These are the Sacraments
as described by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
Ph.D., D.D., LL.D., Litt.D.
IV. The Sacrament of Penance
The Sacrament of Penance is for Spiritual
Wounds received after Baptism.
Original Sin was washed-from the Infant in Baptism, and in the case-of the Adult,
Personal Sins as-well. But the Lord is
Practical. He knows that the White Robe given-in
Baptism, is not always kept Immaculate; that the
"Just Man falleth Seven times a Day", and that the Offenses against us,
should be Forgiven "Seventy times Seven". Therefore, in
His Mercy, He Instituted a Sacrament
which is a Tribunal of Mercy, for Spiritual Healing.
There have been those who say that there is no difference between the Sacrament of Penance
and Psychoanalysis, because, in both, the Human Mind, when Disturbed,
seeks to throw-off its Burden. True it is, that as the Hand will
go-to the Eye, to provide Relief-from a Speck; so the
Tongue will come-to the aid-of the Heart, to secure Relief. As Shakespeare put it:
"My Tongue will tell the Anger of my Heart; Or else my Heart, concealing it, will Break". We are not here
Criticizing the Psychoanalytic Method, but only the Error of saying that there is no Difference
between it, and the Sacrament of Penance. But the Differences between Psychoanalysis and
Confession are 'Enormous'.
Contrast of Psychoanalysis and Confession
(A Unity (1) of
Body and Soul)
**Sentient (sub) **Consciousness/
Psychoanalysis is the Avowal-of an Attitude-of Mind;
Confession is an Avowal-of Guilt. The First,
comes-from the Sub (Sentient) Consciousness, the Other from
Conscience. A Person can be Proud-of his State-of
Mind; some are Proud of being
Atheists, or Immoral, or Gangsters. Many a
Patient will tell a Psychiatrist, "Have you ever heard a Case like mine, Doctor?". On the contrary, no one is ever
Proud of his Guilt. Even in Isolation, the
Sinner is Ashamed. It takes no Courage to admit
that One is "Mental", but Guiltless; but, it takes a Tremendous
Amount-of Heroism, of which Few are capable, to take the Burden
of One's own Guilt to Calvary and lay One's
Hands at the Feet of the
Crucified and say:
"I am Responsible for this".
Psychoanalysis proceeds according-to a Theory, and not always One (1) Theory.
Confession, however, is based upon Conformity or non-Conformity to the Absolute Standard of the
Law of God. Psychoanalysis does not agree on a Particular Theory, by which a Mental State
is to be Judged. There are Three (3) Main Theories:
One (1) attributes Mental Disturbances to Sex (Freud);
Another (2nd) to an Inferiority Complex (Adler); and
the Third (3rd) to a Drive toward Security (Jung).
The Analyst, because he is guided-by a Theory, is never required-to have any Moral-fitness for his Task; his Personal, Ethical
Right to receive Confidences, is never raised. He may be living-with his Sixth (6th) Wife, and yet advise
People how to be Happy in Marriage.
But in Confession, it is different. The deliverances-of the Penitent,
are always on the Moral Plane -- not on the Psychological. The
Penitent knows that he is before a Judgment, not a Theory; and that the Confessor who
hears his Sins, stands in the place-of God. Because the Priest is the Mediator,
between God and Man, the Church always asks that the Priest
who Absolves the Penitent, be himself in the State of Grace;
that is to say, a Participant-in Divine Life. The Avowal-of Guilt,
therefore, on the part-of the Penitent, is not subject-to the Individual Whims, Theories,
Idiosyncrasies, and Kinks of the One who hears it, but to the Divine Law, and to the
Order and the Moral Standards of Christ,
Who Taught that One must-be Holy, to-make
A Third (3rd) difference is that in Psychoanalysis, there is the Probing-by an Alien, or Outside
Mind; in Confession, it is the
Penitent himself, who is his own Prosecuting Attorney, and even his own Judge. In Analysis, there is often a seeking-out of
Attitudes, to bolster-up a Theory; but in a Spontaneous Confession, the
Penitent Analyzes his own Faults, and Confesses
them, without having them Wander and Riot, in "Free Association", and then be submitted-to
"Private Interpretation of the Subconscious", which took the place-of Private Interpretation-of the Bible. Man,
naturally-accords Pardon to others who have done Injury, by a
simple Avowal-of Faults, without someone else dragging them out. One Indispensable Condition of
receiving Pardon in the Sacrament, is this Open Avowal of
Guilt, such as the Prodigal Son made, when he returned again to the Father's House.
