‘Confession Is a Place of Victory’

Interview with Father Mike Schmitz

Father Mike Schmitz is the director of youth and young-adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth, Minn., the chaplain for Newman Catholic campus ministry at the University of Minnesota at Duluth and a popular speaker. As the chaplain, he makes the sacrament of reconciliation available every day and has written about this sacrament from his priestly perspective.

 

Why do you think people are afraid of the confessional or neglect it today?

First, it means admitting to someone that you’ve messed up. We live in a world afraid of showing weakness, a world where we’re afraid admitting we failed. Living in such a culture makes it hard and scary, admitting my performance didn’t measure up.

We have a tendency to really doubt our worth. But I have to admit my worth isn’t dependent upon my performance.

Then there’s a lot of suspicion and these fears — will the priest get mad at me or think poorly of me later on?

This is not about making you feel as bad as you can feel; it’s about helping you be healed as much as you can be healed. The priest is there showing how. The Catechism shows the priest is the servant of the sacrament and meant to be a minister of healing.

Once people get that, then confession takes on a whole new dimension.

 

Do most Catholics have a good understanding of confession?

Most Catholics in our culture have about a second-grade level of their faith. I mean that not as an insult — that’s a description. Ask them: “What are the Ten Commandments?” The vast majority can’t name the Ten Commandments.

So the examination of conscience is still a second-grade exam: “Did I pull my sister’s hair or disobey my parents?” It should be: “How am I treating my co-workers? Do I tell white lies on a daily basis? Have I harbored grudges or forgiven people? How do I treat my wife?”

 

What is it like to sit in the confessional?

It’s one of the best places in the world. Even if someone comes in with that second-grade level and doesn’t know what to do, that’s never a problem. A lot stay away because they say they forgot how to go to confession. Or the fact they don’t know the Act of Contrition is going to keep them away. I say, “Go in and tell the priest. He’s going to help you out and not say you’re an idiot.”

It’s a joy not only because of the power of the sacrament, but the ability to meet people looking for grace. And God speaks to us. In a really unique way, confession is one of those places where God speaks to us. Not always through the priest, but through the words of absolution.

 

Are there any other misconceptions people have about the confessional that they need to correct?

We have it backward. So many people see the confessional as a place of defeat, but confession is a place of victory every single time.

It’s a place where I acknowledge sin has beaten me, but I’m letting Jesus win. A lot of times we go to confession to convince God to give us one more chance: “I’m sorry; I promise I won’t do it again.”

But what’s actually happening in confession? Every person who prays only prays in response to God’s invitation. It’s God who moves first. He always calls first. That means every time you and I go to confession it’s a response to God inviting us to confession.

In confession you say, “God, I give you permission to give me your mercy, to love me and to forgive me.” He’s the one saying, “Give me a chance.”

 

What is your greatest sorrow in the confessional?

One of the really hard things is when someone is in an irregular situation. Someone finally gets the courage, the motivation to come to the Lord in confession, but he or she is cohabiting or married outside the Church and has no plans of changing that … saying, “There’s part of me that wants God, but I’m not interested in changing my life or obeying what God wants. We’re living together, but we’re not getting married.”

I can imagine all the fears they had coming here, but I can’t give them absolution. There’s even no intention to remedy that situation. That’s the absolutely hardest part.

 

What is your greatest joy?

The best is when the opposite happens — when someone says, “What do I need to do to reconcile with God?” and there’s a fear but an openness. They’re doing it in the way that they’re giving God their hearts. When we can see that happening, that is the best.

 

Do you remember individual confessions?

I don’t remember. I would call it “divine amnesia.” There is a certain grace. To be completely honest, there are rare times I would remember one of three things. Either I remember: Jack went to confession, but I don’t remember what he said; or someone confessed this, but I don’t remember who it was; or Jack confessed this, and I remember, but it happens so very, very rarely that I take it as a sign God wants me to pray for Jack — the only reason God left it [on my mind] is because of that. It is always in relation to God’s love.

I honestly, never in all my time — 12 years as a priest — met a worse sinner than myself: You are the worst sinner you know because you are the only sinner you know from the inside out.

  

Even saints like John Paul II and Mother Teresa went to confession weekly.

People forget that confession doesn’t just forgive sin. Confession heals wounds, strengthens us and purifies us. What does grace do? It elevates and perfects.

Confession is a sacrament, and the sacraments are signs to give grace. Even if you don’t have to go [due to mortal sin], you’ve got grace that’s elevating and protecting your nature. Say, “I want that grace and power to do good and follow God.”

 Joseph Pronechen is the Register’s staff writer.

Read the full interview at NCRegister.com.