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Pentecost 2001 --- Volume XVI No. 2
Little Catechism on Confession
Diocese of Lincoln
In his Holy Thursday message to the world's priests this year, Pope John Paul II focused on the need for the Sacrament of Reconciliation in order to achieve holiness. The Little Catechism on Confession is a small book for children preparing for their First Confession, produced by the Diocese of Lincoln and reprinted here with permission of the diocese. We think many adult Catholics will find its clear explanation of this Sacrament helpful as well.
The original booklet - and a companion booklet, The Little Catechism on the Holy Eucharist - may be purchased for $1 each from the Diocese of Lincoln, PO Box 80328, Lincoln, NE 68501-0328. --Editor
How do we understand sin?
The beauty of a human being overshadows the ugliest and most numerous of sins, and that beauty inspired God's love for man. Nevertheless, do not underestimate the horror of sin. In fact, it is ugly most especially on account of God's love for man. What a poor return for so rich a love! Some people ask, if God is all-powerful and all-loving (and He is), why would He allow people to offend Him with sin or to hurt other people? Why doesn't God just stop them before they sin? The answer has to do with freedom and love.
Moved by love, God created man to love: to love God first and most, to love his neighbor, and to love himself. In order to love something or someone, a person needs an intellect and the free will to choose. The intellect is man's ability to know what is worthy of love. The intellect tells the free will what to love, and the will then reaches out to possess the thing. God could have programmed human beings like robots to love what He loves and as He loves, but that would not be love. Love can only be love if it is freely given.
Free will means that it is always possible for a person to choose among at least two things, like good and evil, or the truth and a lie. God does not want people to choose evil, He did not create them for that, but that is one of the consequences of freedom. The free will choice to desire, say, or do something that God considers evil or false is the misuse of freedom. That is called sin: disobedience to God.
The Original Sin
The first people to sin were Adam and Eve, the parents of all human beings. Their sin is called the "original sin" because it was the first. Adam and Eve were created as friends with God, sharing His life. God allowed Adam and Eve to eat the fruit from every tree in the garden of Paradise, except the fruit that came from the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil". (Genesis 2:17) Their freedom was not absolute. The forbidden fruit represents the limits that God places on man's freedom. Obedience to God's will is the greatest expression of man's love for God.
In order to test their love, God permitted Adam and Eve to be tempted. He allowed the devil to try to talk them into eating the fruit from the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil". The devil told Adam and Eve that nothing would happen to them if they ate the fruit, that the reason God did not want them to eat it was that they would become like Him. Adam and Eve believed the devil's lie that they could be like God without having to be obedient to Him. They were no longer content with friendship with God on His terms, and so they freely chose to sin. One might ask: Why would Adam and Eve do that? It is a mystery why they would trade friendship with God for independence from God, but then it is also a mystery why their descendants, present day sinners, continue to do the same.
Sin Is Punished
One consequence of free will is that people are responsible for their choices. The more freedom people have in making choices, the more they are responsible for their choices. People must take personal responsibility for their choices, either receiving praise or blame, reward or punishment. Even though Adam and Eve were tempted by the devil, they were free to say "no" to his seduction. They freely chose to disobey God, and so in justice they would have to accept the blame and the punishment.
Adam and Eve's new found independence from God was a poor trade for what they lost as punishment for their sin. They lost everything: the body rebelled from the soul; the relationship between man and woman became strained; work became difficult; suffering became a companion to life on earth; and, as God warned, life ends in death. The worst punishment of all was that Adam and Eve lost the gift of Sanctifying Grace. God's punishment of sin is just, but it is also merciful. Moved by love, God never punishes sinners as much as their sins deserve.
