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Frequent Confession - Part One

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By Barbara Kralis

©Barbara Kralis 2005
Catholic Online
www.catholic.org

The question is asked, "Why does Pope John Paul II, and the Popes before him, strongly urge the use of Frequent Confession when Church Law does not mention this practice?" [1] 

It is true that the second precept of 'The Six Precepts of the Church,'[2] as well as Canon Law,[3] teach that Catholics shall confess their sins at least once a year. 

However, John Paul II and the Popes before him specifically teach the importance of frequent reception of the Sacrament of Confession for mortal as well as venial sins.[4]  The reason is clear.  There is clearly a crisis of Confession. 

This crisis is caused by a loss of the sense of sin found in our Western culture that relativizes moral norms.  As our sins wound not only our own souls but also the mystical body of Christ, we are therefore urged to go to Confession frequently as a safeguard against Satan. 

Importantly, the church strictly insists that, except for grave reason, one must confess their grave sin before receiving the Sacrament of the Eucharist.[5]

We should have recourse to frequent Confession to cleanse our soul from venial sins, which weaken one's rectitude, and any sins of omissions that would indicate a lack of love for God. 

Love for frequent Confession of one's sins is the road that leads to refinement of soul and to sanctity, the sure remedy to lukewarmness.  Even the pagans recognized the reality of "divine" moral laws that have "always" existed and which are written in the depths of the human heart.[6]

Frequent Confession is the 'school' that formed the great saints before us.[7]  Here is what St. Augustine wrote:

"Whoever confesses his sins . . . is already working with God.  God indicts your sins; if you also indict them, you are joined with God.  Man and sinner are, so to speak, two realities: when you hear "man" - this is what God has made; when you hear "sinner" - this is what man himself has made.  Destroy what you have made, so that God may save what he has made . . ..  When you begin to abhor what you have made, it is then that your good works are beginning, since you are accusing yourself of your evil works.  The beginning of good works is the confession of evil works.  You do the truth and come to the light."[8]

Listen to what Pope Pius XII, who went to the Sacrament of Confession every day, said:

"For a constant and speedy advancement in the path of virtue, we highly recommend the pious practice of frequent confession, introduced by the church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit; for by this means we grow in a true knowledge of ourselves and in Christian humility, bad habits are uprooted, spiritual negligence and apathy are prevented, the conscience is purified and the will strengthened, salutary spiritual direction is obtained, and grace is increased by the efficacy of the sacrament itself."[9]

Pope John Paul II, who frequents the Sacrament of Confession on a weekly basis, recently said:

"We live in a society that seems to have lost the sense of God and of sin.  Christ's invitation to conversion is all the more urgent.[10]

"It would be an illusion to seek after holiness, according to the vocation one has received from God, without partaking frequently of this sacrament of conversion and reconciliation.  Those who go to Confession frequently, and do so with the desire to make progress, will notice the strides that they make in their spiritual lives."[11]

Few words have given Catholics more peace and joy in their lives than to hear their Priest pronounce, "I absolve you from your sins."[12]

St. Augustine said, "It is thanks to the medicine of Confession that the experience of sin does not degenerate into despair."[13]

Through the Sacrament of Confession, with true sorrow for our sins and a firm purpose of amendment, we obtain graces needed to fight the defects in our character, which are the cause of our discouragement and despondency.

St. Francis de Sales mentions that "it is an abuse to confess a sin in confession unless one's mind is made up to avoid it in future or at least to strive earnestly against it."[14]

Bring someone with you to the Sacrament of Confession this week.  Scripture tell us, "My brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins." (Js 5: 19-20)

Cor contritum et humilitatum, Deus, non despicies![15]

Here, below, is a popular Bishop Sheen vignette on this very subject of Confession and how to overcome despondency.

(Watch for Part Two next week)



By Bishop Fulton J. Sheen

J.M.J.

I am going to talk on Confession today.  And you are all innocent, you do not need it.  [Laughter]

So, I'll begin the most important part of the talk by telling you some stories about Confession, then you can sleep.

Canon Mullin of Scotland told me that he was hearing Confessions one evening and a little boy came to Confession.  Canon said to him, "Why didn't you come to Confession this afternoon, when I was hearing Confessions for children?"

The little boy said, "I didn't have any sins, I had to wait for some."  [Laughter]

I was hearing Confessions once, and a little boy came in and among the other things he said, "I threw peanuts in the swamp." 

I didn't pay any attention to it because I didn't think I knew my theology well enough to understand all of those sins.  Then another little boy came in next, and among others things he said, "I pushed peanuts into the swamp."  And I heard that ten or twelve times until the next boy came in.

In addition, I said, "I suppose you pushed peanuts into the swamp?" 

