During this time of “social distancing” we are instructed to suspend all sacramental ministries including confession. So what are you to do if you can’t get to confession? Here are ten things to remember:
- First, stop and think about the very basics of confession. In confession we come to God through the ministry of the church to repent of our sins and receive God’s pardon and peace. That’s what it is all about, and it is based not on our sin, but on God’s justice, and God’s justice is always twinned with his mercy. In God they are not distinct. In God justice and mercy are two sides of the same coin. Confession is our way to participate in the justice and mercy won for us on through the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross. So in confession we come to the foot of the cross to be bathed in the water and blood that comes from his side. Water of baptism. Blood of the Eucharist. Blood of justice. Water of mercy.
- Because of Christ’s sacrifice the door of forgiveness is unlocked. The price is paid. The flood of forgiveness begins to flow. Now we remember that “God is not willing for any to perish.” (2 Pt. 3:9) He took this action and gave his only son in order that we might not perish. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.” (Jn. 3:17) In other words, God’s in the forgiveness business. That’s what he does. That’s his mission. Get it into your head. God does not want to condemn you. He wants to forgive you.
- Remember the distinction between mortal sin and venial sin. For a sin to be mortal there are three conditions: a. It is grave matter – that means the sin itself is a serious offense against God’s love. It is an action which is a rejection, distortion or destruction of God’s love. We can’t have a list of mortal sins because any sin could be mortal depending on the circumstances. b. The sinner has full knowledge that the sin is mortal. A well formed conscience will help you determine whether a sin is mortal or not c. The action is deliberate and has even a small measure of pre-meditation. In other words, once the person knows that the sin is a mortal sin and acknowledges it in their mind and heart they decide to do it anyway. For a sin to be mortal all three conditions must be met. From pastoral and personal experience I would add a fourth practical (but not dogmatic) condition, and that is the sin must be continued in without repentance. In other words, after the sin is committed if you justify it or say, “Oh well I’m only human” or “Everybody does it” you are in a dangerous place because you are denying that it is a mortal sin. However, if after the sin you repent and turn your heart back to God with a full intention of getting to confession as soon as possible, the pain of the sin being mortal is lifted. Why? Because it is common sense. You committed a mortal sin with full knowledge and deliberation. Now you have truly repented with full knowledge and deliberation. The mortal sin turned your heart away from God. Your repentance has turned you back to God, and remembering item number 2 on the list–“God is not willing for any to perish” and “He did not send his Son to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.”
- What is venial sin? Venial sin is therefore not a “sin unto death”. It does not have the conditions of mortal sin. Therefore a venial sin is something which is not grave matter. It is not fully understood and it is not done deliberately. If you lose your temper, get tired and grumpy, use bad language in a moment or any other sin (even if it feels serious) that you do without thinking and without deliberation it cannot be a mortal sin. Therefore the little things where we stumble day by day or the sins that we fall into out of bad habits or circumstances beyond our control (which inhibit our free choice) or where we don’t fully understand the seriousness of the sin–all these things are venial sins.
- Venial sins are forgiven through an examination of conscience and an act of contrition. We should examine our consciences at the end of the day and add an act of contrition to our bedtime prayers. Venial sins are also forgiven through the confiteor at the beginning of Mass. Venial sins can also be forgiven with any heartfelt prayer of repentance and contrition: The Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God Have Mercy on Me a Sinner” is a suitable Act of Contrition. Remember. God is in the forgiveness business. He wants to forgive and will respond in mercy to even the smallest action of repentance.
- Separate your feelings about your sin from the actual sin itself. Sin makes us feel guilty, ashamed and afraid of being caught. These feelings can produce contrition, but not perfect contrition. How you feel about the sin may not indicate the seriousness of the sin at all. You might feel very guilty and ashamed for looking at pornography because it is a dirty, shameful thing and if you got caught you would be humiliated and ruined and that makes you afraid. However, skipping Mass intentionally could be a more serious sin even though you don’t feel guilty and ashamed about it.
- Look at sin through God’s eyes. St Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is a man fully alive.” The epistle to the Romans says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Sin is therefore anything that keeps us from the fullness of living and being God’s glory in the world. That’s why it’s bad–not because someone in red robes in Rome made an arbitrary list of bad things to make you feel guilty. It is a sin because through it you have fallen short of the great and bountiful glory God has in store for you.
- Confession is good and it is always a good thing to go to confession–even for venial sins. However, if you can’t get to confession you must get it out of your head that if you don’t get to confession and step in front of a bus you will go straight to hell. This is not the teaching of the church and it is not in the nature of God’s mercy. If you have any doubt or fear, make an act of contrition regularly. Practice the hesychasm. Stay close to God in loving communion.
- Repentance is a joyful state of mind and heart. To repent of our sins is not a terrible horrible ordeal. It is more like having a good hot bath after getting all filthy and sweaty working in the garden. It is like taking a long run to blow away the cobwebs of a lazy and inert life. It is like a healthy meal after a diet of junk food. It is a good and joyful thing not only to go to confession, but to live a life of repentance and humility before God.
- When the confessional doors open up again, go to confession with joy and thanksgiving, but in the meantime live a life of simple repentance and reliance on God’s mercy. Bathe in the ray’s of his Divine Mercy and even if we cannot celebrate the Resurrection together this year, stay close to the crucified in Holy Week and rejoice in his mercy on Easter Day.
Thank you, Father. I was thinking about this issue since the confessional has been closed. God bless.