The Loss of Sanctifying Grace
At first glance it would appear that losing the gift of Sanctifying Grace was no big deal compared to everything else Adam and Eve lost as punishment for their sin. However, Sanctifying Grace is everything! God designed human life so that man cannot be what he is meant to be without Sanctifying Grace. God created human beings to share in His divine life, to be His children, and to live with Him for ever in Paradise - Sanctifying Grace alone makes this possible. Man can only have Sanctifying Grace when he lives his life in the obedience of faith according to God's laws. When man sins it is as if he says to God: "I don't need You; I will not submit to You; I can make it on my own!" Nothing could be further from the truth. If as punishment for sin man can only eat his bread by the sweat of his brow, how much more frustrating is it for man to strive for the goal of eternal life without Sanctifying Grace, and never be able to achieve it? This is the source of man's greatest suffering!
The Hope of Salvation
Even though Adam and Eve's relationship with God was strained, He did not stop loving and caring for them. The Bible tells how God Himself made clothes for them and protected them from doing further harm to themselves. (Genesis 3:21-24) God also gave them hope that the debt of punishment owed for their sins would one day be pardoned. God gave them hope for salvation. From the beginning of human history, God promised to send a Savior who would have final victory over sin and death: "I will put enmity between you (the devil) and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." (Genesis 3:15) Mankind needs a Savior, and Jesus is the One who crushed the head of the serpent, pardoning the debt of punishment owed for sin, and making Sanctifying Grace and Heaven available to man once again.
Sin is an offense against the infinitely good God who is deserving of love, and so, in justice, sin deserves infinite punishment. Human beings, because they are finite, could never make up for the punishment their sins deserve. Only God, who alone is infinite, could suffer the punishment for sin, but God as God cannot suffer. So, moved by love, God became man so that in His human nature He could suffer the punishment for sin and reconcile man to Himself. This is what Jesus taught Nicodemus when He said: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). It would be like a victim of a violent crime saying to the condemned criminal: "I will take your place in the electric chair to pay for the crime that you committed against me". That is what Jesus did for each person.
Saint Paul describes Jesus as the "second Adam" who made up for what the "first Adam" did: "God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us ... as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men". (Romans 5:12, 18) Mankind is reconciled to God by believing that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world, and by being baptized. The waters of Baptism wash away original sin and give the person the gift of Sanctifying Grace.
It was not only Adam and Eve who needed a Savior, but all human beings. Just as the original blessings Adam and Eve received from God were intended not only for themselves, but for human nature itself, so their fallen human nature is transmitted to all their descendants (except to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who by singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, was preserved free from all stain of original sin from the first instant of her conception). Like a child that is born with a congenital disease, every human being born since the fall of Adam and Eve is afflicted with ignorance, suffering, death, and with an inclination to sin called "concupiscence". They are also born without the gift of Sanctifying Grace, with the gates of Heaven closed to them. It is not that a new-born child is guilty of personal sin. Rather, the child is born into a state of sin with a fallen human nature.
Baptism takes away original sin and gives Sanctifying Grace, but otherwise fallen human nature remains the same. The baptized person is no longer a "slave to sin" but is inclined to the selfishness of sin because of concupiscence. Therefore, Christians must "work out (their) own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12) by cooperating with God's Grace to avoid sin and practice virtue.
The sins that the baptized person commits are called personal or actual sin: unlike original sin, the human person actually commits the sin. All sins are a misuse of freedom, but there are different kinds of sin, depending on what is actually done, how much deliberation or thought goes into it, and how free the person is to choose. They also differ, then, by the punishment they deserve. The two main kinds of actual sins are called mortal sin and venial sin.
A sin is called venial, from the Latin meaning pardonable, when either what was done is not serious, or if it was serious, there wasn't full knowledge or complete consent of the will. A person does not lose the gift of Sanctifying Grace by committing a venial sin. However, he does receive a temporal punishment which is made up for during life on earth by doing penance, works of charity and by saying prayers, or else after a person's death by the sufferings of Purgatory. One who is guilty of venial sin also finds it more and more difficult to practice virtue and to resist the temptation to commit mortal sins, which do deprive a person of heaven.
