Thursday, April 28, 2011

For Divine Mercy Sunday, How to make a good confession

Divine Mercy Sunday, John 20:23
Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.
“See here the commission, stamped by the broad seal of heaven, by virtue of which the pastors of Christ’s Church absolve repenting sinners upon their confession.” (from the Douay-Rheims Bible Commentary)
It is clear that the Sunday of Divine Mercy is a day dedicated in a particular way to the sacrament of reconciliation. Indeed, in many parishes throughout the world, it is customary on this Sunday for the priests to be especially available to hear confessions throughout the day. How great a gift we have in this most precious sacrament, by which the blood of Christ is sacramentally poured out upon us and we are washed clean of our sins. Here the Divine Mercy is most evident – for the good God accepts the prodigal and clothes him as his own son once again! Oh blood and water which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in you!
However, although we know the necessity and the value of the sacrament, all of us (I dare say) have room for great improvement in making a more worthy confession. We should all continually be asking ourselves, How might I make a good (or better) confession? How might a good confession today, lead me to an even better confession in the future?

The acts of the penitent, what is necessary for a valid confession
There are three essential acts which are necessary to the penitent: contrition for sin, confession of sin, satisfaction for sin. Without these three elements, the confession will not be valid. Let us consider each in detail.
Contrition for sin: This is the most necessary act of the penitent in approaching the sacrament. “Among the penitent’s acts contrition occupies first place. Contrition is ‘sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again.’” (CCC 1451) We must have a true sorrow for our sins – not just for some sins, but for all sins. However, we ought not be discouraged if we find that we still retain some attachment to sin; we must simply desire to be free of that attachment, repent of that attachment, and ask the Lord for his mercy. Indeed, it will be enough if only we are sorry that we are not more sorry – if only we wish we were truly sorry; to desire a true sorrow is already an act of true (though imperfect) contrition.
Confession of sin: It is necessary to confess our sins to the priest. “Confession to a priest is an essential part of the sacrament of Penance: ‘All mortal sins of which penitents after a diligent self-examination are conscious must be recounted by them in confession.” (CCC 1456) Mortal sins must be confessed in kind and number – hence, in a particular case, it would not be enough simply to state, “I have murdered”; we must state, “I have committed abortion five times.” Likewise, “I have not prayed as I should” would not suffice when we should say, “I have skipped Mass on three Sundays.”
On the other hand, it is also worth noting that some (at least venial) sin must be confessed for a valid reception of the sacrament. If no sin is confessed, absolution cannot be given. Some actual sin must be confessed. Moreover, it is permissible (and even advisable) to confess previously absolved sins either generally (“I am sorry for all my sins against charity”) or even specifically (“I am sorry for having hated my mother”).
Satisfaction for sin: The principal means of satisfaction for sin is the accomplishment of the penance imposed upon us by the priest. This penance must be agreed to by the penitent – and, if the penance seems either too great or too small, the penitent is free to ask the confessor for a different penance (however, the priest is not necessarily obliged to comply with the request). If the penance is not accepted – if the penitent does not resolve to complete the penance – the sacrament will be invalid. If the penance is not completed, this must be confessed during the next confession (which should be sooner rather than later). In addition to the penance given, it is necessary to restore any harm which our sins have caused to others – this applies especially to sins like stealing (where the money or goods must be repaid according to the penitent’s ability) and calumny (where the person’s good reputation must be restored as far as is reasonably possible).
More complicated questions
Can I confess imperfections? Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange writes with great wisdom on this point: He speaks of “semi-deliberate venial sins, which are committed with less reflection [than deliberate venial sins] and into which there enters a certain amount of surprise and impulse, but to which the will adheres with a certain complacency. […] They show that the soul fights too feebly and is not determined to free itself from all obstacles.” He then considers sins which are not even truly deliberate: “Sins of frailty are those committed inadvertently because of human weakness; the will has only a small share in them. […] They are not a serious obstacle to perfection because they are quickly atoned for; yet it is well to submit them to the influence of the sacrament of penance because thereby purity of soul will become more compete.”
It is in this context that the Dominican father speaks of imperfections: “An imperfection is distinguished from these sins of frailty because it is only an act of lesser generosity in the service of God and of slighter esteem for the evangelical counsels. […] What is less good in itself must not be confused with what is essentially evil; […] the lesser good is not an evil.” Thus, it is clear, we cannot confess imperfections, since they are not actual sins, but are only less perfect acts of virtue.