Another difference is that, what is told-in the Confessional is absolutely-Secret, and may
never be-Divulged, or made part-of a Book, or turned-into a Case History, such as is often done with the Material that is brought-out in a Psychoanalytic
Examination. The Offenses Man commits-against God, do not
belong-to any Man; hence, he may not make-use-of them. The Material-of Confession belongs-to
God, and Sins may never be-revealed-by the
Confessor, until God does so, on the
Day-of Judgment. The Confessor's Ears
are God's Ears, and his Tongue may never speak what
God has heard, through his Ears.
Another difference is in the Attitude that a Person assumes-in Confession and Psychoanalysis.
In one instance, the Mentally Disturbed Person, is on a Couch; in
Confession, he is on his Knees. There is a Passivity, about the Admission-of a Mental State on a Couch;
but, there is a Humble Activity on the part of one who admits Moral
Guilt, while on his Knees. In the Psychological Examination, there is never any such thing as
Contrition or Satisfaction. In
Confession, Sorrow and the making-up for our Sins,
are Integral Parts-of the Sacrament. When One sees a string-of Confessional Boxes in a large Church, with
Feet protruding-from under the Curtains, like Wiggling Worms, one realizes that Man has reduced himself, almost-to
the Humble State of the Worm, in order that he might Rise-again, Restored
to the Glorious Friendship of the Christ,
Who Died for him.
A Final and Important difference between Psychoanalysis and Confession is this: in Psychoanalysis,
the Admission-of Mental States, comes-from ourselves; in Confession, the Impetus or the Desire-to
Confess our Sins, is from the Holy
Spirit. The Night of the Last Supper, Our Blessed Lord said that
He would send His Spirit "to Convict" the World of
Sin (John 16:8). It is only through the Spirit of Christ, that we
know we are Sinners, as we see our Lives in relationship-to the Cross.
The Holy Spirit Summons the Soul to find
its way back-to the Shelter-of the Father's Arms. When a Person is in Sin,
he is in Exile-from Home, a Dweller-in a Foreign Land, who looks forward-to the Joy-of Return. It is an Urge, to share-in
the Joy-of the Good Shepherd, as he carries-back the Lost Sheep and the
Straying Lamb, to the Sheepfold of the Church.
The Reason this Summons must come-from God, is that we are
Captives of Sin. Just as a
Prisoner cannot release himself from the Chafing Bars or Chains, so neither can the Sinner,
without the Power-of the Spirit. To
God alone, belongs the Initiative in this Sacrament. It is
His Voice which calls us to Repentance. We may make our
Confessions because our Conscience urges us to do so, but the Voice that speaks to us
is the Voice-of the Holy Spirit telling us of
God's Mercy, and Love, and Righteousness.
Under the Impetus-of the Holy Spirit, the Soul feels-like Lazarus,
risen-from the Dead.
Summary - Contrast of Psychoanalysis and Confession
Based on Theory
(Freud, Adler, Jung)
Based on the
Law of God
Avowal-of an Attitude-of Mind
(comes-from the Sub-Consciousness)
(comes from Conscience)
No Moral Fitness required of Analyst.
State-of-Grace required by Priest.
Admission of Mental States comes
Desire to Confess our Sins is
from the Holy Spirit
Done on a Couch
Done on our Knees
May become a Case History,
or made part of a Book.
Absolutely Secret - The Material of Confession belongs only to God
Probing is done by an Alien/Outside Mind
Penitent accuses himself of Sin
Requires no Courage
Requires an Act of Heroism
Contrition not required
Sorrow and Satisfaction/Restitution required
Two Basic Requirements for the Sacrament
In order that there might be a Sacrament of Penance, Two
(2) things are-required, both of which are, from a Human Point of View, almost impossible to find.