A sin is called mortal, meaning deadly (see 1 John 5:16-17), when what was done is serious, and when it was done with both full knowledge and complete consent of the will. The Catholic Church alone has the authority to determine what kinds of desires, words and actions are serious in and of themselves. The Catechism teaches that the Ten Commandments name what is seriously wrong. (CCC 1858) Why a person does something (his motive), and circumstances like who is offended, or where, or when, or how, can make a sin more or less serious, but it can never make something which is sinful acceptable. One may not do evil, not even a venial sin, in order to bring about something that seems good: the end does not justify the means.
It is possible for a person to desire, to say or to do something that is sinful in and of itself, but not know that it is sinful. God does not hold a person responsible for something he did not know was wrong. However, God does hold all people responsible to learn what is good to do, and then to do it. It is also possible for a person's ability to act with complete consent of the will to be lessened or even destroyed by things like force, fear, or habit. But that same person is responsible to, for example, break the habit that affects his freedom.
A person is guilty of mortal sin when he desired, said or did something that was seriously wrong, knowing that it was a sin, freely choosing to do it anyway. This sin is called mortal because it is punished with the "death" of the life of Sanctifying Grace in the soul of the sinner. Without Sanctifying Grace a person cannot gain any merit for the good things he might do, nor may he receive Holy Communion without first going to Confession. (see 1 Corinthians 11:28) Worst of all, if he dies without repenting of his mortal sin and asking God for forgiveness, he will be judged worthy of eternal damnation in Hell. Be careful here, for while it is possible to say whether or not a desire, word or action is mortally sinful, only God can judge whether or to what extent a person is guilty of mortal sin.
That is because only God can judge a person's mind and heart to know whether or not he acted with full knowledge and complete consent of the will.
Other Kinds of Sin
Besides these two very familiar kinds of actual sins, there are a few others. Jesus refers to the unforgivable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. (Mark 3:29) This is understood as a refusal to repent of one's sins, or a rejection of the forgiveness of sins and salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. God respects our freedom, and so will not dwell in a soul where He is not invited or where He is not made welcome.
The Bible also mentions sins that cry out to heaven for vengeance: brother killing brother (Genesis 4:10); sodomy (Genesis 19:13); oppression of a foreigner, a widow, or an orphan (Exodus 22:20-22); and, injustice to laborers (James 5:4).
Some sins are called capital sins because they lead people to commit other sins. There are seven capital sins: pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony and sloth. For example, the capital sin of envy led King Saul to hate David, and to be sad at his success in war and his fame with the people. Saul hated David and tried to kill him. (1 Kings 18:6-9)
Lastly, a vice is a sinful habit that is developed over time by repeating a sin. The first time a sin is committed it is difficult because of the natural fear and shame that people have. However, each time the sin is repeated it weakens resistance until it can be done with ease and without much attention. Vice is gradually overcome by practicing virtue, which is the habit of doing good.
Why did Jesus start the Sacrament of Confession?
It is said that if someone believes that God is distant, it is not God who moved. God never stops loving His creation, especially human beings made in His image and likeness. Moved by love, He always provides men and women with all good things. And when they sin and turn away from God, He does not abandon them. Like the Good Shepherd, God goes in search of sinners to call them to conversion (see Luke 15:4-7). As man can do nothing to save Himself, God always makes the Grace of conversion available to all people. But Grace is not magic; it bears no fruit without a person's free and deliberate cooperation to repent, confess his sins, and try to change his life.
The first conversion of a sinner to God occurs when he comes to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world, and is baptized.
Every time a sinner commits a sin after Baptism, he must repent, be sorry for his sins, confess them to a priest (if they are mortal sins), and try to change his life again, and again, as many times as necessary. Saint Catherine of Siena refers to the sacrament of Confession as "an on-going Baptism" where sinners are washed clean again in the Blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God. (Dialogue, chapter 75) Christians are always in need of repentance and conversion as long as they live.
Because God takes "no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live" (Ezekiel 33:11), Jesus established the sacrament of Confession so that sinners in every time and place could repent, confess their sins, and try to change their lives.
