By Thandiwe Konguavi
Staff Writer

Confession. It’s often seen as the most nerve-wracking of the sacraments.

“I think when it comes to celebration of the sacraments it probably is one which people may find the most difficult because in a sense, we’re giving to God some of those dark parts that no one ever knows about,” said Rev. Paul Kavanagh, a priest who has been hearing confessions for nearly 15 years.

“But we offer them to God and know that God will forgive us if we’re sorry, if we’re contrite.”

Kavanagh directs the Office of Divine Worship, which organizes the annual Day of Confessions in the Archdiocese of Edmonton. This year it is set for Wednesday, March 8.

As pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in west Edmonton, he is also one of the priests who will be available to hear confessions from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on that day.

In the past, priests have reported hearing from 30, 40 and even 50 penitents each.

“I may try to sneak out to get something to eat,” Kavanagh joked.

Now in its fifth year, the Day of Confessions has been credited with renewing interest in celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation regularly, as well as with drawing penitents who have not ventured into the confessional in years.

“I’ve had people who have not been to confession sometimes in 30, 40, 50 years who want to return to the sacrament, and I always think it’s a great blessing that for whatever reason, they’ve come to the church that day, and hopefully, we could be instruments there of God’s forgiveness for them,” Kavanagh said.

“It's a powerful experience just celebrating confession, but you can see it in their face, in their facial expression, that for them it can be very powerful too.”  

Even as a priest, Kavanagh feels nervous when he confesses his own sins. But he also knows the importance of celebrating the sacrament frequently.

“The sacrament celebrated the most is that of the Eucharist, but with each of the sacraments we receive grace, and especially through the sacrament of confession,” Kavanagh said.

“God’s grace is poured out in that sacrament in a very beautiful and profound way, so I think when we come to realize that, we think, ‘Here is a sacrament that we want to celebrate on a more regular basis.’”

Kavanagh also cites “individualistic culture” as a reason for not attending confession.

“Often, people never look to say, ‘How do the things I do or things I say affect other people around me? People don't want to look at that in their lives,” he said.

“We look at celebrating the sacraments and especially confession, as a help to our own spiritual life, our own relationship with God, but also with the Church and with the community.”

Even those struggling with habitual sin can be assured they are forgiven.

“I think in many ways, it goes to show that we’re not just giving up or giving in to a particular sin but we want to face that, we want to have that conversion in our heart so that we can do better.”

God is always willing to forgive, Kavanagh said.

“We see that in a very profound way on the cross that He died for our sins, and even in the Scriptures we’re called to forgive 70 times seven. We’re always being called to forgive, so hopefully when we celebrate the sacrament of confession we know that God does forgive us.”

Kavanagh said penitents have the option of confessing their sins to a priest face to face, instead of the anonymity of a screen. Either way, the priest is obligated not to divulge what he hears.

For more information on Day of Confessions, including guides to the sacrament and hours of availability at parishes, visit the archdiocesan website at