First, One must Create the Penitent, and, Secondly,
One must Create a Confessor. To Create a Penitent, One must
take a Man in his Pride, enveloped-in a Glacial Silence, which refuses to Unburden its
Guilt, and say to him: "Thou shalt come to a Man and Kneel before him -- a Man who is perhaps no better
than you are -- and you shall tell him what you hide from yourself and your children. You shall tell him that which makes you Blush; and you shall do all
of this on your Knees".
However Difficult it may be to Create a Penitent
who will Confess Everything, with a Firm Purpose of Amendment,
it is even more Difficult to-Create the Confessor. Where find One,
empowered-by God with Authority-to Forgive
Sins? How train the Human Heart to Heal the
Wounds of others, and then Seal his Lips Forever, that what he has learned-as
God's Representative, be never revealed-to Men?
Only God could bring these Two (2) Creations
together, for outside-of His Power and Mercy, we would say:
"Humanity is too Proud, you will never have Penitents"; "Humanity is too Indiscreet, you
will never have Confessors". And yet, the Sacrament exists. There are
Penitents, because there are Confessors, and there are
Penitents and Confessors, because Christ is
The Sacrament Deals with Sins
Sin causes Dual (2) Conflict of Appetites and Wills
The Superior Will of Man is made to Lovingly
serve the Divine Will of God
Solely motivated by Love
Interior Battle of Wills
Man's Superior Will being placed, as it were, Mid-Way between the
Divine Will, which is above It - and the
Inferior Will, or Will of the Senses,
which is beneath It, is continually Assaulted in
an Interior Battle of Wills by both Appetites and Wills; each seeking in turn to Attract and
Subdue, and Bring It into Obedience.
Because of Original Sin, the Sensual
Appetites and Inferior Will tend to serve their own Desires
Commonly described by the Words: Body-Appetite,
When a Baby is born, it is generally Healthy; but as time-goes-on, it becomes subject-to Diseases
and Organic Troubles, which Oppress and
Torment Life. In the Spiritual Order, too, though the Soul is made
Clean and Free-from all Sin by Baptism,
it nevertheless Contracts Stains and Spiritual Diseases during Life. These are known-as
Sins. If the Sin is serious-enough to
Rupture the Divine Life within, then it is called "Mortal",
because it brings Death to the Life-of Christ, in the
Soul. If the Wrong done, does not
Destroy the Divine Life, but only Injures
it, it is called "Venial".
A Serious Sin always produces-in the Soul,
a Three-fold (3) Effect. The First, is
Self-Estrangement. A Sinner feels, in his Inmost Being, like a
Battlefield, where a Civil-War Rages. He no-longer is a Unit (1), but a
Duality (2), in which Two (2) Forces within him, Struggle-for Mastery.
Serious Sin, estranges the Sinner from his
Fellow Man, because a Man who is not at Peace with-himself, will not be at
Peace with his Neighbor. World Wars are nothing-but the Projection, into Great Areas of the Earth's
Surface, of the Psychic Wars, waging-inside of Muddled
Souls. If there were no Battles going-on inside-of
Hearts, there would be no Battlefields in the World. It
was after Cain's Murder-of Abel, that he asked the Anti-Social Question, "Am
I my Brother's Keeper?".
The most Serious Effect-of Sin is not Alienation-from Self, and from Fellow Man;
it is the Estrangement-from God. Inasmuch as
Grace is the Divine Life within the Soul, it
follows-that a Serious Sin is the Destruction of that
Divine Life. That is why the 'Epistle to the Hebrews' asks: "Would they Crucify the Son of God a Second Time,
hold Him up to Mockery a Second Time, for their own ends?" (Hebrews 6:6). Sin, therefore, is a
Second Death. The Merits
we Gained, are Lost; but those Merits can be Regained,
thanks to the Mercy of God, in the
Sacrament of Penance.
Instituted by Christ
(Resides in the Essence of the Soul)
(A Unity (1) of Body and Soul)
Supernatural Grace/Infused Virtues and Gifts of the Holy Spirit
Man is born a Rational Creature, with Body and Soul,
into the Natural Order.