However, the spiritual doctor continues, “But if it is theoretically easy to draw a distinction, practically and concretely it is hard to say where lesser generosity ends and where negligence and sloth begin. […] In addition, imperfection disposes to venial sin.” In other words, it will often be the case that, together with an imperfection, there will be at least an act of either negligence or sloth (which is at least as a sin of frailty, if not a semi-deliberate venial sin). Hence, when it comes to imperfections, we ought not to confess the imperfection itself, but instead those (often very slight) sins to which the imperfection disposes us. We might ask ourselves: Did I hesitate (even only interiorly) before saying my prayers, or during my prayers? Did I allow myself to take any least inordinate pleasure in the praises others gave me, receiving the praise to my own glory rather than to the glory of God? Have I always followed St. Paul’s exhortation to think on those things which are above or have I allowed myself to become anxious about the things of earth? Surely, every one of us can find some sin (at least a sin of frailty) which might be confessed specifically and distinctly.
Ought I to bring up matters of the spiritual life in confession? While it is true that we ought not to take up an inordinate amount of time when making our confession (especially if there is a line), it is also true that the Church provides us with confession as the ordinary means of spiritual direction. Certainly, the direction provided in the confessional will not be nearly as thorough as that which can be given in individual spiritual direction, but at least some level of direction ought to be included in the sacrament. To this end, it is permissible (and even advisable) for the penitent to briefly and directly bring at least some matter of the spiritual life to confession.
Even something as simple as: “Father, can you give me advice on a portion of the Scriptures to read for the Easter season?” or “Father, can you recommend a little bit of spiritual reading which might be helpful to me in my particular state and circumstances?” It will be especially important for the penitent to occasionally bring to his confessor the difficulties he experiences in his spiritual ascent – What is keeping me from regular infused contemplation? These obstacles must be discovered and overcome by the penitent and his confessor, as we must strive for perfection and resist all temptations to tepidity.
The diversity of dispositions and the diversity of graces
Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange writes: “If the sacraments by themselves, by the divine virtue they contain, have an essential efficacy, the measure of grace produced by them varies according to the dispositions of those who receive them; the more perfect they are, the more abundant is the grace, and the differences between a number of persons receiving the same sacrament are much greater than one ordinarily imagines.” The reason for this great diversity is often caused by the diversity of the contrition in the penitent. A greater contrition will lead to a greater disposition for the reception of the graces of the sacrament. In this regard, we must pray the good Lord to give us a true and profound contrition for our sins. We ought also to pray to the Blessed Virgin, to our guardian angel and patron saints, and also to those saints whose contrition is esteemed by the Church (among these, St. Mary Magdalene deserves special notice).
The Dominican theologian tells us, “We must not forget, however, that the effects of absolution are always in proportion to the excellence of the dispositions with which the sacrament is received. […] Among twenty people who go to confession, each receives a different measure of grace, for God discerns in each one's acts difference; which no one on earth suspects. There are many different degrees of humility, contrition, and love of God, which are more or less pure and more or less strong.”
In order that we might have a true and perfect contrition, it will be necessary to examine our consciences regularly – Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange states, “The examination of conscience requires more care in proportion as the penitent falls into more sins and has little knowledge of his interior state. However, those who each evening examine their principal failings, have no trouble at all in knowing themselves well, and they are thereby stirred to make serious efforts at amendment. In the case of spiritual persons who confess frequently and who are careful to avoid deliberate venial sins, the examination of conscience, as St. Alphonsus remarks, does not require much time. It is advisable for such a person to ask himself: What remains of this week to be written in God, in the book of life? In what have I acted for God, in what for myself, by yielding to my temperament, my egoism, my pride? When he thus considers the state of his soul from above and asks for light, he often obtains the grace of a penetrating gaze on his own life.”
When it comes to contrition for sin, it is good to recall that this contrition ought to be born primarily of love of God. St. Josemaría Escrivá warns us against the sorrow that is only an expression of perfectionism and self-love, rather than of the love of God: “You don’t conquer yourself, you aren’t mortified, because you are proud. You lead a life of penance? Remember: pride can exist with penance. Furthermore: Your sorrow, after your falls, after your failures in generosity, is it really sorrow or is it the frustration at seeing yourself so small and weak? How far you are from Jesus if you are not humble…even if new roses blossom every day from your discipline.” (The Way, 200)
And again, Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange tells us: “The sadness of true contrition […] it is a holy sadness that makes the soul prompt and diligent, that uplifts the heart by prayer and hope […] because it springs from charity. The more a man grieves for his sins, the more certain it is that he loves God.” Ordinarily, the graces of our confession will be in proportion to the contrition we have for sin and the love we have for our good God. But how will he ever attain such holy love, if we do not ask it of the Savior in prayer?
Practical examples of good and bad confessions
Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange gives us an example of a bad confession: “I have had distractions in my prayers.” Rather, one ought to say: “I have been especially distracted during such and such an exercise of piety through negligence, because I began it badly, without recollection,” or “Because I did not sufficiently combat distractions springing from a petty rancor or from too sensible an affection or from study.”
