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The Sacrament Of Confession… Devotional Confession

September 30, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM

Part 6

It is a common scene in any devout Catholic parish to have people going to Confession once a month, and others once a week, even though they may not have any mortal sins on their conscience. Venial sins, strictly speaking, do not demand Confession, and a good and sincere act of contrition may secure the forgiveness. If so, why should anyone go to Confession if they have nothing serious for which to seek forgiveness?
This pious and most praiseworthy custom is called “Devotional Confession” or “Optional Confession.” It is the Sacrament of Penance as received by those who have only venial sins to confess, or sins already forgiven in a previous Confession. This practice had its origin when the people realized more keenly that they would obtain more graces if they went to Confession more often.
It began in the days when the whole of Europe was Catholic, when “the philosophy of the Gospel governed the States,” as Leo XIII wrote about the Middle Ages; happy times when Europeans had “one Lord, one Faith, and one Baptism” (Eph. 4:5) and there was only one “Church of God, the pillar and mainstay of the Truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). Then there were neither Orthodox churches nor Protestant sects — as we have them today by the thousands.
The practice of devotional Confession started around the fifth century, when people who lived near the monasteries gradually acquired the good custom of going to Confession more regularly. Then Catholics spread it all over Europe, and later they carried the practice to their colonies in the Americas, Africa, and Australasia. We here in the United States carry the practice to this day.
Even though venial sins are not necessarily the object of Confession, it is a good, pious practice to confess them with true sorrow and purpose of amendment. We must keep in mind that our goal in life is to identify ourselves with Our Lord Jesus Christ, “to be perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect,” as He said at the end of the Sermon of the Mount. To be able to say with St. Paul, “I live, no, not I, but Christ lives in me” — that is the purpose of our earthly existence. Everything else is a means to get there.
Thus, to take full advantage of the Sacrament of Confession, when we have no mortal sins on our conscience, and we go to confess only venial sins, our Confession must have three characteristics: it must be internal, supernatural, and supreme.
In order to avoid scrupulosity, this Confession need not be universal, that is, we do not have to confess each and every venial sin we have committed in our lives — that’s not the right thing to do. We simply have to be sincerely sorry for having committed them. And how do we ensure that we are truly sorry?
Simple: Let us adopt the practice of zeroing our mind in on some fault that we really desire to correct. Say, a little laziness in getting out of bed, or too much time wasted on Facebook, or some impatience with a neighbor, or praying the rosary too fast — just as examples.
If we do not zero in on a specific fault that we want to correct, one at a time, we may risk regarding Confession as just a matter of routine, a blah-blah-blah sort of repetitive conversation with the priest, and be exposed to the grave danger of committing sacrilege, if we abuse the sacrament. We must keep in mind that, although God is merciful, a sorrowless Confession is invalid, and, if done intentionally without sorrow, is sacrilegious.
The thing is that sin is a very serious business. I like to recommend that people watch The Passion of the Christ movie from time to time to realize the seriousness of sin.
In our search for holiness, we must bear in mind another aspect of our sorrow in our devotional Confessions: Our sorrow may be either perfect or imperfect.
The perfect sorrow is the ideal, of course, but the imperfect is also acceptable to our Lord, as long as we mean it. When is the sorrow perfect? It is perfect if it is motivated by the love we have for Him and the sorrow we experience in having offended Him.
It is imperfect, when it is motivated by, say, the fear of God’s chastisements, that is, the fear of having to suffer at His hand either in this world or in Purgatory; or the fear that God will not be as generous to us in the giving of actual graces; or that the love of God in our heart will lessen; or that we will weaken in our power to resist the temptation to sin, and thus find ourselves drifting toward the dreaded edge of mortal sin.
A beautiful act of sorrow when we do not feel sorry enough for our sins is to say to our Lord that “we are sorry that we are not sorry enough.” In so doing, we are telling Him that we want to be sorry as much as He would expect us to be.
The Church recommends frequent Confession. Pope Pius XII wrote a beautiful piece to encourage all of us to go to Confession more often, and he listed the benefits we may receive from that good practice. He wrote:
“For a constant and faster advancement along the necessary 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 it, true self-knowledge is increased, Christian humility grows, bad habits are uprooted, spiritual negligence and apathy are prevented, the conscience is purified, the will strengthened, salutary spiritual direction is obtained, and grace is increased by the efficacy of the sacrament itself.”
In Fatima, our Lady herself asked for frequent Confession, when she asked for the devotion of Reparation of the First Saturdays. She revealed it to the three children of Fatima, asking for a monthly Holy Communion of Reparation for the sins of the world, for the outrages with which Jesus is offended, especially in the Blessed Sacrament. She asked us to go to Confession on the First Saturday of the month, receive Holy Communion devoutly on that Saturday, pray one rosary, and spend fifteen minutes meditating on one or more mysteries of the rosary, keeping her company.
She asked for the Church to implement this devotion on the same day she asked for the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart.
Next article: The sins against the Holy Spirit.

+ + +

(Raymond de Souza, KM, is a Knight of the Sovereign and Military Order of Malta; a delegate for International Missions for Human Life International [HLI]; and an EWTN program host. Website: www.RaymonddeSouza.com.)

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