Frequent Confession:
A Neglected, Undervalued Treasure.

Pope Pius XII said that the current disuse of the Sacrament of Penance is "contrary to the mind of Christ and very disastrous for the mystical body of the Saviour."

All those who have seriously tried frequent confession know how it can help the interior life - sometimes even more than frequent Communion.  Indeed this latter practice can quite easily degenerate into mere routine and illusion.

What alienates us from frequent confession is often that we have a "negative" outlook.  We see confession only as a "quick sweep" to clean our souls, a duty which one would willingly forego.  If a St. Francis de Sales and a St. Vincent de Paul confessed every day, it was because they had a more "positive" view.

Let us try also to discover some of the wonderful benefits of this neglected Sacrament.  Pope Pius XII in his encyclical "Mystici Corporis" reduces to eight the principal fruits of frequent Confession.


1  Frequent Confession increases the true knowledge of oneself.

But what, then, could St. Francis de Sales and St. Vincent de Paul accuse themselves of in their daily confessions?  It is doubtless what many ask themselves.

Reflect a little: The more we spaceout our confessions, the more difficult it is to remember exactly our faults.  Of course there are some grievous faults which will come back during the examination of conscience.  But, for habitual venial faults, one must content oneself with vague "distractions and forgetfulness in prayers, impatience, bad thoughts".  One accuses oneself of some habitual tendencies but not of acts with their cause and their circumstances.  The result is that at every confession we confess the same things.  This is wrong.

On the contrary, if I confess often, for example, every week or even every fortnight I could be more precise because I keep exact memories.  Admittedly, the tendencies, the faults, remain the same, but the sins are different.  Also, from the fact that my accusation will be more precise, it will be more painful, more humbling and will bring more graces.

Try and you will see.  Make a good confession frequently and because you will recognise better your sins, it will not be always the same thing and it will lead to something better.


2  Frequent Confession will encourage Christian humility.

It is a result of the preceding observation: in recognising better our sins, our confessions will be more humbling and more humiliating.  This is a good method of making up for the pride which is the root of all sin.

A good method of helping us on this path of humility is confessing, at least in general, some bigger sins of our past life at the end of our accusation.


3  Frequent Confession tends to root out bad habits.

In our confessing, do not aim so much at telling everything (it is not necessary except for mortal sins) as of telling the dominant faults in particular.
The drops of water falling regularly on the stone wear it more effectively than if a bucket of water were spilled on it.  If one has the desire to progress, these repeated blows of a buffer will finish by making the biggest walls fall down.

One must not delude or discourage oneself, for weeds will always remain in our gardens.  But if, like the good gardener, we come often to remove them they will not prevent the good plants from growing and these, in growing, will hamper the weeds all the more.


4  Frequent Confession fights spiritual negligence and tepidity.

Tepidity is a blind settling into mediocrity without a real willingness to come out of it.  Frequent confession comes precisely to shake us up a little and to ensure that we do not commit ourselves to this state.  In this sacrament, Jesus Christ comes to touch the depths of our soul and to awaken it out of its torpor.  If we receive it regularly, with faith and good will, we shall experience that power of grace which alone can pull us out of our lethargy.  Then we shall acquire a true devotion to this sacrament.

Above all, one must not await 'to desire' or 'to feel' the need of confessing.  Often our desire is the opposite to our need.  Like an invalid at the beginning of his convalescence, we have no desire to eat and we must force ourselves because we understand by our reason enlightened by faith that here is our remedy.


5  Frequent Confession purifies the conscience.

It is evident because this is the first effect of confession.
    Let us make some comments on this subject!
    a)  A long interval between two confessions for someone who communicates often, is a lack of care which certainly causes an obstacle to grace.  "If some rich or powerful friend," said St. Gregory the Great "should enter our house it would be completely cleaned in great haste for fear that he might find something which offended his eye on entering."

