Despite parishes and dioceses inviting inactive Catholics to return to church at Lent, with the sacrament of reconciliation as an incentive, it is likely Catholics are afraid, bewildered or even intimidated at the prospect of returning to the confessional after such a long period away from it, reports the Catholic News Service.
A rote recitation of sins doesn't seem quite right. Laundry lists, as some priests call them, are out. In fact, one advises, even devising a game plan before returning to the confessional is out.
"Just come. Don't prepare. We'll do it in there. I'll help you with this. At the end of it, you're going to think about things we didn't cover. You can come again," said Msgr Richard Lavalley, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Vermont. "The more complicated it becomes, the worse it becomes. They (penitents) don't know what to make of it and they become ashamed."
The motivations for wanting to go back to confession can be many, said Jesuit Father Jake Empereur, a priest since 1965 and a parochial vicar at St. Matthew Parish in San Antonio.
"It could be because of health issues. It could be because their conscience moves them to finally be able to participate in the church and the liturgy and Communion and things like that," he said. "People get married. Sometimes it's someone's first Communion, sometimes it's a wedding. It's all sorts of different reasons."
Msgr Lavalley said he tells penitents, "If you're holding back because you're afraid or you're frightened or you don't know what to do or how to say it, say 'Our Lady sent me.' I can't tell you how many times that's worked."
Msgr Lavalley, ordained in 1964, remembers himself as a grade schooler making comparisons among the priests in his parish about which ones handed out sterner or lighter penances.
He recalled one experience with a priest that "made me the confessor that I am. He was so kind and so wonderful, and I never forgot the penance he gave me. He said, 'Can you say the name of Jesus once? I'll say it for you.' And he did it without sarcasm.
"That changed my life."
FULL STORY: Tips for the confessional (CNS)