God first elevates Man to the Supernatural Order via
the Sacrament of Baptism, which infuses Sanctifying Grace into the
Essence of the Soul. The other Six (6) Sacraments
can then elevate the Soul even Higher.
The Supernatural Order is the Ensemble of Effects exceeding the Powers of the Created
Universe and Gratuitously produced directly by God for the purpose of raising the Rational Creature
above its Natural Sphere to a God-like Life and Destiny.
Mortal Sin destroys/kills Man's entire
Supernatural Order/Life. Man is no-longer a Temple of God.
God is gone & resides no-longer in the Soul.
Only God can raise the Soul back-to-life from the
Dead, via the Sacrament of Penance.
The Sacrament of Penance was Instituted-by Christ
in the form-of a Judgment, for the Remission, through Sacramental Absolution, of
Sins Committed after Baptism and
granted-to a Contrite Person, Confessing his
All through the Old Testament there was a Preparation-for this Sacrament, inasmuch as
God Strove-to Induce Men, to Acknowledge their Sins before
Him. To Elicit a Confession,
God said-to Adam: "Hast thou Eaten of the Tree?". God
said-to the First Murderer: "Where is thy Brother?".
In Mosaic Legislation, a Sinner brought a Sin Offering, which
was burned-in a Public Place, to show that the Sinner was not Afraid-to Admit his
Guilt. The Prophet, Nathan, heard David's Confession, after his Sin with Bethsabee,
and Assigned-to him a Penance. John the Baptist heard the Confession-of those who came to hear him Preach.
These were only 'Types' and 'Figures' of the
Sacrament, that was-to-come, because Forgiveness became possible, only through the
Merits of Our Lord's Passion.
No one questions the fact that Our Blessed Lord had the Power
to Forgive Sins. The Gospels
record the Miraculous Cure of the Paralytic at Capharnaum.
Our Lord First told the Paralytic
that his Sins were Forgiven him, whereupon those round-about, laughed-at
Him. In response, the Savior told them that it was just as easy to
Cure the Man, as it was to Forgive
his Sins; so He Cured the
Paralytic: "To convince you that the Son of Man has Authority to Forgive Sins, while He is on Earth"
Our Blessed Lord was saying that God, in the
Form-of Man, had the Power to Forgive Sins;
that is to say, through the Instrumentality-of the Human Nature, which He received-from
Mary, He was Forgiving
Sins. Here is an Anticipation-of the fact that, it is through Humanity, that He
will continue-to Forgive Sins; i.e., through those who are Endowed-with
Sacramental Power to do so. Man cannot Forgive
Sins, but God can Forgive Sins,
Our Lord promised to-confer this Power of Forgiveness,
First of all to-Peter, whom He made the Rock-of the
Church. He told Peter
that He would Ratify in-Heaven, the
Decisions which Peter, took-on Earth.
These Decisions were explained-in Two (2) Metaphors-of "Binding", and
"Loosing". The Power-of Jurisdiction, was given-to the One who had the Keys-of the Kingdom. This Promise, made to
Peter, was followed-up a little later-on, by One made-to the Apostles. The Second (2nd) Promise did not
bestow the Primacy, for that was reserved-to Peter. Our Lord told the Apostles:
"I came upon an Errand from My Father, and now I am sending you out in My Turn. With that, He breathed on them, and said to them,
Receive the Holy Spirit; when you Forgive Men's Sins, they are Forgiven, when you hold them Bound, they are held Bound" (John 20:21-23).
Our Divine Redeemer, here says that He was-sent-by
the Father; now He sends them, with the
Power-to Forgive or not Forgive. These words imply
"Hearing Confessions", because how would the Priests-of the Church
know which Sins to Forgive, and which Sins
not to Forgive, if they did not hear them?
One can be very sure that this Sacrament is not of Human Institution, for if the
Church had invented any-of the Sacraments, there is One
(1) that it certainly would have done-away-with, and that is the Sacrament of Penance. This,
because-of the Trials that it imposes-upon those who have to-hear Confessions,
sitting-in the Confessional Box for long-hours, while listening-to the Terrific Monotony of
Fallen Human Nature. Because it is a Divine Institution -- what a Beautiful Opportunity
it is to-Restore Peace to Sinners, and to-make them
It may be asked, why did Our Lord demand a Telling-of
Sins? Why not bury One's Head in One's Handkerchief, and tell God that One is
Sorry? Well, if this Method-of being Sorry is not
Effective when we are caught-by a Traffic Policeman, why should it be Effective-with God?