The Dominican tells us: “Confession should be made with a great spirit of faith” for the priest stands in the person of Christ as judge, “but he is also a spiritual father and a physician. […] Consequently it is not enough to make a vague accusation that would tell the confessor nothing.” In other words, confession is not simply about pouring forth a laundry-list of sins – rather, we must avoid all temptation to routine and confess both our sins and what it is that leads us to sin. Here, it will be good to especially focus on those sins to which the Holy Spirit directs our contrition during our preparation for the sacrament.
Again, it is not a good habit simply to say: “I have sinned in speech.” Rather, we ought to confess something of the particulars of the sin: “I have sinned by speaking uncharitably to my spouse when discussing matters relating to how much time I should spend with the children after work.” Or again: “I have sinned by speaking about a co-worker behind his back – attacking his reputation by telling other people how lazy he is.”
The confession of our sins ought to give the priest enough information so that he may be able to give a salutary counsel. At the same time, one need not ramble on and on about the details of a sin (and this is especially true when it comes to sins against the sixth commandment). Let the Holy Spirit guide us as to which sins ought to be confessed in greater detail – recalling that mortal sins must always be confessed in kind and number.
Find a good confessor
Finding a good priest to hear your confession is one of the most important factors in learning to make a good confession. Regarding what sorts of qualities to look for in a confessor, they are much the same as those to look for in a spiritual director – hence, we direct our readers to our earlier article: What to look for in a spiritual director.
A good confessor will provide us with the necessary guidance to take the general principles of the spiritual life and apply them to our particular circumstances. Especially when it comes to confession, it must always be remembered that the matter is extremely sensitive and personal – hence, a general discussion of how to make a good confession must always be applied with great prudence. There is no room for a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model.
But what if I cannot find a good confessor? In that case, prayer will be even more necessary. If you persevere in prayer, and do your best to make a good confession, it is certain that Christ himself will direct you! In any case, there are many good books (especially from the saints) which can direct us in the spiritual life – in particular we recommend the writings of St. Alphonsus Liguori, St. Josemaría Escrivá, and St. Francis de Sales. Certainly, it would be good for us all to read Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange’s discussion of confession.
How to make a good confession
On the part of the penitent, contrition is the act which most especially secures a good confession. But contrition is born of holy love. And holy love is given to those who beg for it in prayer. And we are only able to pray with confidence if we meditate upon the love which our Savior has shown us in the mysteries of his life. Hence, what is most necessary for a good confession is a life of prayer and meditation. If we desire to make a good confession, we must foster the interior life. Above all else, we must beg the good Lord to give us the grace to make a good confession.
In this regard, the personal witness of Blessed Angela of Foligno (which Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange sites at length) will be our guide:
“With my sins I received the body of Jesus Christ. That is why my conscience did not cease to chide me day or night. I prayed to St. Francis to make me find the confessor I needed, someone who would be able to understand and to whom I could talk. … In the morning I found a friar who was preaching in the church of St. Felician. After the sermon I resolved to make my confession to him. I confessed my sins in full, I received absolution. I did not feel love, only bitterness, shame, and sorrow.
“I persevered in the penance imposed on me; devoid of consolation, overwhelmed with sorrow, I tried to satisfy justice.
“Then I looked for the first time at divine mercy; I made the acquaintance of that mercy which had withdrawn me from hell, which had given me the grace that I have related. I received its first illumination: my grief and tears redoubled. I gave myself up to severe penance. …
“Thus enlightened, I perceived only defects in myself; I saw with entire certitude that I had deserved hell. . . . I received no consolation other than that of being able to weep. An illumination made me see the measure of my sins. Thereupon I understood that, in offending the Creator, I had offended all creatures. . . . Through the Blessed Virgin and all the saints I invoked the mercy of God and, knowing that I was dead, on my knees I begged for life. . . . Suddenly I believed that I felt the pity of all creatures and of all the saints. And then I received a gift: a great fire of love and the power to pray as I had never prayed. . . . I received a profound knowledge of the manner in which Christ died for my sins. I felt my own sins very cruelly, and I perceived that I was the author of the crucifixion. But as yet I had no idea of the immensity of the benefit of the cross. . . .
“Then the Lord in His pity appeared to me several times, in sleep or in vigil, crucified: ‘Look,’ He said to me, ‘Look at My wounds.’ He counted the blows of the scourging and said to me: ‘It is for thee, for thee, for thee.’ . . . I begged the Blessed Virgin and St. John to obtain the sufferings of Jesus Christ for me, at least those which were given to them. They obtained this favor for me, and one day St. John so loaded me with them that I count that day among the most terrible of my life. . . . God wrote the Pater Noster in my heart with such an accentuation of His goodness and of my unworthiness that I lack words to speak of it.”

