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How to Go to Confession When You Don't Know How
How to Go to Confession When You Don't Know How
Ann M. S. Le Blanc
St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2003
60 pp., $4.99

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Frederica Mathewes-Green

Good for the Soul

Does being a Christian mean always having to say you're sorry? When outsiders look at the Roman Catholic rite of confession (now more often termed "reconciliation"), they suspect it is driven by feelings of masochistic self-hatred, and sustained by claims of sacerdotal magic. Why should we have to spend this life groveling over sins, if Jesus already paid for them on the Cross? Why should we speak sins out loud to another person, when they could remain between us and the bedpost? And why should we believe that a priest stands between us and God, forgiving or retaining our debts as he chooses?

Two new books from Roman Catholic authors attempt to make the case for regular sacramental confession. Scott Hahn, one of the best-known contemporary evangelical converts to Catholicism, builds Lord Have Mercy: The Healing Power of Confession on a foundation of Scripture and Tradition. It's a work of firm and orderly persuasion, calling Catholics back to a sacrament that has become astonishingly neglected. In my own Catholic girlhood, once every couple of weeks was the norm; now, Hahn tells us, parishes of several thousand worshippers offer only a half-hour of posted times a week. Even priests themselves don't go to confession: "almost half of our priests avail themselves of the sacrament only 'once or twice a year,' 'rarely,' or 'never.'"

Ann M. S. LeBlanc's short book, How to Go to Confession When You Don't Know How, is lively and inviting, often funny, and on occasion quite beautiful. LeBlanc has in mind a select audience: Catholics who desire something more personal than what is expected during that posted half-hour, and who make an appointment with a priest for a private confession. She is addressing Catholics who haven't done this before and "don't know how," and maybe aren't entirely sure they want to.

She once put herself in that category. She recounts the following conversation with her priest, Father John:

"I'm not going to do it.""You don't have to, A. M.""No way I'm going ...

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