Shedding Tears in One's Handkerchief is no Test-of Sorrow, because we are
then the Judges. Who would ever be sentenced-to Prison, if every Man were his own Judge? How easy it would be
for Murderers and Thieves to escape Justice and Judgment, simply-by
having a Handkerchief ready!
Because Sin is Pride, it demands a
Humiliation, and there is no-Greater Humiliation than Unburdening One's
Soul to a Fellow Man. Such Self-Revelation, Cures us of many a Moral Illness.
Hurtful Things, often Hurt more, if they are Shut-up. A
Boil can be Cured, if Lanced, to-release the Pus; so too is a
Soul on the Pathway-to the Father's House, when it Admits-to its
own Sin, and seeks Forgiveness. All Nature suggests an Unburdening-of
Oneself. If the Stomach takes a Foreign Substance into it, which it cannot Assimilate, it Throws-it-off; so it is with the
Soul. It seeks Deliverance-from that which Troubles it, namely the 'Unbearable Repartee' within.
Furthermore, when a Sin is Avowed and Admitted, it Loses its
Tenacity. Sin is seen in all its Horror, when
viewed in Relationship-to the Crucifixion. Suppress a Sin, and
it becomes 'Buried', and later-on, will come-out in Complexes. It is very much like keeping the Cap on a Tube-of
Toothpaste. If one submits it to Great Pressure, the Toothpaste will come-out somewhere; One does not know where. The Normal Place for it to come-out, is
through the Top. So too, if we Suppress our Guilt, or Deny it, we put our
Mind under-Pressure and it Creates Abnormalities. The
Guilt does not come-out, where it ought to be, namely, in the Sacrament. Thus it was,
that Lady Macbeth's Guilt came-out in the Washing-of Hands. It should have been her
Soul that was-Washed, and not her Hands.
Confession to a Priest
It may be asked, why Confess one's Sins to a Priest? Maybe he is not as
Holy as the Penitent. That indeed could be. But, though he is not
Holier in his Person, he is Holier in his Powers, because
Christ gave this Power to His Church --
only the Church claims it, and only the Church
Exercises it. The Mayor of a Town may not be as-good-as some of the Citizens, but he has the Power which the Citizens do not; so it is with
Furthermore, it is not the Priest who Absolves: he is only the Instrument-of
Christ. Can Man, of-and-by himself, Forgive Sins?
No! Can Man, United-to God, Forgive
Sins? Yes! That is the Way, Christ the Son of God,
Forgave Sins, through His
Human Nature. That is the way He Forgave the
Sins of Magdalene; that was the way He Forgave the
Sins of the Paralytic; that was the way
He Forgave the Sins of the "Thief
on the Right". That Power, He gave-to
Because the Priest acts-in Christ's Name, he is bound-by the Seal of
Confession. Not even, under the Penalty of Death, may he Reveal
Sins that are Confided-to him, in Confession. As a Person, he has not heard any
Sins. They are not a part-of his Knowledge. It was
Christ, Who heard the Sin, and
He alone, has Knowledge of it. Suppose a
Murderer came-into a Rectory, and Confessed-to a Priest. On leaving the Priest, the Murderer
shook-hands with him. After the Murderer left, the Police entered, found Blood-on the Priest's Hands, and
accused him of the Murder. The Priest could not say: "It was the Man who just
went out. I did not do it". He may not make any defense-of himself; nor may a Priest, outside the
Confessional, ever speak-to that Person about his Sins. For example, he may not say to a
Penitent, whom he meets-on the street, "Oh, did you ever pay back the hundred dollars
you stole?". If someone Stole Money, from a Drawer in my Desk, and then Came and Confessed the
Stealing of Money; I could Order the Money returned, but I would not be permitted-to Lock the Drawer, because that was Information
which I gained-in God's Sacrament.
