Fr. Roger J. Landry
Putting into the Deep
March 20, 2015
Last week we considered the practice of frequent reception of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation in a Catholic plan of life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the last seven Popes have all sought to persuade the Christian faithful to take regular advantage of the gift of the Lord’s mercy.
These popes have led also by example. Pope Francis has told us that he goes to Confession twice a month. St. John Paul II went each week. Pope Pius XII went every day.
This is not — we can be certain — because the Popes are clandestine serial killers, blasphemers, liars, thieves, or regularly commit other mortal sins.
It’s because of a hard and fast law of spiritual growth: the closer we draw to God, the more we how our thoughts, words, deeds and omissions are not totally aligned with God. The more light shines in a room, the more we see the dust on the woodwork or the fingerprints on a window. The more we grow in holiness, the humbler we get and the hungrier we become for God’s mercy.
These popes also have recognized what so many saints themselves have noted, that the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation is one of the greatest means of spiritual growth that Christ has given us. The more someone sincerely examines his conscience, contritely confesses his sins and perseveringly resolves to amend his life, the more he recognizes how and how much he needs God’s help. It changes his prayer — and changes him —for the better.
St. John Paul used to tell young people that if they wanted to mature faster, one of the best means was frequent confession, because a thorough examination of conscience would help them to get to know themselves, a sorrowful confession would assist them to grow in a sense of personal responsibility, and the firm resolve to change one’s behavior would be an enormous aid in the formation of the virtues. No matter how young we are, these truths remain valid.
What are the fruits of frequent confession? The Catechism lists several of them: “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” (CCC 1458).
Pope Pius XII gave a more extended list of the spiritual advantages in his 1943 encyclical Mystici Corporis.
“To ensure more rapid progress day by day in the path of virtue, the pious practice of frequent confession, which was introduced into the Church by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, should be earnestly advocated,” he wrote. “By it genuine self-knowledge is increased, Christian humility grows, bad habits are corrected, spiritual neglect and tepidity are resisted, the conscience is purified, the will strengthened, a salutary self-control is attained, and grace is increased in virtue of the Sacrament itself.”
Let’s examine briefly the eight benefits he named.
Genuine self-knowledge is increased — Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. The regular, thorough, courageous examination of our conscience helps us to do an honest appraisal of our behaviors, character and movements of the soul. It allows us to know ourselves with God’s light, both the good and the ugly.
Christian humility grows — Humility begins with seeing ourselves as we really are, but then extends to looking at and relating to God and others reverently as they really are. Humility helps us to grasp that we hold a treasure in vessels of clay and allows us more easily to serve with love.
Bad habits are corrected — We all have bad habits, but few of us fight intelligently to extirpate them. Frequent confession helps us to identify our vices, probe with God’s assistance their root causes, and come up with a resolute game plan day-by-day to battle against and eradicate them.
Spiritual neglect and tepidity are resisted — Pondering Jesus’ admonition to the Church of Laodicea (Rev 3:14-19), Pope Benedict said, “The greatest danger for a Christian [is] not that he may say ‘no,’ but that he may say a very lukewarm ‘yes.’ This being lukewarm is what discredits Christianity. Faith must become in us a flame of love … that fires up my being … and so also fires up my neighbor.” Frequent reception of God’s mercy fills us with the flame of his love and burns away spiritual dross.
The conscience is purified — To keep our inner organ of sensitivity attuned to God, we must not only regularly calibrate it through examination our actions in light of God’s guidance but receive the sacramental help God gives. Trying to follow an unpurified conscience is as wise as trying to drive looking through a sullied windshield.
The will is strengthened — A strong will perseveres in doing what’s right and in saying to God, “Thy will be done.” Our failures and falls discourage us and weaken the will. God’s mercy picks us up and inspires us to keep fighting.
A saving self-control is attained — To be Jesus’ disciple, we have to deny ourselves, pick up our Cross and follow him. Frequent confession helps us to control our egomania and discipline our appetites so that we can give ourselves to God and others.
Grace is increased in virtue of the Sacrament itself — Grace is our participation as creatures in the very life and love of God. The sacraments give the grace they signify and the Sacrament of Penance helps us to live in the truly unbelievable, life-changing reality of God’s merciful love.
For those striving to grow in holiness, how can we neglect these fruits of frequent Confession?
During his first Angelus meditation two years ago this week, Pope Francis eloquently stated, “God never tires of forgiving us, but we tire of asking for forgiveness,” and prayed, “May we never tire of asking for what God never tires of giving.”
Frequent confession is the means by which we never fatigue of receiving the love God lavishly wants to give.