"No," he said, "I'm peanuts!"  [Laughter]

I begin now by telling you that we are living in about the first age in the history of the world that has denied guilt and sin.  Everyone today believes that he's immaculately conceived.  There are no sinners, we're just patients, but we're not penitents.

It is interesting that Karl Menninger of the Menninger Institute of Psychiatry in Kansas, has just written a book asking, "What has happened to sin?" 

Curious, as the moral theologians and our catechism dropped the idea of sin, a psychiatrist is reminding us that there is sin.  He, for example, has said that the theologians gave up sin and then the lawyers took it up and sin became a crime.  And then the legalists gave it up, psychiatrists picked it up and then it became a complex.

Now, sin is a reality in the world and we have to face it for we are all sinners.  Everyone.  As a matter of fact, we cannot begin to receive the Mercy of God until we recognize that we are sinners.

Now, what happens when we repress guilt and sin?  And we do that.  Men sin and they pay no attention to it.  It is the same with women.  Well, it has a tremendous effect on our minds and sometimes on our body, when we do not bring our sins to the surface and confess them to the good Lord.

You have heard of transplants in medicine - a kidney transplant or a heart transplant.  And you've often read, too, that the kidney transplant was not effective or the heart transplant was not effective.  Why?  Because the body resisted it.  There are antibodies in our organism that will not assimilate and take hold of a new organism. 

Now, our soul is that way.  It has antibodies and when any sin gets into the soul, then we're disturbed.  The mind is unhappy.  It's very much like having a broken bone.  The bone hurts.  Why?  Because the bone is not where it ought to be.

And when our conscience is not where it ought to be, then we suffer.  We have a disturbance of conscience, we're uneasy.  We may try to cover it up by drink, amusement, and so forth.  However, in moments of quiet, the quilt is still there.

Recall some of the effects of guilt as portrayed for us by Shakespeare.  Now, just think of it; Shakespeare was born in 1564.  I hope that was the year.  That's coming out of my subconscious, don't look it up.  But I think that I was in second year college and I learned that Shakespeare was born 1564 and died in 1616. 

Well, in any case, what is important is the fact that hundreds of years before we had psychiatry, Shakespeare tells of a complex, a psychosis in the mind of Macbeth and a neurosis in the mind of Lady Macbeth.

Now, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have contrived to kill the king in order to seize the throne.  After the murder, Macbeth always seems to see a knife before him.  He said,

"What is this I see before me?  A knife with the handle toward my hand?"

There was no knife.  This was a psychosis.  This was the way the guilt was coming out.  Lady Macbeth, she washed her hands every quarter of an hour.  She saw blood on her hands.  And she asked,

"Are not all the water of the seven seas enough to wash this blood incarnadine from my hands?"

There was no blood on her hands.  This was the affect on her mind of the suppression of guilt.

A woman once came to me about her brother, she said. 

"He's been going to doctors for about four or five years and he is no better than before.  His weight has gone down to ninety pounds.  Would you please see him?"

"If his trouble is mental, I can not help him.  He belongs with a psychiatrist.  If, however, there is a moral basis for his condition, then I can help him."

The man came in, he weighed about ninety pounds, frail, fearful, and I said, "Talk to me for about a half hour.  I will not interrupt you."

He talked for about forty minutes and I said,

"How much money did you steal?"

"I didn't steal."

"How much was it," I asked.

"I resent that.  I am no thief.  I did not steal."

"How much was it," I asked again.

"Three thousand dollars," he said.  "How did you know that I stole?"

"I didn't know that you stole.  As you talked, you told me that whenever you put money in the collection box, you always wiped it off first.  And, I thought, perhaps you had dirty money."

"Yes," he said.  "I stole three thousand dollars."

Well, we made arrangement s to pay it back and his health picked up.  This was the guilt on his soul.

Just think, my dear ladies, of how many mentally disturbed women we are going to have in the United States in the next ten or fifteen years, when the guilt of abortion begins to attack the mind and the soul.  For the present, they justify it on the grounds that everyone is doing it and it's only scar tissue anyway.

As one doctor said to a girl who came in, telling him it was only scar tissue anyway and would he dismember it?  The doctor said,

"What did you intend to call this scar tissue?"

So, in years from now, the guilt will come out in a particular way.  However, at present, there may not be any guilt at all.  The guilt may not manifest itself at once.  That is very evident in the course of the life of King David.

David was one day on the top of his palace in the penthouse and he looked across the street and saw a woman on the adjoining penthouse.  She was called Bathsheba.  And he asked Bathsheba to come over and see his etchings.  And he loved Bathsheba, not wisely, but he loved her too well

And she was found with child.