Another Reason for Confessing Sins to a Priest, is that no One (1)
Sin is Individual. We are Members of the Mystical Body of Christ.
If One (1) Member is Unhealthy, the Whole Body is
Unhealthy. If we have an Earache, the Whole Body
Suffers. Now, every Personal Sin has a Social Effect: all the other Cells-of the Body of the
Church are Affected, because-of the Defect in this
One (1) Cell. Every Sinner is
Blameworthy, not only in-regard-to himself, but also in-regard-to the Church,
and First and Foremost to God. If he
is ever to-Recover, it can only be by the Intervention-of the Church, and by an Intervention-of
No Medicine will Act-on a Member-of the Body, unless the Body cooperates, in some way, with the Medicine. Because every
Sin is against God and the Church, it
follows that a Representative-of God and His Mystical Body, must
Restore the Sinner again, to Fellowship. The Priest, acting-as the Representative-of the
Church, welcomes-back the Penitent to the Community-of Believers. When
Our Blessed Lord found the Lost Sheep, He Immediately Integrated them again, into
"Jesus was to Die for the Sake of the Nation; and not only for that Nation's Sake, but so as to bring together into one all
God's children, scattered Far and Wide" (John 11:52).
The Priest re-establishes the Sinner in Grace;
he 'Restores' the Sinner to his Rights as a Son of the Eternal Father;
he 'Reconciles' him, not only to God, but also to God's,
Society-of the Church.
There are Two (2) Societies which are Perfect — the Church and the State:
The State is a Society aimed at the 'Temporal Welfare' of the Community
The Church is a Society aimed at the 'Spiritual Welfare' of its Members
The Social Nature of Penance is seen further, in the fact that the
Penitent recognizes the Right-of the Mystical Body to Judge him, since it is through
the Mystical Body, he is in-relation-with God.
Forgiveness of Sin, then, is not just a matter between
God and our Individual Souls. It is the
Church, which has been Injured by Transgressions.
Therefore, our Sins are not just our concern, they are the concern-of the Whole
Church -- the Church Militant on Earth, and the Church
Triumphant in Heaven.
The Examination of Conscience
Before the Penitent goes-into the Confessional Box, there is the Examination-of
Conscience. This used to be a Daily Practice of Christians,
and still is among many. It was not even unknown-to the Pagans. The Stoics, for example, recommended it. The
Examination-of Conscience, centers not only on the Wrong
we have done, but also on the Motivations. Our Blessed Lord, examining the
Conscience-of the Pharisees, called them "Whited Sepulchres, clean on the Outside, but on the Inside, full of Dead
Men's Bones". He pierced-beneath the Pretensions
and Hypocrisies of their Prayers, their
Almsgivings, and their Philanthropies; saying they did these things to be seen-by Men,
and to-have a Human Reward -- and that is the only Reward
they will ever receive. So in the Examination-of Conscience, all the Thoughts, Words, and Deeds of the
Soul are Brought-to the Surface, Examined, and Considered, in Conformity-with the Law
One of the differences between Psychoanalytic Examination and Examination-of Conscience,
is that in the Former-one, stands in One's 'Own Light'; in the Examination-of Conscience, one stands in the
Light-of-God. That is why Scripture says: "Search my Soul, O my God". The
Divine Light, looks-into the Mind, takes the
Mind off itself and its own False Judgments, and makes things appear as they Really-are;
at the End, one does not say, "Oh, what a Fool I've been", but rather, "God, be Merciful,
to me a Sinner".
Responsibility for Formation of Conscience belongs to:
A day comes, when the Abused Conscience, will
turn-with Fury and Harass its Victim,
Tormenting his Waking Life and making his Dreams a Poison, and his 'Darkness'
a Nightmare. When Night gives Inner-vision, Scope, the Guilty
Conscience Lies-awake, Fearful of being known in its
Ugliness. There is nothing that so much arouses an Unhealthy Fear, as a Hidden
Guilt. As the Cock-Crowed, when Peter Denied Our
Lord, so our Nature, Rises-in Revolt against us, when we have Denied the
Lord of Conscience. Sins have a way of finding-us-out. Just as a Refusal-to Study-in
childhood, begets an Ignorance, in Mature Life; so too, Sins which we
Rationalize-away, are Thrust-down-into Unconsciousness, but somehow they
make themselves felt, in our Health, our Mental Attitudes and our General Outlook on Life.
