When I talk about the Sacrament of Penance in RCIA or in adult catechesis classes, I often hear the question, "Why should I confess my sins to another person?" That's a valid question. But if you think about it, most of us engage in some sort of "confession" all the time, we just don't think of it in the same way as we do celebrating the Sacrament with a priest. How many of us have a friend or confident to whom we confide our deepest secrets? How many are in or have gone through therapy sessions? Talk to a bartender, hairdresser, or barber about how many "confessions" they have heard while serving drinks or cutting hair. There are plenty of "confessions" done over the internet. I freqent a Catholic website and I can't beleive how many people write asking for advice about how to deal with a particular sin or vice they have committed (sometimes with a bit too much detail). Then look at television. Some of the shows with the highest ratings , like Oprah, often have people on who reveal the wrongs they have done on national TV without batting an eyelash. There is a saying that "confession is good for the soul," and another that states, "we are only as sick as our secrets." I believe both are true. Deep down inside we have a need to tell someone what it is that we have done wrong. Many criminals are caught because they just can't keep what they did secret, and they tell someone who eventually reports it to the police. So why is it, that in a world where almost no one keeps secret what we do and what we don't do, is confessing to a priest so uncomfortable?
I think a lot has to do with guilt, or lack of it. If we don't sense that we are really doing something wrong then it is no big deal to tell others about it in the situations I mentioned above. But, when going to confession, I have to admit that, yes, what I did or am doing is wrong, it is sinful, and that I am want to stop doing it because it offends God (I beleive this is a major stubbling block for some). Carrying the weight of guilt and the anxiety of sin and offending God is a great burden to bear. But some people would rather carry that weight than have God lift it from them. Admitting our sins to a priest is a humbling experience, and it seems that today humility is looked down upon as a weakness. St. Benedict's fifth step of humility in the Holy Rule is to confess our sins. In Twelve Step programs, steps 4 through 10 speak of humbly acknowledging, confessing and making amends for our wrongs (sounds like confession to me). Humility leads to self-knowledge and to a right relationship with God and others, which leads to healing and growth. In celebrating the Sacrament the burden is lifted.
When I explain it in this way, I think it makes a lot of sense to some people. Sure I explain the theological reasons and the grace of the Sacrament, but for those with "high anxiety" over celebrating this Sacrament, appealing to simple logic seems to be a good start.