own thing from day to day. So I give credit for that.

Interesting post indeed....
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« Reply #17 on: June 04, 2009, 11:13:11 PM »

This has always summed it up for me; 'Confession is good for the SOUL'
It is cleansing; spiritually rejuvenating. Healing the soul and making one's yoke much, much easier.

Matt 11:28-30
28  Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
  29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
  30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
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« Reply #18 on: June 05, 2009, 12:27:37 AM »

What the Holy See is responding to is the problem outlined in this famous (and prophetic) book:



This is a problem in the wider society which came into Christian churches several decades ago. The goal of the Christian life became a sort of self-actualization divorced from the sense of sin (and the Fall).
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« Reply #19 on: June 05, 2009, 12:52:39 AM »

What the Holy See is responding to is the problem outlined in this famous (and prophetic) book....
This is a problem in the wider society which came into Christian churches several decades ago. The goal of the Christian life became a sort of self-actualization divorced from the sense of sin (and the Fall).

In other words, Western Christianity and Western culture no longer talk about sin, because psychotherapists -- the new, secular, priests -- operate from a biomedical, instead of a theological, standpoint. Of course, psychotherapists may have been responding to an oppressive sense of "guilt" that burdened Westerners brought up within a Protestantism dominated by "original sin" and a wrathful deity. Roll Eyes



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« Reply #20 on: June 05, 2009, 02:44:22 AM »


I've heard more than one Catholic priest bemoan the people who come into the confessional, especially if there's a long line, and basically just babble about their problems and make excuses for their sins and look for validation.  One monk with whom I was close with who heard confessions Saturday night before the vigil mass absolutely hated it when people did anything more other than "I did this and this and this".  For him, confession was just that.  If you're looking for real spiritual direction (eg anything more than confession of sins), one should make an appointment.

Hmmmm. I've found that my father of confession actually seems to prefer including a sort of "counseling" within the Confession process.
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« Reply #21 on: June 05, 2009, 02:57:01 PM »


I've heard more than one Catholic priest bemoan the people who come into the confessional, especially if there's a long line, and basically just babble about their problems and make excuses for their sins and look for validation.  One monk with whom I was close with who heard confessions Saturday night before the vigil mass absolutely hated it when people did anything more other than "I did this and this and this".  For him, confession was just that.  If you're looking for real spiritual direction (eg anything more than confession of sins), one should make an appointment.

Hmmmm. I've found that my father of confession actually seems to prefer including a sort of "counseling" within the Confession process.
When you say "counseling" do you refer to outside help?
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« Reply #22 on: June 05, 2009, 03:11:48 PM »


Hmmmm. I've found that my father of confession actually seems to prefer including a sort of "counseling" within the Confession process.
Actually, penance IS counseling. It gets to the root of the problem. You know, good ol' time medieval penance did the trick. Where you had to do push-ups on thorns as you recite 1000 Hail Marys. Deprive yourself of food for forty days and forty nights while simultaneously flogging youserlf. Kneeling on sharp, pointy pebbles and reciting the Our Father til the cows came home. That usually got to the root of the problem.

(I kid  Roll Eyes )
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« Reply #23 on: June 05, 2009, 04:01:15 PM »


I've heard more than one Catholic priest bemoan the people who come into the confessional, especially if there's a long line, and basically just babble about their problems and make excuses for their sins and look for validation.  One monk with whom I was close with who heard confessions Saturday night before the vigil mass absolutely hated it when people did anything more other than "I did this and this and this".  For him, confession was just that.  If you're looking for real spiritual direction (eg anything more than confession of sins), one should make an appointment.

Hmmmm. I've found that my father of confession actually seems to prefer including a sort of "counseling" within the Confession process.
When you say "counseling" do you refer to outside help?

No. By this I mean that Father likes to discuss the sin, its background, analyze the reason why it was done, and try to see how it can be avoided in the future. Not that this is the limit of the process, but hopefully it gives a rough picture of what I'm talking about.
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