Catholics are expected to go to confession at least once a year. Advent is a penitential season, and in the midst of the Christmas rush it’s a good idea to also get to confession.
One of the things I love about the Catholic Church is the sacrament of confession. This is because the church gives us some very clear teaching about sin, its consequences and its remedies. The more objective we are about our sin–the more we face it squarely and honestly–the more we will be able, by God’s grace, to find the cure.
We should always remember that sin is bad because it hurts people. It hurts us and it hurts other people. Most of all it alienates us from God. Sin takes us away from him and away from happiness. Forgiveness puts us back on the right road.
Here are – things to remember about making a good confession.
- Examine Your Conscience – The first thing to remember about confession is that you should make a good examination of conscience. The best way to do this is to ask yourself some questions, and the questions can be found here.
- Avoid Shame – Be objective in your analysis of your sin. The things you are ashamed of are not necessarily the worst sins. We’re usually most ashamed of the sins that are connected with losing control–like over eating, drunken ness, sexual indulgence or losing our temper. Our shame is therefore often simply a form of being embarrassed by what we’ve done. There is nothing wrong with that, but this emotion is not a good indicator of the seriousness of the sin.
- Avoid Fear – Fear of being caught or punished is also not a good indicator of the seriousness of our sin. Fear of being found out, like shame, has more to do with our own self image than our worry concern that we have offended God by our sin. Fear of being punished is not totally bad as a motive for confession, but it has more to do with our concern for ourselves than genuine sorrow because our sin has cut us off from all that is good in God
- Avoid Guilt – Like fear and shame, the amount of guilt you feel for your sin is not a good indicator of the seriousness of the sin. The level of guilt people feel varies enormously depending on their education, upbringing, societal pressure, the amount they are hardened (or not) to sin. Because it is an emotion, guilt is an unreliable indicator about the seriousness of sin.
- Separation from God is Important – God is the eternal source of all that is beautiful, good and true. His will is for us to be one with him through his Son Jesus Christ. Sin is anything that keeps us from that ultimate good, or anything that attempts to replace that ultimate good. This is the way to assess the seriousness of sin: ask yourself what is the ultimate good God has for me and how has this sin separated me from that or taken me in a direction away from that ultimate good?
- Love What is Beautiful, Good and True – Only when we have a true vision of God’s great goodness, Truth and Beauty will we have a proper loathing for sin. Think of it this way: Imagine a beautiful, wonderful, well prepared family meal where there is not only wonderful food and wine, but laughter, happiness, friendship and love. Compare that to a steady diet of crappy junk food eaten from a greasy wrapper while you are all alone. Sin is the junk food. God’s will is the beautiful banquet.
- The Sin and Your Culpability are Not the Same Thing – Catholic moral theology distinguishes between the objective sin and the subjective culpability of the person. What this means is that your sin is one thing. It does not vary. A lie is a lie. It is always wrong. However, how guilty you are for that sin can vary according to the circumstances, intention and possible outcomes. So, for example, a “white lie” is still wrong, but if your intentions not to hurt someone’s feelings and the circumstances were that it was a social nicety your culpability for that lie is insignificant. An intentional lie, however, with the circumstances to destroy a person’s reputation for your own benefit would mean that your culpability is very high.
- There is no list of mortal sins – People often ask whether this sin or that sin is a mortal sin. There are some sins, like murder or abortion, which are, by their nature, mortal sins. However, referring to point seven above, you can see that most any sin could be a mortal sin if the intention and circumstances make it grave. Likewise, even grave sins, depending on the intentions and circumstances may not be mortal.
- There Are Conditions for Mortal Sin – For a sin to be mortal there must be a. grave matter – the sin, by its very nature, destroys charity towards God or neighbor b. it must be done with full knowledge and c. there must be full consent. In other words, you say, “I know this is a grave sin and I am going to do it anyway.” Lack of full knowledge because of poor catechesis or lack of full consent because of over-riding factors beyond our control (e.g. an addiction) may lessen one’s culpability.
- Turning Back to God Lifts the Condition of Mortal Sin – The orientation of the heart is important. A perfect act of contrition with the intention of going to confession as soon as possible lifts the condition of mortal sin.
- God is in the Business of Forgiveness – God wants to forgive you and be reconciled. His mercy is everlasting and always outgoing towards you. All we need to do is co operate with God’s grace by repenting and accepting his gift.
- God is not Willing for any to Perish – God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son so that all who believe in his shall not perish, but have everlasting life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.