Only God can forgive sins. The Lord Jesus, because He is God, could therefore say to the man who was paralyzed: "My son, your sins are forgiven". (Mark 2:5) Jesus also has the authority, as God, to grant others the power to forgive sins. On Easter night, Jesus appeared to the Apostles, "breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.'" (John 20:22-23) And because sin offends not only God, but also the members of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, Jesus gave Peter and the Apostles the authority to reconcile sinners to the Church when He said: "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven". (Matthew 16:19; 18:18)
Only God forgives sins, but He does it "through the ministry of the Church". The Lord Jesus gave the Apostles and their successors, the Bishops of the Catholic Church, and the priests who work with the Bishops, the power to forgive sins in His name. When a priest absolves a person of his sins, he is not merely announcing the Good News of God's forgiveness, or that God has forgiven his sins. The sinner receives pardon from God through the ministry to the Church, that is, through the absolution given by the priest in confession. As the Church is also offended by sin, that same prayer of absolution reconciles the sinner with the Church.
There are some people who shy away from going to Confession because they have had the experience of a priest being angry and yelling at them. It is difficult to excuse such behavior in a priest: maybe he was having a bad day, or was bothered by something totally unrelated. Nevertheless, a priest in Confession must try to remember that he has received "the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:18), and is to be like the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep, or the Good Samaritan who binds up wounds, or the father who awaits the prodigal son and welcomes him on his return. The penitent, on the other hand, should try to forgive the human failings of the priest. He should also remember that, regardless of what kind of confessor the priest is, it is Jesus Christ that the penitent meets in the sacrament of Confession, and that the forgiveness of sins is not dependent on the goodness of the priest.
How do I make a good confession?
The one making a Confession is called the penitent. With trust in God's love and mercy, the penitent prepares to seek forgiveness and reconciliation by doing the following: examining his conscience to know what sins to confess; expressing sorrow for his sins; resolving never to sin again; making a Confession of his sins to a priest; and, doing the penance assigned to him by the priest in Confession. (An outline of how to go to Confession is printed on pages 56-59 of the booklet.)
Examination of Conscience
One excuse people give for not going to Confession is that they cannot think of any sins to confess. The way people become aware of the sins they have committed is to examine their consciences. The conscience is a person's best judgment about whether or not a particular choice that he is going to make, or has already made, is good or bad.
A Catholic has a duty to teach his conscience what is good and bad according to what the teachings of Jesus and His Catholic Church say is good and bad. When his conscience is certain about a particular choice, he has a duty to follow his conscience. It is as if God is speaking to him through his conscience. That is why it is always a sin when a person goes against what his conscience tells him is a good choice, and why it is always a sin to go ahead and choose something when the conscience is not certain if it is good or bad.
When preparing for Confession, a person first prays to the Holy Spirit to help him know his sins. He then thinks about the period of time since he made his last Confession. He tries to remember all the times when he deliberately did something this conscience told him was bad, or did not do something it told was good. The best way to examine one's conscience is to check it against the Ten Commandments and the Precepts of the Church, and to ask, "would Jesus desire, say, or do that?" (An examination of conscience is printed on pages 38-55 of the booklet.) He then makes a mental list of all the mortal sins he has committed, and may also add any venial sins he remembers.
Practice makes perfect. The more frequently a person examines his conscience, the easier it is to do. It is essential to spiritual growth to examine one's conscience at the end of each day and ask God for forgiveness.
Sorrow for Sin
A person becomes penitent when he remembers his sins, recognizes that he is guilty, and is sorry for his sins. Guilt must not be confused with shame, which is a bad feeling most people have when their sins or crimes become known to others. They feel shame because their pride is wounded, and not so much because of what they did. Guilt, on the other hand, is a feeling of sorrow for having committed a sin or crime. Guilt is not a "Catholic thing," nor is it a bad thing. A feeling of guilt shows that a person's conscience is normal and healthy. It is most important for a person to be sorry for his sins because there is no forgiveness without sorrow. When asked about the eternal destiny of a man who had committed suicide by jumping off a bridge, Saint John Vianney said: "Between the bridge and the river he repented and was forgiven".