All citations of Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange are taken from The Three Ages of the Interior Life, chapter 30 “Sacramental Confession,” pp. 397-405 of the TAN edition.


Anonymous said...

Great post, and very enlightening about imperfections and penance!

Also, I have heard several formulas of absolution, and am wondering which is the real one:

"May God grant you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

"I absolve you from your sins in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."

"God, the Father of mercies, through the death and the resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

"Through the death and resurrection of the Son he has reconciled the world to himself, and I absolve you from your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

"May the Lord open your heart to his pardon and mercy, and through the ministry of the Church I absolve you from your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The proper formula is:
"God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
[almost identical to the way you wrote it, but no second "the" in "through the death and resurrection of his Son..."

The essential words are: "I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
If the priest goofs and says: "I absolve you of your sins" it would still be valid.
It is likely that the priest could even forget to say "from your sins" all together -- "I absolve you" may be enough. Also, it seems that the Trinitarian formula is not strictly and absolutely necessary for validity.

Still, priests ought to say it right ... and the penitent should feel free to GENTLY and HUMBLY correct the priest (after the prayer) is there are any errors -- this correction must always be given in a true spirit of CHARITY.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Father!

Happy Easter ^^

Anonymous said...

Divine Providence yet again.

Yesterday, in preparation for Divine Mercy Sunday, I went to confession. I am still reeling from the experience. All week long I read about how Our Lord is all love and mercy, and all I received yesterday from the priest was coldness and harshness.

I was taught to always mention a previous mortal sin in the confessional if you had not committed any since your last confession (e.g. "For these sins and all the sins of my past life, especially the time I stole $10,000 from my mother, I am very sorry."). Yesterday I was accused of having no faith, wasting the priest's time, making a mockery of the sacrament etc. etc. for doing this. I've been doing this for over fifty years. Is it wrong?

Now I understand why people who this happens to never go back to confession. Even I am "gun shy" now of returning to the confessional.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Do not be the least bit discouraged! Christ knows your heart and he knows the heart of that priest.
What you have done is good and right ... if you can find a different confessor, that may be advisable. If you must continue to go to the same priest, you may need to modify your style of confessing so as to avoid further trouble with him [it is too bad that the sheep have to accommodate themselves to the shepherds...].

Still, do not let this bad experience discourage you ... that is what Satan wants! The Lord desires that you trust more and more in him -- his grace will be enough and will work even through us poor priests.

