Friday, February 23, 2007

The Sacrament of Penance

1. Sin is the shipwreck of the soul. If the sin is serious, it is a fatal shipwreck. Confession is the only plank to which we can safely cling, if we want to be brought back to the harbour of God's grace. Admittedly, in cases of necessity we can regain God's friendship equally well by an act of perfect contrition along with the intention of going to confession. But an act of perfect contritioni demands an act of perfect love of God, which is not altogether easy. There can always be a doubt as to whether we have achieved the necessary degree of perfection. If, on the other hand, we receive the Sacrament of Penance with the proper dispositions, not only will it give us grace, but confidence and peace of mind as well. This sacrament has been very appropriately called the masterpiece of God's mercy. What would be our fate, poor sinners that we are, if God had not given the Apostles and their successors in the priesthood the sacramental power of forgiving sins? We should be very grateful to God for this great gift.

2. We should confess our sins humbly and sincerely. We are obliged to confess at least all the mortal sins which we have committed after Baptism and have never included in a previous good Confession. We should prepare for this Sacrament by making a careful examination of conscience in the presence of God. When we kneel before our confessor, we should remember that, even though he is only a man like ourselves, he is the representative of God. We should confess at least our mortal sins in a clear and exact manner. Whenever possible, we should confess deliberate venial sins in order to be sure of obtaining forgiveness for them. It is very necessary to be sincerely sorry for our sins and to be firmly resolved not to commit them again with the help of divine grace. Perfect contrition, which steins from a pure and disinterested act of love for God, is not necessary. Attrition is sufficient, that is, imperfect sorrow which springs from a lower supernatural motive, such as the fear of hell, the hideousness of sin in so far as it is an offence against God, or the loss of eternal happiness. Let us examine ourselves to ensure that we fulfil all the necessary conditions in our Confessions.

3. St. Charles Borromeo had the habit of going to Confession every day. This was not the result of scruples on his part; it was simply that he was supernaturally enlightened so as to perceive even his smallest faults and he was anxious to remove from his soul the slightest trace of sin. We do not have to follow his example, but weekly or fortnightly Confession is strongly recommended by spiritual writers. It is a great loss to neglect Confession for too long a period. We are deprived of the graces of this Sacrament, our fervour grows cold, and we slip easily from venial into mortal sin. Let us decide to make a good Confession every week whenever we find it possible.