To be sorry for committing sins means to hate them and to resolve never to sin again. All these things are expressed in the prayer called the Act of Contrition (another word for sorrow). The prayer also expresses why the penitent is sorry: "Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all-good and deserving of all my love".
Resolve to Never Sin Again
There is no true sorrow without the resolution to never sin again. That is why the "Act of Contrition" ends with words, "I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy Grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life". This means that in the future the penitent must resolve to avoid any person, place or thing that might lead him into sin, and to say "no" to the devil's temptation. Saint Catherine of Siena once said that "it is human to sin, but to persevere in sin is a thing of the devil". (Letter 173)
Some people argue that there is not much point in making a Confession and resolving never to sin again because, as weak as human beings are, they will sin again. The same argument could be used against bathing or washing clothes, yet people wash themselves and their clothes regularly. Why? Because they want to present themselves as best they can, and because they have self-respect. These are the same reasons why a person goes to Confession regularly, resolving never to sin again each time. The main reason is because of the warning Jesus gives: "Unless you repent you will all likewise perish". (Luke 13:3) All a person can do is call on God for help and to keep trying to do good and avoid sin. That is all that God asks, and God who knows the thoughts of man, knows when there is an honest effort (see Romans 2:15-16). Remember, when a person dies and appears before God to give an accounting of his life, God will not judge him according to his successes, but his efforts.
Confession to a Priest
The penitent's next step, and perhaps the most difficult, is to tell his sins, especially his mortal sins, to a priest in Confession. Some penitents stay away from the confessional, claiming that they don't need to tell their sins to a priest, that they can confess their sins directly to God. If the truth be known, they are probably a little embarrassed to admit their faults and failings to another person. They forget that Jesus Himself started the sacrament of Confession as the way for people guilty of mortal sin to receive forgiveness and reconciliation.
Jesus showed His wisdom in providing for the forgiveness of sins through a priest because sometimes people are not sure what to confess, or how to confess, or if they are sorry enough, or if the are really forgiven. The priest understands the penitent's concerns because he too is human, and therefore a sinner. The priest's role is to help the penitent make a good Confession, and to judge whether or not the penitent is truly guilty of sin and sorry. However, the priest also heals the one making his Confession, accepting his sorrow, pardoning his sin in the name of Christ, and reconciling him to God and the Church. Jesus also showed His wisdom by making the telling of sins to a priest an integral art of Confession. There is something healing about telling your faults to another person (see James 5:16).
The ordinary way of making a Confession is for the individual penitent to tell a priest of all of his mortal sins in kind and number, that is, describing how he disobeyed God's commandments, as well as how many times, as far as he can remember. The kind and number of sins can change how serious the sin is in God's eyes. For example, if the penitent confesses using recreational drugs and giving them to others, he should explain which drugs, to whom they were given, how often they were used, and in what situations (for example, while driving a car). It is a mortal sin to deliberately omit confessing a mortal sin because that would be like lying to the Holy Spirit. Including venial sins in one's Confession is recommended, but not required.
Penance Services and the "seal of Confession"
Besides the ordinary way of making a Confession, the Church also allows for a group of people to have a "penance service" that might include readings from Scripture, a homily, a communal examination of conscience, and a general expression of sorrow for sins (like the "I confess to almighty God ..." used at Mass). But a penance service cannot absolve people from mortal sins, therefore those in the group who are guilty of mortal sin still have to make an individual confession to a priest.
The Church even allows people to receive a general absolution - one priest absolving more than one person at the same time. However, this is only allowed under very strict and rare circumstances: when, because of danger of death, there is not enough time for the available priests to hear each penitent's Confession; or when there are not enough priests to hear individual Confessions properly without depriving penitents, through no fault of their own, of sacramental Grace or Holy Communion for a long time. In the second set of circumstances just listed, a priest may not give general absolution lawfully without the permission of the bishop. In order for those who receive general absolution to benefit validly from it they must be properly disposed, make an Act of Contrition, and be resolved to make an individual Confession of their mortal sins to a priest as soon as it is possible.