Blessings and prayers! +

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Father. I just wanted to add that he is a very good and solid priest. I don't know what went wrong yesterday, but Our Lord allowed it to happen for my own good. Still, it was an unsettling experience.

Please say a prayer for me that the Holy Ghost enlightens me as to what that good might be.


Paddy said...

Excellent post Father. In the light of some of the comments, might you consider a future post on how one might be a good confessor?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

A reader noted the following point from the Catholic Encyclopedia: "Satisfaction is not, like contrition and confession, an essential part of the sacrament, because the primary effect, i.e., remission of guilt and eternal punishment — is obtained without satisfaction; but it is an integral part, because it is requisite for obtaining the secondary effect — i.e., remission of the temporal punishment."

It is true, satisfaction is not necessary in the same way that contrition and confession are necessary, but it is integral and it is required.

The same article ("Reconciliation") of the Catholic Encyclopedia states: "An undeniable proof both of the practice of confession and of the necessity of satisfaction is found in the usage of the early Church according to which severe and often prolonged penance was prescribed and performed."
And, stressing the necessity of satisfaction, the article recalls that Trent required the confessor to impose some penance upon the penitent.

Again: "The sacrament as such and on its own account has a matter and a form and it produces certain effects; the power of the keys is exercised by a minister (confessor) who must possess the proper qualifications, and the effects are wrought in the soul of the recipient, i.e., the penitent who with the necessary dispositions must perform certain actions (confession, satisfaction)."

Finally, satisfaction is considered by the theologians (and by some Popes) to be part of the proximate matter of the sacrament (the form being the words of absolution): "According to St. Thomas (Summa Theologiæ III.74.2) 'the acts of the penitent are the proximate matter of this sacrament'. This is also the teaching of Eugenius IV in the 'Decretum pro Armenis' (Council of Florence, 1439) which calls the act's 'quasi materia' of penance and enumerates them as contrition, confession, and satisfaction (Denzinger-Bannwart, 'Enchir.', 699). The Thomists in general and other eminent theologians, e.g., Bellarmine, Toletus, Francisco Suárez, and De Lugo, hold the same opinion. According to Scotus (In IV Sent., d. 16, q. 1, n. 7) 'the Sacrament of Penance is the absolution imparted with certain words' while the acts of the penitent are required for the worthy reception of the sacrament. The absolution as an external ceremony is the matter, and, as possessing significant force, the form. Among the advocates of this theory are St. Bonaventure, Capreolus, Andreas Vega, and Maldonatus. The Council of Trent (Sess. XIV, c. 3) declares: 'the acts of the penitent, namely contrition, confession, and satisfaction, are the quasi materia of this sacrament'."

In other words, the intention to fulfill the penance (satisfaction) which the penitent accepts from the priest is both necessary and integral to fruitful reception of the sacrament.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Fr Levi,
Yes I am indeed hoping to write another article on how to be a good confessor...
I'm not sure when ... it will be bit more involved, since the topic is of such great importance and the matter is so sensitive --- what is of greater importance than directing souls? Every soul is a spiritual universe, worth more than the whole material world together!

Perhaps I will write and publish the article for the feast of St. John Vianney ... I know that that is a long ways off, but patience is one of the first things a good confessor must learn! ;)

In the meantime: I would recommend the parts on confession from Alphonsus Liguori's book "Selva" or "The Dignity and Duties of the Priest" as well as the relevant portions of St. John Eudes' book "The Priest, His Dignity and Obligations" ... to me, these two books are spiritual gold-mines. They will guide you through nearly every aspect of priestly life.

Certainly, Garrigou-Lagrange's book ("The Priest in Union with Christ") and also that by the Opus Dei priest Federico Suarez ("About being a priest") are modern books which deserve special note -- but don't run too quickly to the modern authors, there is much to be gained from the older writers first.

If you would like an electronic copy of "Dignity and Duties of a Priest" by St. Alphonsus, you can find it here:

Peace to you, good father! Pray the good Lord that all priests may become good and holy confessors ... to this end, we must strive forward in the interior life.

Glenna said...

