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Confession: Your Secret Is Safe with Me

February 10, 2020


Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.
—William Shakespeare

My father used to say, “With almost no exceptions, assume that anything you say to anyone will be known to all at some point.” In other words, realize that people who truly hold confidences are few, and so entrust your sacred secrets to only those rare people who have proven themselves worthy.  Or as Schopenhauer once put it, “If I maintain my silence about my secret it is my prisoner. If I let it slip from my tongue, I am its prisoner.”

I have found this to be an iron law.

Yet I myself have failed innumerable times over the years in keeping to this law. A confessor once said to me, “If you demand others to respect confidentiality, you have to hold yourself first to the highest standard.” He added, “When someone opens their trust and reveals to you a secret to be kept, you become a sanctuary with a tabernacle in which they reserve their pearl of great price. Don’t throw it to the swine to be trampled.” I couldn’t help but thinking that day of Fulton Sheen’s words: “What is Confession? Nudity. It is nudity of the soul. It is stripping ourselves of all false excuses and shams and pretenses and revealing ourselves as we really are.”

And why do we feel such reckless freedom to strip naked before God in that sacrament? The absolute seal of confidentiality, as it is Christ who receives my secrets, not the priest. The same, I’d say, holds for all the baptized who have become the ears, eyes, and heart of Christ. It is Christ in us who receives another’s secret in confidence, and we are to be his trustworthy ministers.

The Catechism says, “Truthfulness keeps to the just mean between what ought to be expressed and what ought to be kept secret: it entails honesty and discretion.” In an age of gossip, calumny, detraction, promise-breaking and truth-dumping, we Christians, as prophets of the Truth-made-flesh, can evangelize first by revering the sacredness of human communication in the way we practice honesty, discretion, and hold confidences.

And in honor of St. John, let’s not just talk about it . . .

Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

—1 John 3:18