‘Confession Changed Me’
Mercy-Filled Stories of Transformation and Reconciliation
Confession. Reconciliation. Penance.
By any of these names, it is the sacrament of mercy, offering a grace so necessary and yet so avoided by many.
Particularly poignant and memorable life-changing stories shared by Register readers attest to how this vital sacrament revived their souls, renewed their spirits and rehabilitated their lives, in the hope that their experiences spur others to seek out the confessional, too.
We wish space allowed every single beautiful story that was shared with the Register to appear in print, but here are a few representatives from the myriad responses. Many thanks to all who shared their uplifting stories.
Two stories illustrate how confession lightens the soul — and even manifests such spiritual relief in physical reactions.
Although he hadn’t gone to confession in 22 years, Scott Liberati was growing in knowledge of Catholic teaching and felt a need to return to confession.
“My pride was still vying for control and would not allow me to confess to my home parish priest, so I resolved myself to go to confession while my family would be visiting my in-laws in a distant diocese,” he wrote to the Register.
So, on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, he trudged through the snow to the local church, feeling like he “was carrying a loaded backpack at the end of a very long hike.”
Finishing his “litany of sins,” he heard his confessor say it was obvious he was “undergoing a conversion experience,” Liberati recalled.
The priest gave him penance and “spoke those incredible words of absolution. As he did, I knew it was Jesus himself speaking to me through his priest … and I cried.”
Liberati remembered how, on the walk back, “I felt so much physically lighter that I almost think I was floating instead of walking. We’ve all heard the metaphorical sentiment that sin ‘weighs you down.’ I’m telling you now that I was given the grace to actually feel the physical weight of my sins.”
In a similar way, Brian Schumacher of Salt Lake City shared that his “first confession was the first supernatural moment in [his] life,” when he entered the Catholic Church in 2018.
Raised a Lutheran, he found so many of his illusions about confession shattered once he experienced the sacrament.
“This incredible feeling of joy and euphoria came over me,” he realized. “All my life I knew I was forgiven in an academic sense, but this time, for the first time, I felt that forgiveness. I felt lighter and brighter.”
He continued: “I couldn’t stop smiling, and all concerns and anxieties were gone — not just gone in a fleeting moment of happiness, but gone as in vanished, not to come back again.
“… I knew this feeling was not contrived; it was genuine, and it’s stuck with me ever since. It was through that confession that joy entered my life. It’s a joy that can suffer sadness, insecurity and anxiety, but will never be overcome by them and instead routs them.”
Susan Teaford saw her Cursillo retreat weekend as the opportunity “to come completely clean” and confess a sin that she had held back because of embarrassment. She explained, “I figured I could make a full confession to an anonymous priest who I would never see again and finally make peace with my past. ... I went in, began my confession and began to cry, which I had never done before in confession. The priest was very compassionate and offered me some words of comfort — guidance as well as absolution. I walked out feeling as if the weight of the world was lifted from my shoulders.”
So changed was her appearance that her Cursillo roommate “said I looked as if I was floating 3 feet off the ground,” she recalled. “So obviously my joy and inner peace was radiating on my face without me knowing it. From that day until now, I have never intentionally held anything back in confession.”
“Because God has a marvelous sense of humor,” Teaford added, “that ‘anonymous’ priest has since become a dear friend, my confessor and spiritual director.”
According to Sara Durch, it was her own children who taught her the infinite value to be found in the confessional. “The boys’ first reconciliation seemed like a turning point for me,” wrote Durch, who converted to Catholicism before marrying in 2001. After marriage and through her children’s early childhood, she and her husband were “far from what anyone would call devout Catholics.”
After moving in 2016, the Durch parents found St. Charles in Bayport, Minnesota, and brought their sons to second-grade classes for the sacrament of reconciliation before first Holy Communion. Sara Durch didn’t accept the invitation for parents to go to confession that day, but almost a year later, she “heard God’s call to go to confession.”
She went in with “paper notes that included the sins and the Act of Contrition,” she recalled. “Father sat facing the opposite wall ...” and she found herself feeling quite at ease as she began her confession with the priest who wore a sweatshirt over his clerics. “Through my tears, I said it had been 18 years since my last confession. Father sat with his eyes closed and asked me what made me come back. I said that I felt called. I nervously recited my list and was rewarded with a calm response” from the priest. “What an incredible experience.”
She continued, “By Sunday afternoon, I noticed my demeanor seemed different from what it was typically. I felt calm, patient and joyful. Navigating the daily trials of family life was easy. It really was an indescribable calm. That day changed everything, Jan. 12, 2019. Confession changed me. I have jumped headfirst into the faith and now humbly count myself as a devout Catholic. The holy man in a hooded sweatshirt led me there.”
The People Will Come
Ewaen Ehimwenma wrote of Father Alexander Nzemeke, who worked in Nigeria and died in 2016. Frail and week after his retirement, he “still would struggle to carry out his duties, to say Mass, to say his prayers, to attend to those who came to see him, including those who wished to confess.”
The homilist at his memorial Mass recalled, as Ehimwenma related, that, however sick and weak Father Nzemeke was, he “would not send him away, or any penitent for that matter, even if it meant he had to hear their confessions in bed. And, yes, he did hear them and absolved them as he lay in bed.”
Ehimwenma emphasized, “Such had been the depth of his dedication to the confessional all through his priestly life, exhibiting great care and love for the soul of any penitent who came to him for the sacrament of reconciliation.”
He quoted Father Nzemeke, who wrote in his book The Priest and His Contacts With God, “It is in the confessional more than elsewhere that the priest does the work of Christ, who came to the world precisely to take away the sins of men. … If any priest feels a reluctance toward any of his duties for whatever reason,” such reluctance “should not be toward the call under whatever circumstance to hear confessions.”
“No one should shirk this ministerial duty,” Father Nzemeke continued in his writing on confession, “under any pretext whatever, no matter how it may be. One of the really incontrovertible signs that one is a good priest is the readiness with which he offers his service to hear confessions whenever he is requested. A constant confessor is indeed a constant priest.’’
Belinda Roccaforte saw this same constancy in action after she joined a Houston parish in 1992. At the time she joined, often there was no priest in the confessional during the designated time.
But 12 years later, a new pastor moved the tabernacle from the back of church to the center of the sanctuary behind the altar and introduced confession several times a week. “People began to come, and the lines wrapped around the church,” Roccaforte said.
Now the current pastor “not only has priests available to offer confession, but they are available in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.” And the regular parish schedule offers confession hours six days every week.
“The amazing thing I have noticed about confession,” Roccaforte affirmed, “is that the more times it is offered, the greater numbers of people come — ‘If you build it, they will come.’”
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.
Read additional confession stories here.