This is obvious: we do not receive a distinguished guest in a room or on a chair where the dust has gathered for a month.  Why do we treat Our Lord Jesus Christ with such shamelessness?

    b)  This cleansing of our conscience makes our souls more transparent, and little by little we notice the imperfections which up to this did not appear to us.  The Divine light is enlightening our soul more and more, makes it see the smallest stain, just as the ray of sunshine shows all the impurities and dust floating in the air.

We might even have the impression of going backwards in seeing our wretchedness more clearly but in reality we progress because it is not our wretchedness which grows but our conscience which becomes more sensitive.  "Blessed are the pure of heart: for they shall see God." (Matth. V 8).

    c) A pure conscience is the first and indispensable condition for the apostolate.  Firstly because God would have trouble using us as vehicles full of rust and badly needing to be "oiled".  Then, because souls which we encounter in the work can sense the aura of a good conscience: the fiery charity of apostles truly animated with the light and love of God.


6  Frequent Confession strengthens the will.

If there is really an illness of this century it is, first and foremost, lack of will power and weak character...  Only the grace of God can penetrate to the inside of our will to strengthen it and especially by means of this sacrament.  It is a fact of experience that we feel much stronger after confession.  But it is not only a feeling, it is a reality.
What is the advantage which may be gained by sometimes practicing "preventive" confession.  I know that I will find myself in a situation where experience has shown me that I am frail.  Then I go to confess myself and I have recourse to the sacramental grace so as to be better armoured to resist and to be more inspired by the necessary prudence on that occasion.

Usually, it could be useful in confession to indicate the temptations against which it appears sensible to protect myself.  The priest to whom I entrust myself will not fail, moreover, to pray for me, especially if I ask him.


7  Frequent Confession lends itself to spiritual guidance.

Today it is often difficult to find a real director of conscience, because of the shortage of good priests.  A way of compensating this is to confess regularly and, if possible, to the same priest.  He, when he knows us well, will be able to give the relevant counsel.

Unfortunately it happens that even this may be impossible because the priest, overburdened with confessions, cannot take the time to counsel penitents.  It remains that frequent confession will give us, even so, the seven other benefits listed here.  From time to time try to go to confession somewhere to an "extraordinary" confessor who can help us in the guiding of conscience.


8  Thus by the Sacrament’s own effect, frequent Confession increases grace.

Like all the sacraments, confession gives or increases sanctifying grace, accompanied by a sacramental grace which wipes out sins (No. 5), strengthens against temptation (No. 6) and gives feelings of joy and peace to the soul.  St. Therese of the Child Jesus, as a little girl, loved to go to confession herself, as she felt so light-hearted on stepping out again...  Consider the elation after strenuous physical exercise....  Our spiritual exercises should be not less satisfying than physical ones!

Let us not hesitate to go to confession when we feel the need of an increase in grace, for example to undertake a delicate apostolic task, an important choice for our life, etc.


Practical Conclusion:

To finish, a little advice about the preparations for confession.  In the examination of conscience after a prayer to ask for divine light, one could examine oneself on the three following points (by analogy with life which has three essential functions: i.e. to feed oneself, to grow, to reproduce oneself.)

    1  With regard to God, have I the concern of feeding myself with His divine life?  Prayers, sacraments, theological virtues, reading, flexibility to grace etc...  Am I convinced that without Him, I can do nothing?  The Mass, is it the centre of my life?
    2  With regard to myself: what efforts am I making to grow strong roots with the virtue of humility?  How, then, am I pushing aside obstacles to reach above the soil and how am I producing leaves and fruits through generous acts of virtue?
    3  With regard to neighbours:  have I the care of communicating the divine life?  Firstly, by the example of the practice of moral virtues, prudence, temperance, justice (filial piety, obedience, gratitude, kindness etc.), strength (patience, energy...) and then by the apostolate, fraternal charity, prayer, penance...
Do not forget to examine oneself on the faults of omission.  Look at the Gospels.  Our Lord appears to condemn to hell even only for the faults of omission ("I was hungry and you gave me not to eat, I was thirsty, etc." Mt, XXV, 42ff).


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