Bathsheba's husband, Uriah, was away at war, away at war.  David called him back, as King he could do that, and he said, "Go home to your wife."

"No, I'm at war.  We're not allowed to be with a wife when we are fighting," Uriah said.

King David then got him drunk, and said, "Go home."  Uriah slept at David's front door.  David was trying to blame the paternity onto the husband, Uriah.  So, finally finding that he couldn't get rid of him that way, he said to the general,

"Put him in the front lines.  Men have to die in battle.  Maybe Uriah will be killed."

Uriah was killed.  It didn't bother David in the least until about seven or eight months after, the prophet Nathan came to him.  And Nathan said:

"David, I have a problem and you as king must settle it.  There was a poor man who had one tiny little ewe lamb.  Next door to this poor man lived a rich man who stole the poor lamb and made a banquet for his rich friends."

David then said, "This will not be.  He will pay with his life and the property will be restored four fold."

And Nathan said, "Thou art the man.  You took the ewe lamb of Uriah.  And you killed that ewe lamb.  The ewe lamb was Bathsheba, and you have taken this lamb away from the husband."

And that was the moment when David sat down and wrote the famous Psalm 51 (RSV): "Have mercy on me, oh God, according to thy steadfast love."[16]

Thank you, and God love you![17]

(Watch for Part Two next week.)

©Barbara Kralis 2005, all rights reserved.
http://www.catholic.org/

Endnotes:

[1]  Pope John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, 'Reconciliation and Penance,' to the Bishops, Clergy and Faithful on Reconciliation and Penance in the Mission of the Church today; Cf Council of Trent, Session VI, De Iustificatione; Session XIV, De Sacramento Poenitentiae; Pope Pius XII, 'Mystici Corporis Christi.'

[2]  Six Precepts of the Church:
1. You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation.
2. You shall confess your sins at least once a year.
3. You shall humbly receive your Creator in Holy Communion at least during the Easter season.
4. You shall keep holy the holy days of obligation.
5. You shall observe the prescribed days of fasting and abstinence.
6. You shall observe the prescribed marriage laws of the church.
(The faithful also have the duty of providing for the material needs of the Church, each according to his abilities)

[3]  Code of Canon Law (CIC), c.989 obligates Catholics "All the faithful who have reached the age of discretion are bound faithfully to confess their grave sins at least once a year."  The canon expressly indicates that the obligation to confess at least once a year concerns those who have committed mortal sins.

[4]  CCC §1458 - Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church.  Cf. Council of Trent: DS 1680; CIC, can. 988 & 2.  Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit.  By receiving more frequently through this sacrament the gift of the Father's mercy, we are spurred to be merciful as he is merciful: Cf. Lk 6:36

[5]  Council of Trent, Session 13, chap. 7, and the relative canon, DS 1647 and 1655.)

[6]  Cf Sophocles (Antigone, W., n.450-460) and Aristotle (Rhetor., Book I, Ch.15, 1375 a-b).

[7]  Pope John Paul II 'L'Osservatore Romano Newspaper,' 3-24-99, address to the Apostolic Penitentiary.

[8]  St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, life years 354-430 A.D., 'In Johannis evangelium' 12, 13: PL 35, 1491.

[9]  Pope Pius XII, 'Mystici Corporis Christi.'

[10]  Pope John Paul II, 3-14-05, in a message to the head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, Cardinal James Francis Stafford.  Note: Each year during Lent, the Apostolic Penitentiary brings together seminarians and priests who hear confessions in the basilicas of Rome, to discuss the sacrament and to receive the Pope's encouragement and direction.

[11]  Pope John Paul II, 3-27-04, address to participants in a Conference of the Apostolic Penitentiary in Rome.

[12]  St. Augustine remarks that the wonder they work is greater than the very creation of the world.  Cf. 'Commentary on St. John's Gospel,' n.72.

[13]  Sermon 82, 8: PL 38, 511.

[14]  St. Francis de Sales, 'Introduction To The Devout Life," Pt. II, Ch.19.

[15]  In English from Latin, "A humble and contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise," cf. RSV, Psalm 51:17.

[16]  Ibid

[17]  Source: "Confession" video, produced by Sheen Productions, Inc., 23 E. Main St., Victor, N.Y., with permission.

Barbara Kralis, the article's author, writes for various Christian and conservative publications.  She is a regular columnist at Catholic Online, RenewAmerica.us, Intellectual Conservative, Life Issues, Phil Brennan's WOW, TheRant.us, The Wanderer Newspaper, Catholic Citizens of Illinois, MichNews, and others.  She and her husband, Mitch, live in the great State of Texas, and co-direct the Jesus Through Mary Catholic Foundation.  She can be reached at: Avemaria@earthlink.net

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