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in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Confession

 

Reverence for the Mass  |  Spiritual Counsels  |  Books  |  About CSF

 
Intellectual Confession | Spiritual Progress | The Caricature of Confession | The Sin of Presumption | Time Alone Does Not Bring Absolution | The Psychological Root of the Sin of Presumption | Examination Guide | A Perfect Confession?

 
MHAT does it mean to “go” to confession? Many persons seem to think of confession as a sort of magical process such that the mere act of ticking off their sins to a priest puts their life in order and brings them peace.

Consequently, the problem with thinking this way about confession—the sacrament of Reconciliation—is that even though many persons “confess” they do so only intellectually. That is, they confess only the surface behavior, and they never reach down into that deep unconscious part of themselves that wants to sin, wants to be disobedient, and wants spiritual suicide. That’s a sad place to be, because unless this part of the personality is brought out into the open and healed, spiritual progress will always be restricted.

Too bad for us if we wish to settle back and rest as if peace and safety were already accomplished! Why, not a sign of true holiness has yet to appear in our daily lives! It would be good for us to start all over and, like good beginners, be taught the ways of good behavior once again. If we did, there might be some hope of changing in the future and some hope of spiritual progress.

—Thomas à Kempis
The Imitation of Christ,
Bk 1, Ch 22: “Of Human Misery”
(Trans. by William Creasy)

 
Spiritual Progress

What is spiritual progress anyway? Well, it begins when a soul repents its sins and becomes reconciled with God.

Keep in mind here that God loves us by calling us out of our sins—the very offenses that separate souls from God in this life (and that separate souls from God eternally in hell) if they are not repented. When the Jews talked about God “wiping away sins,” they referred to God’s willingness to allow us to be reconciled to Him if we repented our sins. God’s willingness for reconciliation with us was later sealed with blood—Christ’s Blood—as a contract, the New Covenant of Christianity.

  

And you who once were alienated and hostile in mind because of evil deeds He has now reconciled in His fleshly body through His death, to present you holy, without blemish, and irreproachable before Him, provided that you persevere in the faith, firmly grounded, stable, and not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard.

  

—Colossians 1:21–23

Progress continues as the soul remains in a state of grace and grows more and more pure in love. And if a soul should falter in its progress and commit a sin, that sin will separate the soul from God’s grace; the sin, however, can be repented and confessed so that the soul can return to a state of grace.

 
The Caricature of Confession

Almost everyone knows the classic caricature of Confession: a person goes out on the weekend, gets drunk, commits all sorts of sins, and the next day goes to Confession and Mass, walking away feeling like “God is in His heaven and all is well with the world.” And then, the next weekend, it happens all over again.

Now, confessing your sins with perfect contrition does lead to your reconciliation with God. Over and over again. God is infinitely patient.

But that is not the end of the story.

There’s another, deeper sin here: the sin of presumption.

  
The Sin of Presumption

If you keep committing the same sins over and over, you presume that you can be reconciled with God without having to change your behavior. You presume that a show of contrition can pass for perfect contrition. But contrition is perfect only when you are moved to such sorrow that you will do anything you can to change your behavior.[1] If you are unwilling to do anything it takes to change your behavior, then you are not really contrite, and you are not confessing all your sins, because one of your sins is the unwillingness to do anything it takes to change your behavior. So note carefully that what you do not confess prevents your reconciliation with God. Presumption, therefore, is a wicked snare because it can make you believe that it isn’t even happening.

  

Keep in mind, though, that in this life all of us, even the saints among us, are wretched creatures, and that we are always making mistakes and committing small sins.

Nevertheless, there can be no “excuse” for a genuine Christian to commit mortal sins, even though such behavior—such as doubting God’s mercy, providence, or justice; unfair, deceptive, or dishonest business practices; injuring others through gossip or rumors; immodest dress; unchaste conduct; and seeking to hurt others in revenge whenever they hurt you—may be commonly accepted in contemporary society.

These sins reflect a deep anger at God that itself derives from anger at one’s parents. The world today is filled with this anger, and all of us are vulnerable to being infected with it.

