From 100 of Pascal’s Thoughts.
Truly it is an evil to be full of faults; but it is a still greater evil to be full of them, and to be unwilling to recognise them, since that is to add the further fault of a voluntary illusion. We do not like others to deceive us; we do not think it fair that they should be held in higher esteem by us than they deserve; it is not then fair that we should deceive them, and should wish them to esteem us more highly than we deserve.
Thus, when they discover only the imperfections and vices which we really have, it is plain they do us no wrong, since it is not they who cause them; they rather do us good, since they help us to free ourselves from an evil, namely, the ignorance of these imperfections. We ought not to be angry at their knowing our faults and despising us; it is but right that they should know us for what we are, and should despise us, if we are contemptible.
Such are the feelings that would arise in a heart full of equity and justice. What must we say then of our own heart, when we see in it a wholly different disposition? For is it not true that we hate truth and those who tell it us, and that we like them to be deceived in our favour, and prefer to be esteemed by them as being other than what we are in fact? One proof of this makes me shudder. The Catholic religion does not bind us to confess our sins indiscriminately to everybody; it allows them to remain hidden from all other men save one, to whom she bids us reveal the innermost recesses of our heart, and show ourselves as we are. There is only this one man in the world whom she orders us to undeceive, and she binds him to an inviolable secrecy, which makes this knowledge to him as if it were not. Can we imagine anything more charitable and pleasant? And yet the corruption of man is such that he finds even this law harsh; and it is one of the main reasons which has caused a great part of Europe to rebel against the Church.
Few leave the Church these days because of confession, since reconciliation is not often encouraged. And it’s now not so much people telling you of your sins that’s a problem either. It’s that sins which are sins aren’t accepted or even known as sins. Now what do you do about that, especially when you have some leaders in the Church telling you to follow your conscience and that this self-same conscience is the best guide to right and wrong? Some people really do believe, or claim to, that certain acts in which they engage aren’t sins, even though they’re “on the books” as sins. Conscience overrules the book? We’re in ignorance-of-the-law-is-no-excuse territory here.
Then, once you know a sin is a sin, it isn’t always so easy fessing up to it. Rather, some faults are easy to admit, some hard. Some things you do, you’d sooner burn away in shame and bury yourself in some dark hole instead of saying, “Twice I …” Now you know the priest can’t say anything outside the box, but that doesn’t mean you don’t know that he knows that you know that he knows (I might have got lost there) what you did. And this induces a reluctance.
That reluctance is always worth overcoming. But you have to be ready with truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I think it was Pascal who also said (though I have been unable to discover the original quotation) that we often sculpt confessions so that we seem not so much less bad, but so that the priest thinks better of us.
Big things are thus sometimes easier to confess. Big ones are much more likely to be “one-offs” which you want to rid yourself of as soon as possible, and that even you yourself can’t believe you were stupid enough to do. It’s the lesser faults that prompt the most reluctance. “It’s been two weeks since my last confession, and this one is exactly the same as the last.” Now that is embarrassing; or worse, because you have the suspicion that you never meant it when you said (last time) “Never again.” They say Gracie Allen, of Burns & Allen, used to travel to a distant city to confess so that the priest wouldn’t recognize her. Sounds about right.
Pascal again, from Thoughts 529:
A person told me one day that on coming from confession he felt great joy and confidence. Another told me that he remained in fear. Whereupon I thought that these two together would make one good man, and that each was wanting in that he had not the feeling of the other. The same often happens in other things.