Older adults' confessions Q. What do elderly people confess when they go to confession? Most of us do not sin a lot. I find myself praying much of the day. Does the Church still want us to go to confession?

-- B.R., Dickinson, N.D.

A. Here’s a reply from Msgr. M. Francis Mannion:

One of the things I find myself having to do in confession on a regular basis is reassuring elderly people that they should not be embarrassed when they do not have serious sins to confess. Half-jokingly, I tell them that God is not upset that they do not have mortal sins on their souls -- God is happy about this. Usually, they get the point immediately.

The Catholic tradition holds that confession is good for the soul -- and this truth applies to all age groups and to people in all possible moral conditions. The grace of confession is that it gives us the opportunity to face the good and bad, the negative and positive in us -- and to get a good reading of our moral status before God and our brothers and sisters.

We may not think that we have much to confess. But the fact is none of us -- or at least most of us -- have not reached the perfection of the saints and, when we think about it, there is always something to bring to confession.

I am not breaking the seal of the sacrament when I say that in my experience of the confession of elderly people, their sins are often sins of omission. Examples are: a tendency to get into a rut spiritually, letting prayers become routine and thoughtless; a failure to forgive or to be patient with children, grandchildren and neighbors; a tendency to feel hopeless about the state of the world; letting illness get the better of them psychologically and spiritually -- something that is easy to understand; and a tendency to look back over their past sins and doubt that God has forgiven them.

Priests can often be impatient with the confessions of the elderly and give the impression that they are wasting time by coming to the sacrament. This is most unfortunate. Does the Church want those in their senior years to go to confession? It certainly does. The task of the good confessor is to help people, not least the elderly, make a good confession.