  

Yes, the world today is filled with this anger, and all of us are vulnerable to being infected with it. Childhood may seem like a long time ago, and we may try to believe that we are past it all, but just as childhood emotional pain can linger throughout life, presumption can also linger through time itself.

 
Time Alone Does Not Bring Absolution

Time may heal some wounds, but time alone does not bring absolution for sins. Just because circumstances change and you find yourself no longer committing a particular sin, you are still guilty of all the times you committed that sin in the past—unless you confess the sin properly.

Consider how many mistakes are made in this regard.

A man and a woman live together for several years and then get married. Does their now being married mean that they are no longer stained by mortal sin? No, because what about the myriads of times in the past that they committed fornication and did not confess it?

A man and a woman, one of them previously divorced, get married. After many years, the previous spouse dies, so the man and woman are not currently committing adultery. Does that mean they are no longer stained by mortal sin? No, because what about the myriads of times in the past that their relations did amount to adultery and that they did not confess?

A man has a vasectomy and he and his wife spend many years enjoying the pleasure of sex without any of the responsibility of procreation. As he gets older, he loses his sexual function. Does that mean he is no longer stained by mortal sin? No, because what about the myriads of times in the past that their relations did amount to an obstruction of procreation and that they did not confess?

So, think carefully. Freedom from the stain of mortal sin necessitates a profound change of heart. Unless you can state to God, to yourself, to your family and relatives and friends, and to the world in general that what you did was wrong and that, even if you had the opportunity to do it again, it would be wrong, you have not attained the repentance necessary for a real confession.

So, think carefully, again. If you cannot say conclusively and openly that what you did was wrong and that you acknowledge that it would be wrong to do it again if you had the opportunity to do it again, and if you aren’t broken with sorrow for when you did do it, you haven’t really repented.

 
The Psychological Root of the Sin of Presumption

You may not want to admit this to yourself, but you may have dark and hateful thoughts and imaginings that you keep shielded in secrecy and would never reveal to anyone, not even a confessor. How many times have you said to yourself, “If people knew what I was really like, they would never want anything to do with me”?

Well, these sorts of embarrassingly hateful thoughts and imaginings are triggered when emotional wounds from your childhood are rekindled by emotionally difficult events in the present. Moreover, your experiencing these thoughts and imaginings can provoke feelings of guilt, and then, to punish yourself for this guilt, you can engage in sinful self-destructive temptations or behaviors (such as smoking or drinking or gambling or sexual activity or overeating or whatever).

Now, you might confess the sinful behaviors themselves, but unless you get to the psychological root of the behaviors, you will just keep repeating them.

And what is the psychological root of this sad concoction of secret, hateful thoughts and sinful, self-destructive temptations and behaviors?

It is the resentment that you as a child felt in childhood for your parents, the resentment that has remained an unspoken secret in your heart that you would not dare to reveal to anyone.

Sadly, most confessors are not trained in psychotherapy, nor are many confessors truly gifted with cardiognosis. So you can easily fool a confessor, and you can easily fool yourself. But you can’t fool God.

Keep in mind that God is willing to forgive anything, if only we acknowledge our mistakes and make the effort to learn from them. But if, deep in your heart, you are trying to fool God, you can’t learn anything. It would do you well, then, to do whatever it takes to speak about the dark and “ugly” secrets pushed off into the corners of your heart. Seek out purification now, while you have the opportunity to change the future and while you have some hope of spiritual progress. You may not have direct access to a psychologist who is Catholic, but you do have access to this website, and you do have access to prayer. So pray to the Holy Spirit for enlightenment into the hidden emotional pain that lies at the root of your sins.

 
Examination Guide

1.

If you keep committing the same sins over and over, you don’t really believe that God loves you.

      

 
You are angry at God.
 

2.

If you believe that God despises you and that you are unlovable, then you don’t really love God.

 
You are blaming yourself for your parents’ inability to love you.
 

3.

