Thursday, March 06, 2008

Self-Examination and Confession

One should always endeavour, when one prepares to make a Sacramental Confession, to recollect carefully before coming to that Sacrament and to examine one's conscience very carefully so as not to exclude from a Confession any grave or serious sin. When we then come to Confession, we should freely confess all those sins of which we are aware, being careful not to exclude purposely or deliberately any sins of which we are conscious. If we approach the Sacrament of Penance with the intention of not confessing sins of which we are certainly aware, we then thwart the very purpose for which we go to Confession, and we thus only magnify the guilt of our sins by our refusal to place them at the Foot of the Cross and receive the Lord's abundant mercy and love. So we should always make a good self-examination and we should always confess those sins which trouble or burden our consciences. But if we have in previous Confessions made a good self-examination and have duly confessed those particular sins of which we are aware, we should be confident and fully assured that those sins are completely forgiven and have no need to be confessed again, unless in future we commit them again. A mortal sin is a sin in which we break a Commandment knowingly, fully aware that we are violating God's will, and in which we exercise full freedom, knowledge and consent when committing the said sin. If we do commit mortal sin, we should always confess it, as many times as needed in as many Confessions as we may require in order to overcome it.

The Sacrament provides a preventative and strengthening grace to avoid and resist future temptations and sins, and so we should have recourse to it every time we are conscious, especially, of a mortal sin, so that we may learn to avoid such sins in the 'school of sanctity' which is Confession. If we commit a serious sin after making a good Confession, we should then return to Penance at the appropriate time and confess the sin once more... and keep doing so as often as needed until the sin is overcome by grace and our cooperation with the power of God's wonderful provision.

But my earlier point is that, simply, if we have confessed a previous sin and it has been absolved, it is forgiven and lost in the ocean of God's forgetful mercy. We may certainly revisit such past sins and discuss them with the priest in the internal forum of the Sacrament of Penance if it is helpful and edifying to the penitent, but it is not necessary to 're-confess' past sins which have already been forgiven by sacramental Absolution. There is no need to dwell on past sins which have been absolved unless they continue to be an impediment to one's spiritual life and a spiritual advancement towards holiness. This area is where scrupulosity can become a particular danger: if we dwell too much on past sins which have been forgiven and absolved, we may fall into the trap of being unable truly to forgive ourselves or to accept God's forgiveness, which is always insured by sacramental grace. The best advice I can offer is to confess one's sins, release them to God, allow Him to heal and purify oneself by His grace, and then progress to the next Confession. Habitual and besetting sins can be a very serious problem in the spiritual life and a great hindrance in our spiritual progression, so it is important to continue to confess them afresh in the Sacrament, although it is not necessary to dwell too intensely on past sins lest they paralyse us or hold us in bondage. Once forgiven, we can move on to the next Confession and re-examine the root causes of the besetting sin anew with the perspective of what is happening in our lives as we proceed from Confession to Confession. The Lord calls us to look forward to how we shall use His grace to become holier and better from one Confession to the next, and not to preoccupy ourselves with our past transgressions of His love. While we heartily desire to deal with each and every sin as seriously as we can, we do not want to become stagnant or moribund in the spiritual life - the evil one can use the remembrance of past sins to hold us captive and enslave us to past memories, which can in turn hinder or stop altogether our progression towards God. It is said of Father Martin Luther, whose theology left much to be desired, that in satanic assault the devil reminded him of his past; Father Luther responded by reminding the devil of his future! We should do the same, and not allow past failures to hold us back from embracing the victorious love of Our Lord offers us in the present.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That was the greatest thing about Confession and Self-Examination (and the only Please don't tag that against me!)that I have ever read ever. Please post more things on faith and Confession soon because that was wonderful! I understood much more after reading that article that you posted on the Internet. Do that again before I'm Confirmed because I want to keep reading up on that before I become an adult member of the church, Thank you so much for posting that up for everyone who is taking Confirmation and everyone that is not. I have understood SO much more after reading that. I hope that you will post some more things on Confession and Self-Examination again soon because that was awesome thanks Ingrid