How is it that penitents can so easily tell all their worst sins to a priest in Confession, and sometimes even face-to-face? Are they not afraid that he will tell others, or somehow use the information against them? Penitents feel secure in the knowledge that whatever they tell the priest in Confession is guarded by an absolute secrecy called the "seal of Confession". There are no exceptions to this rule, and if the priest betrays the penitent by telling the secret or acting upon what he learned from Confession, not only is he guilty of mortal sin, but he is automatically excommunicated from the Church. This is the most severe penalty because it is the greatest secret.
The Need to Do Penance
Before the penitent receives forgiveness for his sins, the priest gives him a penance to do, such as saying prayers, or serving his neighbor in some way, or giving something up. If the penitent is not able to do the penance suggested by the priest, he can ask for another. The purpose of the penance is to keep the person from committing sin in the future (like a deterrent from crime), and to remind him of the seriousness of sin and how it offends God, neighbor, and himself.
Another reason why the priest given the penitent a penance is to help him "make satisfaction" for his sins. Justice demands that sin is punished. Jesus in His mercy makes up for, or makes satisfaction for the eternal punishment due to sin by His suffering and death. It is by virtue of Christ's redemption that people today receive forgiveness and reconciliation for their sins. However, the Bible tells us that people still have to make up for the damage done for their sins even after they are forgiven. For example, Zaccheus told Jesus that whatever taxes he collected over what people owed, he would restore it four-fold. (Luke 19:1-10) Justice requires that the sinner himself do something (Colossians 1:24), and so he receives what is called "temporal" punishment for his sins, meaning it is not an eternal punishment and can be made up in time.
The penitent's sins are forgiven even if he doesn't do his penance. However, if he doesn't do penance during this life, he will have to make up for the temporal punishment due his forgiven sins in Purgatory before he can enter heaven. Because no one can know if the penance given in Confession is enough to make up for the damage done by sin, it is good to practice penance voluntarily or, if not during life on earth, it will have to be done in Purgatory.
Saint Paul compares doing penance with the discipline and self-denial of an athlete in training, but a Christian does penance for the sake of the imperishable treasures of heaven. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27) In addition to the days of fasting and abstinence in Lent, the Church asks her members to do penance every Friday in memory of the Passion and Death of the Lord Jesus, either by abstaining from meat or by doing some other penance, like performing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
The next step is to, as the saying goes, "just do it!" The Catholic Church requires that her members who have attained the "age of reason" (around age seven) make a Confession of their mortal sins at least once a year. Someone who knows he has committed a mortal sin should go to Confession as soon as possible. Cut off from God's Grace one cannot receive Holy Communion, nor merit for the good things he does, and it is more difficult to resist future temptation without God's strength. Besides all that, why would anyone wait when "you know neither the day nor the hour" of death and judgment. (Matthew 25:13)
The obligation to make a good Confession once a year is like saying, "if you are a Catholic, you must at least do this much". However, more is better, especially since "this is the will of God, your sanctification". (1 Thessalonians 4:3) If a person has not committed any mortal sins over the course of a year, he is not obliged to make a Confession, but it is still highly recommended. In fact, it is a good spiritual practice to regularly make a Confession once a month, or even more frequently! Just look at some of the benefits of making a regular Confession: the certainty of having been forgiven; reconciliation with God and the Church; the gift of Sanctifying Grace is restored or strengthened; help to avoid sin in the future by the sacramental graces received; courage to lead a virtuous life; advice on how to amend one's life is offered by the priest; the opportunity to take inventory of one's life; the opportunity to grow in self-knowledge; and, the opportunity to unburden oneself of a guilty conscience and shame. "Just do it!"
