in the Catholic Mystic Tradition
Neither shall you
allege the example of the many
as an excuse for doing wrong.
— Exodus 23:2
Reverence for the Mass |
Spiritual Counsels |
Spiritual Progress |
The Caricature of Confession |
The Sin of Presumption |
Time Alone Does Not Bring Absolution |
The Psychological Root of the Sin of Presumption |
Look Beyond the Surface |
Examination Guide |
A Perfect Confession?
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 surface sins to a priest puts their
life in order and brings them peace.
“I pushed my
sister.” “I yelled at my brother.” “I didn’t take out
the garbage when my wife asked me to do it.”
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
—Thomas à Kempis
The Imitation of Christ,
Bk 1, Ch 22: “Of Human Misery”
(Trans. by William Creasy)
What is spiritual progress anyway?
Well, it begins when a soul repents its sins and becomes reconciled with
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
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
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.
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
But that is not the end of the
There’s another, deeper
sin here: the sin of presumption.
The Sin of
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
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
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.
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; fornication; adultery; aberrant sexual
practices; and seeking to hurt others in revenge
whenever they hurt you—may be commonly accepted in
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
as sexual partners 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
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
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
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.
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.
Look Beyond the Surface
Be careful, though, not to look
just at the surface of things. For example, if you have troubling sexual temptations,
you might confess merely that you have troubling
sexual temptations. But if you study this website and realize that troubling
sexual temptations are
psychological way to comfort yourself when you feel weak or helpless or abandoned,
then you can confess the real problem: that you are prone to take
matters into your own hands when you feel weak or helpless or abandoned,
that you try to find your
through the approval and acceptance of others, and that you avoid
bringing your fears directly to
God because you love the world more than you love God.
not a psychologist, a priest will say. And well said; its a fact.
And its also a sad excuse to hide the mistakes priests make in preaching
and in directing the confessional process. The truth is, if priests would go
beyond the normthat is, if trad priests would go beyond liturgy and philosophy,
and if Novus Ordo priests would go beyond the realm of happy-clappy social
relationshipsand take up deep spiritual lives of contemplative prayer, then
perhaps they might be true confessors able to offer help in understanding and
If you keep committing the same
sins over and over, you don’t really believe that God loves
You are angry at God.
If you believe that God despises
you and that you are unlovable, then you don’t really love
You are blaming yourself for your parents’ inability to love you.
If you say you love God but engage
in self-destructive behavior, then you don’t really love
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.
If you say you love yourself
but aren’t concerned about the salvation of others, you don’t really
You’re confusing self-indulgence with love and are using spirituality
as an excuse for narcissism.
If you say you love others but
continue to hold grudges against anyone, you don’t really forgive
You’re using premature
as a tactic to convince yourself that you are loving when you really are
filled with feelings of victimization.
If you say you love others but
don’t find your own life meaningful, you don’t really love
You’re following the rules with intellectual perfectionism, not love.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
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
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
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
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.