In the present century, two Bishops of Rome have written extensively and urgently in favor of frequent confession. In this week’s installment, let’s take a closer look at their teachings.
First, by the frequent and reverent reception of this sacrament we make more perfect the justification we first received in Baptism. What does this actually mean? It means that every sacrament of confession enables us to become more and more sinless. Christ thereby exercises His saving redemption on our souls by cleansing us more and more and thus preparing us better and better for that kingdom of glory where nothing undefiled can enter and where only the sinless have a claim to enjoy the vision of the All-holy God. And who in his right mind would claim he or she is already sinless?
Second, by the frequent and reverent reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation we become more conformed to Jesus Christ. We become more like Him in the power to practice the virtues that characterized His visible life on earth. What virtues are they? We become more humble and better able to conquer our foolish but stubborn pride. And the very humiliation of telling our sins to another sinner is God's way of telling us, "If you confess, I will make you more humble." We become more patient in bearing with pain and enduring the people that God puts into our lives. Sometimes pain should have a masculine and feminine gender. Most of our suffering, most of the difficulties and problems and tribulations that we have to endure on earth, if your lives are like the writer of this column, come from other people. And of course, we pay them the favor of being corresponding graces of tribulation in their lives. Through this sacrament we become more conformed to Jesus by becoming more prayerful in greater awareness of God's majesty and, therefore, our need to pay attention to God, and in greater awareness of our weakness and constant need for assistance from the Lord. This is one place where Jesus did not have to pray to overcome His sinful tendencies, yet He prayed to inspire us to pray and we surely, unlike Him, have sinful tendencies. Above all we become more loving in giving and giving and giving ourselves according to the divine will even as Jesus kept giving Himself to the will of His Father even to the last drop of His blood.
Finally, by the frequent and reverent reception of the sacrament of Penance, we become more submissive to the voice of the Spirit dwelling in the depths of our hearts. This Spirit, of course, is always speaking to us, but we are not always listening to Him.
To be continued....
Last week’s segment concluded with erroneous ideas regarding First Confession and First Communion. One may question why children should receive these two sacraments upon reaching the age of reason. It is because these two sacraments are the most powerful means of grace given to the Church by Christ, Himself. But errors do not die just because they are condemned by the Church. In our own day, the Holy See has had to remind the faithful that children should receive first Confession as early as possible, and always before First Communion. It is not considered coercion to suggest and, if need be, insist that a child get a balanced diet of food or adequate sleep and clothing. No parent believes he is unduly tampering with a child's liberty by sending it (perhaps reluctantly) to school. A Catholic cannot afford to follow a double standard where the spiritual needs of God's children are concerned. After all, they belong to Him.
How this needs to be preached from the housetops! Children should have access to the Sacrament of Penance as soon as they reach the age of discretion. When our Lord told His disciples, "Let the little children come to me," He was inviting them to confess their little failings and receive from Him the grace that only He can give those who tell Him they are sorry for having offended His loving Heart.
Judging by the drastic drop in confessions in countries like the United States, the erroneous opinion is gaining ground that confession is not to be received, or made, frequently. There are dioceses in which general absolution is widespread. Books in theology, ostensibly Catholic, are telling the people that Confession in the sacrament of Penance is a rarity. One cannot hesitate to say that the two principal causes of the massive breakdown of the Catholic Church in Western countries are the loss of faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the corresponding loss of faith in the value of sacramental Confession.
What is frequent confession? In the mind of the Church, frequent confession is at least every two weeks. We know this from the Church's legislation on gaining a plenary indulgence. This requires receiving Communion and going to Confession within eight days before or after the prayer or good work, which carries a plenary indulgence, is performed.
In the present century, two Bishops of Rome have written extensively and urgently in favor of frequent confession. Next week, we will take a closer look at their teachings.
To be continued....
It was no coincidence that Jesus addressed the disciples with the imperative, "Peace be with you," and repeated, "Peace be with you," when He instituted the sacrament of Penance. As every psychologist knows, the deepest source of a troubled mind is a guilty conscience.
The word "peace" is almost a theme of the Gospels. On Christmas morning, the angel told the shepherds that the birth of the Savior was the promise of, "Peace on earth to men of good will." During His long discourse at the Last Supper, Jesus promised us, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you" (Jn 14:27). No wonder Christ is called the Prince of Peace.
No words can describe what only a Catholic believer can understand: what it means to be absolutely certain on revealed faith that I, a sinner, am once more in the friendship of God because I have received absolution in the sacrament of Confession. This peace of soul is priceless. It is also irreplaceable. Only a person who is certain that his sins are forgiven can have true peace of soul. God became man to give us this precious gift of peace; and the sacrament He instituted on Easter Sunday night, to give us repentant sinners this foretaste of heaven here on earth.
It is a law of the Catholic Church that the sacrament of Penance should be received on reaching the age of reason. First decreed by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, the law was confirmed by the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century.
When the French bishop Jansenius became a Calvinist, Jansenism deeply infected millions of Catholics. Jansenists were claiming that "there had been no Church for the last five hundred years." Why not? Because reconciliation of sinners through the sacrament of Penance was made available even to children who had just reached the age of reason. As the Jansenists read the practices of the early Church, only public penance was recognized, and only long and arduous works of satisfaction were accepted as necessary conditions for priestly absolution.
As St. Vincent de Paul declared, many Catholics did not make their first Confession and first Holy Communion until their deathbed.
It took some two hundred years for these erroneous ideas to be effectively challenged by Pope St. Pius X. He literally reversed the trend set in motion by Jansenism and restored the custom that the Church had urged on the faithful for centuries: everyone should have access to Confession on reaching the age of reason, and then receive Holy Communion.
To be continued....