This post was more helpful than the "10 Commandments" guide to examination of conscience which is not, usually, very helpful to me as far as discernment goes.
My I suggest you develop this post & send it Homiletic & Pastoral Rvw for publication? Might include your thoughts on 'how to be a good confessor'. peace!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

TO ALL: It may be worth noting that, while contrition is absolutely necessary for a valid confession, the actual confession of sin and satisfaction is necessary in a slightly different sense.

Contrition implicitly contains confession and satisfaction -- since, if we are truly sorry, we want to confess and to make amends for our wrongs. Thus, if one is contrite, but is unable to actually confess to the priest and perform satisfaction (for example, if a man is dying and is unable to speak), his contrition includes a virtual confession and satisfaction and the priest ought to absolve him.

It is for this reason that true and profound contrition, which comes from love, is most necessary to a good confession.

MaryH said...

Excellent - Thank you for this beautiful post.

Be Reconciled to God

Anonymous said...

I have a very hard time wondering if my confession is ever good enough. The contrition and grief of the sin is true, but it is so hard to rid myself of the guilt. How specific does the confession need to be? When one says , for example, that they have hurt others because they were jealous of them, do they have to say exactly what they did to hurt others? Please advise.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

We must learn to be free from sentimentality -- little by little we are ruled less by our emotions and more by our reason.

Thus, while our contrition and grief increase, any sense of oppressive guilt will be diminished.

Be patient with yourself, trust your confessor (if he is a good priest) and, especially, speak with the Lord in prayer.

Regarding the specificity of sins confessed -- if it is not a mortal sin, the requirements are much less. I think something like this would usually be enough -- "Father, I have hurt others (and we should say either through speech or action, or stealing or physical harm, etc.) because I was jealous of them (either of what they possess or of their reputation or of their friendships or of their holiness, etc.), and I have done this many times (or few times or once) to many people (or to a few people or to one person or to my brother/husband/sister/wife/mother/father/family, etc.)..."

In other words: it would be better to give some specifics about how we hurt others and why (specifying the character of sin); but we do not need to go into every little detail about (for example) exactly what we said and to whom we said it and when and where we said it (unless this be immediately relevant to the sin) ...

I hope this helps -- the good Jesus will guide you, if only you trust in him! +

John said...

This is one of the best articles I have read about making a good Confession. It is not that the others weren’t any good (they were good) but this one is much more practical and specific. Just reading it made me much more aware of what I need to do not just when going to Confession but also in spiritual growth. However, there’s one thing that bothers me. A couple of years ago I went to Confession after a very long time. During that time I had been away from the Church but God’s grace brought me back again. Making that Confession was not easy. Did I make a laundry list? Yes. (That was the only way I felt sure that I would confess all my mortal sins.) Did I give a lot of detail for each of my mortal sins? Did I give enough information about number? Well, it was difficult to be precise and to solve the problem I just said ‘many times’. Because that ‘many times’ is rather vague, I have been having doubts that I made a valid confession but a priest I consulted was very forthright in telling me that I was not to doubt that my sins were forgiven. But reading your article has got me worried again.

Roderick Alvernaz said...

I have a question (and this might have some bearing with regard Veronica's comment). I was told, when much younger, to be careful not to be scrupulous. And to trust that when a sin has been confessed and absolved, it is forgiven.
As an aside, at the of confession I will add "and for all those sins I cannot now bring to mind".

Anonymous said...

With Mercy Sunday tomorrow, this was a most helpful reading. Some things I read over several times yesterday and today. It was a good preparation for a good confession. Thanks,

Anonymous said...

A most excellent post!!! Loved it. I learned more from this about Confession than anything else I've ever read. Thank you very much and God bless you! Yes, get it published. --St Gianna Fan

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@therese rita and st. gianna fan,
Thank you for your kind encouragement. Perhaps I will publish some version of this at some point ... in any case, I am very happy to hear that this little reflection has been helpful.
Peace and blessings! +

Roderick Alvernaz said...

