1. One makes a bad confession who willfully conceals a mortal sin. Far from being forgiven any of his sins, he thus commits a new mortal sin, sacrilege. If one is ashamed to confess his mortal sins before his ordinary confessor, he is always at liberty to go to another priest, one who does not know him. But my no means must he conceal a mortal sin. "He that hides is sins shall not prosper" (Prov. 28:13).
2. If we make a good confession, our souls are cleansed, and we are restored to sanctifying grace, to that friendship of God. We also receive actual graces which help us in our struggle against evil.
Confession is the telling of our sins to an authorized priest for the purpose of obtaining forgiveness.
"If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins" (1 John 1:9).
We must confess our sins because Jesus Christ obliges us to do so, in these words, spoken to the Apostles and their successors in the priesthood: "Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained."
"Is any one among you sick? Let him bring in the presbyters of the Church, and let them pray over him…and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him" (Jas. 5:14,15).
1. These words of Christ oblige us to confess our sins, because the priest cannot know whether he should forgive or retain our sins unless we tell them to him. In order to be able to give a just decision the priest must know the facts of each case. Thus the penitent must tell his sins. He is his own accuser and his own witness.
Even in a civil court, the judge makes no decision without knowing the facts of the case. A trial is conducted with accusers and witnesses against the person accused. The priest is the judge, and he must learn from the penitent himself whether he should give absolution, and what would be a just penance to impose.
2. The power to forgive sins was not given to the Apostles alone, but also to their successors, the bishops and priests of the Church, until the end of time.
The forgiveness of sins was surely not granted only to those people living at the time of the Apostles, but for all who, to the end of the world, should need forgiveness.
3. The Church commands us to confess at least once a year. All Catholics, including cardinals, bishops, priests, etc., are subject to this law. Good Catholics confess at least once a month, or even once a week. If we are so unfortunate as to have committed a mortal sin, we should go to confession at once.
What would you think of a person who met with an accident at New Year and is near death if he says: "No, do not call the doctor. I shall go to him at Easter"?
4. In the sacrament of Penance the priest acts as physician to the soul. He tells the penitent how to avoid sin and how to amend his life.
Just as we tell our doctor about all our bodily pains, in order that he may cure us, so do we tell our sins to our confessor in order that he can give or suggest spiritual remedies.
Our confession is humble when we accuse ourselves of our sins with a conviction of guilt for having offended God.
Our confession is <I>humble when we show by our manner that we are truly sorry, and listen meekly to the priest's correction and advice. One who continually interrupts the priest with, "But you do not know me, Father! I am not like that!" would give the impression that he does not make a humble confession. One who complains that the penance imposed is too heavy for his sins is not humble.
Our confession is sincere when we tell our sins honestly and frankly.
1. Our confession is sincere when we tell our sins just as they are, without excusing or exaggerating them.
One who confesses that he stole because his companions told him to, or that the temptation was too strong, is excusing himself.
2. We should confess exactly as if we were telling our sins to God Himself; He knows them perfectly, including all the circumstances.
Our confession must be clear, so that the confessor may not waste his time asking us questions. We should also be very careful not to mention by name anyone in confession.
3. In confession we are to tell our own sins, not those of others. Too many make of the confessional a place for gossiping about the faults of others.
The story is told of a woman who went to confession and complained bitterly of the faults of her son. In giving the penance, the priest said, "Say two Hail Marys for your sins and ten rosaries for those of your son which you have confessed." He was trying to teach her a needed lesson.
Our confession is entire when we confess at least all our mortal sins, telling their kind, the number of times we have committed each sin, and any circumstances changing their nature.
A story is told of an old farmer who came into the confessional quaking and quivering with nervousness. He said, "Father, I have stolen a rope!" and stopped. Sensing that the confession was not entire, the priest asked, "How long was the rope?" The farmer answered, "About three yards long, Father!" But he was still very nervous, and so the priest asked, "Was there anything else you stole?" The farmer trembled, and finally gasped: "There-there was a-a cow at the end of the rope, Father."
1. We must tell the exact nature or kind of the mortal sins we have committed.
For example, it is not enough for one to accuse himself of grievous lying. He should specify what kind of lie he told, whether it was to protect himself or to tell a calumny.
2. We must mention the circumstances that change the nature of our sins.
For instance, it is not enough to say merely, "I stole a dollar," if it was stolen from a blind beggar, or from the collection plate at church. Ordinarily taking a dollar from your rich father may be a venial sin. From a beggar, it becomes mortal; from the church it is a sacrilege.
3. We must tell how many times we committed a mortal sin. The more often it has been committed, the greater the guilt. If we cannot remember the exact number of times we should tell it as nearly as possible, by telling how long a habit has lasted.
However, we must not waste time unnecessarily in this, but be as simple as possible. Instead of saying, "I was disobedient to my father twice, to my mother three times, and to my teacher five times," a young person should merely say: "I was disobedient ten times."
Next Thursday: How to Make a Good Confession
For previous installments, see APPRECIATING THE PRECIOUS GIFT OF OUR FAITH Archives