WelCom April 2018:
Fr Frank Maguire
Lent has passed for another year; Easter has submerged us in the joy of Resurrection and salvation; we did our best in Lent and the Church encouraged us to seek reconciliation through the Sacrament of Reconciliation – second only to the Eucharist in deepening our spiritual life: the divine call to be holy, highlighted in Vatican II. What is our residual resolve for the coming year in the use of this Sacrament?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear the Sacrament has five elements by name, the Sacrament: of Conversion, of Confession, of Penance, of Forgiveness, of Reconciliation;
- returning to the Father if we have strayed into sin;
- disclosure of sins to a priest, and an acknowledgment and praise of the holiness of God and his mercy;
- the consecration of the Christian sinner’s personal and ecclesial steps of conversion, penance and satisfaction;
- through the Sacramental absolution God grants pardon and peace;
- it imparts the love of God who reconciles.
We are bound to confess only mortal sins. However, a true desire for spiritual growth and a deepening relationship with God supposes we confess in the Sacrament our venial sins and even our faults. The Church’s papal pronouncements and documents insist on ‘grave’ and ‘mortal’ because those sins bring spiritual death to the soul and complete breach in the relationship with God. A voluntary human act, they destroy charity and grace – but thankfully God will still forgive and restore.
It is helpful to remember mortal sin is not necessarily easy to commit; it requires a grave matter, committed with full knowledge, and deliberate consent.
Let us turn to the deeper, spiritual use and benefits of the Sacrament when visited regularly and without necessity; used devotionally even.
We are spiritually humbled but never humiliated in the Sacrament – God never humiliates, only people do that. Hans Urs von Balthasar says, ‘The Cross…is the archetypical confession, and Christian Sacramental confession thus is in imitation of Christ in the strict sense [It is both] Trinitarian and particularly Christological.’ It is intensely spiritual and beneficial to the soul. Its practical benefit is a decreasing affection for sin and fault. It should not be ‘in and out, with a sigh of relief’ – sufficient, but not very fruitful.
Venial sin, too, goes counter to God’s will. It does not destroy charity but still goes against it. Deliberate, habitual venial sin results in a loss of the sense of sin and weakens the soul’s resistance to serious sin. The spiritual life is reduced to lethargy and indifference. Deliberate venial sins require a firm purpose of amendment.
There are venial sins that result from our human weakness in the face of temptation. Here regret and repentance are immediate. St Thérèse felt these ‘do not grieve the good God’, because they are not of a wilful intent but purely from the weakness of human nature. Which does not make them any the less voluntarily confessable for the strengthening of the life of the soul.
With only venial sins to confess it is not necessary to confess all or the number: that is only necessary for mortal sins.
What then are ‘imperfections’ in the context of the spiritual benefits of the Sacrament? Rather than venial light transgressions of God’s laws, an imperfection is the omission of some good act to which we are not obliged by any law, but one which charity invites us to do.
An example: when I become aware of a better act that is within my capacity of performing and which I can reasonably believe is inspired by the Holy Spirit, a refusal to do the act is for me an actual imperfection. My refusal is an abuse, as it were, of my freedom, God given, to adhere to the good. Not a sin, but contrary to charity and the will of God – an imperfection. A good act done with some degree of reluctance likewise could be an imperfection.
These affect our spiritual life; the grace from bringing them to the Sacrament is a source of strength, certainly not a waste of the confessor’s time.
The Examination of Conscience, too, is a spiritual exercise. Assuming there is freedom from mortal sin, the examination should concentrate on determining the extent of deliberate faults and imperfections. These in particular, impede the spiritual life of the soul, not least the underlying fault that may be their root cause. The root cause eliminated eventually, will see the dependant faults go too.
St Francis de Sales reminds us everyone is called to holiness – just within their own life-style and its constraints.
‘First the Lord cleanses the heart and pardons its sins; then he heals and puts it in order; later he strengthens the heart so it can be adorned with virtues as with a crown of blessings; finally, he enters and closes the door behind him.’ – St Raphael Kalinowski ocd.
Fr Frank Maguire is retired and lives in Wellington.
If you have not been to the Sacrament of Reconciliation for some time, go and simply say to the priest, ‘…it’s a long time since I have been to confession or Reconcilation’ and he will guide you.