Human beings have free will in order to choose to love what God loves and as God loves. True, they sometimes use that freedom to love selfishly, that is, to sin. However, they also use that freedom correctly, to love what God loves, as God loves. Maybe it is man's free choice to love that distracts God from the ugliness of sin. Maybe man's free choice to love is what God fixes His gaze upon. Maybe one free choice to love, even the smallest act of love, is so beautiful that it distracts God's attention from the greatest number or the ugliest of sins. God does notice man's sins, and He doesn't like them one bit, but they don't change the fact that this is proof of God's love: "But God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us". (Romans 5:8)
Maybe, just maybe, the free choice to love that distracted God from the ugliness of man's sins was the sinners' repentance and conversion. When a person examines his conscience, it is love of what God loves and as He loves that makes him aware that he is guilty of sin. Love makes a person a penitent and puts perfect sorrow for sin in his heart - "but most of all because (my sins) offend Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love". The resolution never to sin again, and every little effort to do good and avoid evil, is a free will choice to love. Saint John the Apostle says that "perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18), giving the penitent confidence to confess his sins to a priest in Confession in order to receive forgiveness and reconciliation. And what would a person not do to make up for hurting someone he loves, especially if the beloved is God?
Examination of Conscience
When preparing to make a confession, a person should first pray to the Holy Spirit for help to know his sins. Then, reviewing the period of time since his last Confession, he should ask himself questions based on the Ten Commandments and the Precepts of the Church. Then he should make a mental list of all the mortal sins he committed, noting how and how many times he committed them, as far as he can remember. He can also add any venial sins he remembers. With sorrow in his heart, and with the resolve to never sin again, he then tells his sins to a priest in Confession to receive pardon from God and reconciliation with the Church.
The Precepts of the Church
First Precept: "You shall attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation". (See Third Commandment)
Second Precept: "You shall confess your sins at least once a year".
Third Precept: "You shall humbly receive your Creator in Holy Communion at least during the Easter Season".
Fourth Precept: "You shall keep holy the Holy Days of Obligation". (Third Commandment)
Fifth Precept: "You shall observe the prescribed days of fasting and abstinence".
Sixth Precept: "You shall contribute to the support of the Church".
Seventh Precept: "You shall observe the laws of the Church concerning marriage".
How to Make a Confession
Confession may be made either kneeling behind a screen, or "face- to-face", as priest and penitent agree.
1. The priest welcomes the penitent and then they make the Sign of the Cross: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
2. Using his own words or a text from the Ritual, the priest exhorts the penitent to trust in God's mercy. The penitent responds: Amen.
3. The priest or the penitent may read a text from Sacred Scripture.
4. The penitent then confesses his sins in the following manner:
· The penitent may begin with these or similar words: I confess to Almighty God, and to you, Father, that I have sinned. He then may tell the priest his age, how long it has been since his last Confession, etc.
· The penitent may then say: I accuse myself of the following sins. The penitent then tells all his mortal sins in kind and number, and may add his venial sins and may omit kind and number.
· After telling his sins, the penitent may say these or similar words: For these and all my past sins I am truly sorry, and beg pardon from God and penance and absolution from you, Father.
5. The priest may ask questions to help clear up any doubt about the nature of the sins confessed, or to determine if the penitent is truly sorry. The priest may also offer some advice as to how the penitent might amend his life.
6. The priest proposes an act of penance to the penitent, asking if he will accept it in order to make satisfaction for sin and to amend his life. If the penitent is not able to perform the proposed penance, he may ask for another.
7. The penitent then expresses his sorrow in an Act of Contrition, either in his own words, or one of the prayers in the Ritual, or the traditional prayer (see below).
8. The priest then extends his hands (or his right hand), and says the prayer of absolution, to which the penitent responds: Amen.
9. After the absolution, the priest says: Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. The penitent responds: His mercy endures forever.
10. The priest dismisses the penitent, using these or similar words: The Lord has freed you from you sins. Go in peace. The penitent may respond: Thanks be to God. Thank you, Father.
11. The penitent should perform his penance as soon as possible after making his Confession.
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