If you say you love God but engage in self-destructive behavior, then you don’t really love yourself.

 
You are using self-destruction (motivated by self-hatred) to satisfy your anger at others by punishing them unconsciously. But you can’t love yourself if you secretly hate yourself.
 

4.

If you say you love yourself but aren’t concerned about the salvation of others, you don’t really love others.

 
You’re confusing self-indulgence with love and are using spirituality as an excuse for narcissism. 
 

5.

If you say you love others but continue to hold grudges against anyone, you don’t really forgive others.

 
You’re using premature forgiveness [2] as a tactic to convince yourself that you are loving when you really are filled with feelings of victimization.
 

6.

If you say you love others but don’t find your own life meaningful, you don’t really love yourself.

 
You’re following the rules with intellectual perfectionism, not love.
 

7.

If you say you want to change but keep procrastinating and feel stuck, you are not confessing sins of omission.

 
You’re afraid of what you will lose if you really were to witness your faith.

 
A Perfect Confession?

Having read the above explanations, you may now be feeling anxiety about how imperfect your confessions have been, and you may even be prone to a kind of despair that you are lost and hopeless. Well, be not afraid; all is not lost.

The point of this web page is not to tell you that you have to make a perfect confession. Paradoxically, the point of this web page is to tell you that it is OK to not know what to confess.

The truth is, once you understand that hidden unconscious conflicts lie at the root of your sins, you can then realize that, right now, you simply cannot know what those conflicts are. Therefore, right now, you have no way of knowing how to confess them.

Nevertheless, right now you do know something critical: you know that things of which you have never spoken to anyone, along with things of which you are not even aware, now need to be brought into the light. Thus, right now, you can confess that up until now you have been trying to be in control of your confessions, and that now, in realizing your absolute helplessness, you are willing to surrender your life to God so that He can teach you what you cannot do on your own. Then go and do anything it takes, with dedicated prayer, even to the point of psychotherapy, to live a holy life.

So pray for guidance and ask God to teach you what you cannot learn on your own. He will teach you. But note carefully: He will teach you not by whispering the truth in your ear but through ordinary daily events that are full of meaning—and you can interpret their meaning if only you open your mind and heart to wanting to learn from them.

Furthermore, follow this website’s spiritual counsels so as to help detach yourself from the world and its illusions that keep you enslaved to spiritual blindness.

Then, with newly opened eyes, give thanks to God, sing His praises, and never again doubt that He wants you to find your way back to Him.

  

Bless Your servant and I shall live and obey Your word.
Open my eyes that I may see the wonders of Your law.

  

—Psalm 119:17-18

 

Who wrote this web page?
 

Notes.

1. Such as cut off your right hand if it causes you to sin (see Matthew 5:30, 18:8; Mark 9:43)—or, more psychologically realistic, go into psychotherapy to face the emotional pain from your childhood that you have been avoiding all your life and that is at the core of all your repeated sins.

2. This means that you’re still denying your unconscious anger and resentment, so even though you think you’ve come to terms with what happened, there are still emotions about the event which you have pushed out of awareness. In fact, many persons can get caught up in this premature forgiveness as a way to avoid coping with all the unpleasant emotions they would rather not examine.

 

What the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

1452  When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called “perfect” (contrition of charity). Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible.
 
1458  Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church. Indeed 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.
 
1855  Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to Him.
 
1861  Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s Kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back. However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God.
 

 


 
The text of this webpage, integrated with other material from my websites, has been conveniently organized into a paperback book of 350 pages, including a comprehensive index.

 

Though Demons Gloat: They Shall Not Prevail
by Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.

 
Though we are attacked by liberal activists from without and by apostasy from within, the true Church—that is, the body of those who remain faithful to Church tradition—weeps, and she prays, because she knows the fate of those who oppose God.
     Our enemies might fear love, and they can push love away, but they can’t kill it. And so the battle against them cannot be fought with politics; it requires a pro­found personal struggle against the immorality of popular culture. The battle must be fought in the service of God with pure and chaste lifestyles lived from the depths of our hearts in every moment.

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