I realized that my post of April 30 (8:07pm), though stating I had a question, was not in the form of a question.
Since college days I have tried to visit the sacrament of confession regularly -weekly, if possible.
While trying my vocation as a Dominican (I love those guys!) I was counseled not to be so scrupulous in my confession. My question to you then, is how does one find the balance? (again, following up on Veronica's post).
As an aside, at the end of my confession I will add "and for all those sins and failings I cannot now bring to mind".

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Thank you for drawing my attention to your question!

First, it is not necessarily scrupulous to mention sins which have already been forgiven, so long as we are clear that they have indeed already been forgiven.

Second, nevertheless, it can happen that a priest may advise a penitent not to bring up a particular past sin (generally requiring silence on the point for only a certain length of time, not forever).

Third, the best way to learn to make a good confession is to find a good confessor. He can guide you on personal points more clearly.

Scrupulosity can mean several things -- generally, it is when we think a action is more sinful than it really is: To think an imperfection is a venial sin, or to think a venial sin is a mortal sin.
Sometimes, "scrupulosity" is also used to refer to the thought that a particular sin is so bad that it cannot be forgiven.

Hence, there are two ways to cure scrupulosity -- if it is an error in judgement (thinking a venial sin is mortal, etc), then we need to be educated; and a good confessor will teach us the truth.
If it is an error in hope (thinking that a sin cannot be forgiven), then we need to be convinced of the Divine Mercy and the love of God -- here, prayer is essential; meditating upon the Cross, how could anyone despair?

So, to answer your question: "How does one find the balance?"
Prayer is essential, and a good confessor is also a great help. If a good confessor cannot be found, then prayer will suffice (together with study of good Catholic resources on confession).

Peace. +

Roderick Alvernaz said...

Many thanks for taking the time to answer my question -and for answering it with such care and compassion.

It has been difficult finding a good confessor since leaving the Dominicans (in good standing; Sadly, just not O.P. material). I have, thank God, been blessed these past three years (after nearly 6 yrs of hit and miss), to have found a good confessor.

As for your advice to study good Catholic resources on confession, well, your article is the best treatment on the subject I have seen in a very long time.

May God continue to bless you, and your every endeavor!

hilaron said...

Dear Father, thank you for a wonderful post. You do a most needed work of charity and for that God must be praised! May the Good Shepherd, through the almighty intercession of the Most Blessed Virgin, grant you many years of service to the Church and an everlasting reward in Heaven!

I was wondering about the "fullness" of contrition. I was under the impression that one strictly only needed contrition for mortal sins committed to receive valid absolution, but now that I read your post it seems like we need true contrition for all sin whatsoever and that this is a strict requirement for validity.

I don't think I have a personal problem with this at the moment, Deo gratias, but since I have a guide to confession on my blog it would be most helpful to correct any error I might have relayed there and elsewhere.

In Jesus, Mary and Joseph,

hilaron said...

Dear Father. I researched the question a little by checking some of the catechisms of old.

The Baltimore Catechism:

"Q. 759. What do you mean by saying that our sorrow should be universal?

A. When I say that our sorrow should be universal, I mean that we should be sorry for all our mortal sins without exception."

Saint Pius X's Catechism:

"51 Q. What is meant by saying that sorrow must be universal?

A. It means that it must extend to every mortal sin committed."

So I guess I have the answer to my question. Thank you anyway.

In Jesus, Mary and Joseph,

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

David (hilaron),
It is true that we need only have actual contrition for every mortal sin of which we are conscious.

Nevertheless, the very nature of contrition (even imperfect contrition) is that we are sorry for sin -- and this sorrow extends at least implicitly and potentially to each and every actual sin we have ever committed (even to those which have already been confessed and even to each venial sin) ...
This is why we often say: "For these and all my sins, I am heartily sorry."

So, if someone were specifically obstinant in sin -- even venial sin -- and was explicitly NOT sorry for that sin; they would lack contrition.

Confession forgives every sin committed -- God can't forgive one mortal sin and leave another; nor can he forgive one mortal sin and leave behind even a venial sin.

Thus, as you quote from Pius X and the Baltimore Catechism -- contrition must explicitly and actively extend to all conscious mortal sins; but by its very nature it also extends (at least implicitly) to every venial sin.

I hope that this is clear enough.
Thanks for the citations! +

hilaron said...

