Day of Confessions: a view from the priest's side

Father Kris Schmidt is one of the new priests in the Archdiocese of Edmonton, having been ordained less than two years ago.

As he prepared for this year’s Day of Confessions (Wednesday, February 17), he shared some thoughts about the Sacrament of Reconciliation and his experiences with this special day. As an assistant pastor at St. Joseph’s Basilica, he admits he was a little overwhelmed at the prospect of spending 10 hours in the confessional last year.

“But it was actually a grace-filled day where you just kept going and didn’t notice the time go by,” he said.

Father Kris was particularly moved by meeting people who were coming back to the sacrament after years away, and by “being that point of contact between people and God for the first time sometimes in decades in their life. I was really struck personally by how many young adults who had been away from the Church since their teens and came back on the Day of Confessions.”

At the Basilica last year, six priests were hearing confessions, and still there were lineups. This year, two priests from the Basilica will be joined by the three bishops of the Archdiocese as well as some priests from St. Joseph Seminary, hearing confessions from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. They will be sure to have a full complement of confessors during the busy lunch and evening hours.

As Pope Francis has said, it takes courage to confess. And Father Kris has witnessed that in the people who line up for Day of Confessions. “For them to be willing to wait for that amount of time just shows the conviction in them, that they want to make a change in their life, that they’re searching for God in a real way, that it’s not just something they stumbled into because they saw the sign, but it’s a conviction of the heart.”

But how does a priest cope personally with hearing so much pain and guilt in one penitent after another? Father Kris admits that when he first began hearing confessions for just an hour at a time, it left him emotionally and spiritually drained.

“It was a challenge at the beginning of my priesthood, because I was very conscious and aware of the responsibility of being a confessor, not wanting to say the wrong thing. Wanting the help the person, but not being so lenient that I don’t really draw them deeper into the mercy of God. 

"But the more I settled down and made it more of a prayerful experience, the more I was able to acknowledge and recognize the presence of Christ in me as a confessor, it changed a lot the way I counselled people, the way I listened to them, and where I thought I needed to bring them in the confession.

“In my own experience, it’s those moments when I am most in communion with Christ, where I’m in a good place, that I can feel the change in compassion towards others. That was very tangible during the Day of Confessions. It changes the way you listen, the way you address the penitent. I can feel the difference. So it’s good when I go to confession just before I hear confessions!”

Like all priests, Father Kris encourages everyone to celebrate the sacrament, even if they haven’t been for a very long time. For those who aren’t sure what to do, he helps them examine their conscience by working through the Ten Commandments. 

“One thing that I will tell people who say they haven’t been in a while but have some sense of the flow of confession, is start with the hardest one, the one that’s weighing heaviest on your heart, and go from there. Tell God whatever you feel – rip it off like a bandaid; it’s easier that way.”

“People have a great sense of their guilt and shame before coming to the confessional. And if there’s any way to kind of respectfully ease that tension within them, to try to bring them to the knowledge that they are loved, to break through that barrier of guilt and shame, that’s going to put them at ease. 

“Sometimes you can see the change in the penitent when they realize  ‘I am not the worst person in the world.’ There are times when they break into tears, or a sigh of relief. You can just feel that burden of guilt and shame disappear in an instant. To me, that’s really what Pope Francis keeps driving home in the experience of God’s mercy.”

All parishes in the Archdiocese will be open as long as possible for Day of Confessions. Don't miss it -- Wednesday, February 17. 

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