Dear Father,

I was thinking about this and I have a question. I hope I'm not nagging on you now. But let's say we have no mortal sins on our soul when we die but nonetheless unrepented venial sin, we would go to Purgatory to be purged of our unrepented venial sin, no? But how does this relate to what you are saying here?

Basically, would we go to Hell if we obstinately hold on to even to one venial sin, let's say deliberate idle talk, in our moment of death? But if that is not the case if we are in a state of grace at death, why would it be the case that we have to be truly contrite for venial sin, even if implicitly and potentially, in order to receive valid absolution of mortal sins committed?

In Jesus, Mary and Joseph,

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

David (hilaron), You are asking really really good questions ... and are helping me to really think this issue through! So, thank you!

The point about contrition is that, by its very nature, it either extends to all sin or to none -- even imperfect contrition is sorry for all sin, since all sin has merited hell (even venial sin, though not directly).
Especially perfect contrition is sorry for all sin.

Hence, it would seem to me that if a person died without any contrition (even imperfect) for venial sin -- he would be thereby failing in final perseverance, and would be committing a mortal sin.

However, the general, implicit, potential, and imperfect contrition for all sin is enough to get to purgatory -- where contrition is perfected.

You see, God just won't forgive our sins if we are not sorry for them. And he won't forgive mortal sin without forgiving venial sin. Therefore, it seems to me that we simply have to have some level of contrition for venial sin (at least generally).

So, to the question "would we go to Hell if we obstinately hold on to even on venial sin?" -- It seems to me that obstinately holding on to sin (actively turning from God toward sin, even venial sin) becomes a mortal sin at the moment of death, when we are meant to turn to the Lord with particular love and devotion.
Now, I am not saying we need to be perfect -- I'm only saying that, at the moment of death, we need to at least desire to be saints (this means desiring to be free of all venial sin, even idle talk). Simply that general desire to be a saint, to go to heaven, to become perfect in the Lord -- this is already that imperfect, general, implicit contrition for each and every venial sin.

Does this make sense to you? Your questions have really helped me to think this issue through a lot! So please let me know if there is something I am missing here.

[perhaps I will write a post about contrition at some point in the future]

Blessings to you! +

hilaron said...

Dear Father,

I think where you are getting at. There is still room for a somewhat complacent contrition (implicit and potential, as opposed to actual) in regards to venial sins as I understand you, but that in our heart of hearts we want to be freed from those as well.

I had quite a lot of problems with scruples (and still have the occasional relapse) and then I read lots on how to discern sins and so on. I learnt then a principle that some action that objectively is not grave matter can still be the object of a mortal sin. Say I shoplift a chewing gum for 50 cents, that's not grave matter in itself (although intrinsically evil of course) but the desire to offend God in such a circumstance can be grave matter and thus the action can be a mortal sin on account of my evil desire.

I think I understand that the principle is similar here. If, in the moment of death, I actively and obstinately won't let go of venial sin it can (and probably will) become the object of grave sin since my desire is quite perverse: to turn away from God.

If I'm that attached to something other than God it would probably become mortal to the soul.

Thanks for clearing things up!

In the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts of Jesus and Mary,

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

[in a post which was deleted on account of a problem with the blogger website] hilaron wrote:

"Dear Father,

I think where you are getting at. There is still room for a somewhat complacent contrition (implicit and potential, as opposed to actual) in regards to venial sins as I understand you, but that in our heart of hearts we want to be freed from those as well.

I had quite a lot of problems with scruples (and still have the occasional relapse) and then I read lots on how to discern sins and so on. I learnt then a principle that some action that objectively is not grave matter can still be the object of a mortal sin. Say I shoplift a chewing gum for 50 cents, that's not grave matter in itself (although intrinsically evil of course) but the desire to offend God in such a circumstance can be grave matter and thus the action can be a mortal sin on account of my evil desire.

I think I understand that the principle is similar here. If, in the moment of death, I actively and obstinately won't let go of venial sin it can (and probably will) become the object of grave sin since my desire is quite perverse: to turn away from God.

If I'm that attached to something other than God it would probably become mortal to the soul.

Thanks for clearing things up!

In the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts of Jesus and Mary,

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