Alongside every Human Being, there are Three (3) Pools, each of which gives a Different Reflection.
We look-into One (1st) Pool, and we are Pleased-with ourselves, because in that Pool we see ourselves as we
Think, we are. In the Second (2nd) Pool, we see ourselves as our Neighbor sees us, or as our Press Clippings,
reveal-us. In the Third (3rd) Pool, we see ourselves as God
sees us, and as we Really-are. It is into this Third (3rd) Pool that Examination-of
Conscience takes us, bringing-to the Surface, the Hidden Faults
of the Day, discovering the Weeds that are Choking the Growth-of God's Grace,
our Sins-of Omission, and Commission, the Good Deeds left undone, the
Failure to-aid a Needy Neighbor, the Refusal-to offer a Word-of Consolation to One
Burdened-with Sorrow, and Malicious
Remarks, Lies, Acts-of Dishonesty, and the
Seven Sins, which are the Enemy-of Peace:
Self-Love, Inordinate Love of Money, Illicit Sex,
Jealousy, and Laziness.
Examination-of Conscience, also embraces what is called our Predominant
Passion. Every Person has One (1) Sin
which he Commits more than another. Examination-of Conscience, roots-out all our
Self-Deception, for every Person has a little-corner in his Heart,
he never wants anyone to Venture-into, even with a Candle. We say we are following our Consciences, when
actually what we mean is that we are 'Making' our Consciences, and then following what we 'Made'. It is this kind of
Deceit that is 'Unveiled' in the Examination, and, by Curing us of
Self-Deception, it Cures us of Depression.
Depression comes not from having Faults, but
from Refusing-to Face them. What else is Self-Pity, but a total Unconcern with the Interests-of others?
It must not be thought that in the Examination-of Conscience, One concentrates-on
his own Wounds; rather he concentrates-on the Mercy of God.
A Sick Person thinks less-of his own Sickness, than the Physician
who will 'Heal' him. The Examination-of Conscience develops no Complex,
because it is done-in the Light of God's Justice. The 'Self' is not the Standard, nor is it the
Source-of Hope. All Human Frailty and Human
Weakness, are seen-in the Light of God's Infinite Goodness.
Sorrow is Arouse, not because a Code has been Violated, but because
Love has been Wounded. As an Empty Pantry drives
the Housewife to the Bakery, so the Empty Soul is driven-to the
Bread of Life. Examination-of Conscience, instead of inducing
Morbidity, becomes an occasion-of Joy.
There are Two (2) Ways-of Knowing how Good,
One (1), is never to Lose
Him, through the Preservation-of Innocence;
the Other, is to find Him again, after
He has been Lost.
There is no Self-Loathing, there is only a God-Loving
Character, about the Examination-of Conscience. We put ourselves in God's
Hand, as we would put a Broken Watch, in the Hand-of a Watch Maker, certain that he will not Ruin-it, but will make it
The closer we get-to God, the more we see our Defects. A Painting
reveals Few-Defects under-Candlelight, but the Sunlight
may reveal it as a Daub. It is True, that we do find ourselves quite
Unlovable, in the Examination-of Conscience, but it is this that makes us want-to
Love God, because He is the only One,
Who Loves the Unlovable.
When one has finished the Examination-of Conscience, there may be a 'Load', to drag-into
the Confessional, which is sometimes called the "Box". If it is a
"Box", it is not Pandora's, for at the bottom-of it, is Hope.
Then we realize that we are bringing it to Christ Himself. It is Wonderful to know that there
is One (1) Place where we can Taste the Freedom-of Heaven, where a Man
can be-spared the Hypocrisy of Maintaining a Pose. There comes the Joy
of knowing that neither the Penitent nor the Priest, ever Recalls the
Sin Confessed. A Shutter-drops. 'Something' is put into a Well, and a Cover is laid on it Forever.
In the Early Church, Sins which were
Committed-'Publicly', were Confessed-'Publicly'. This survives in the "Roman Pontifical", in a Ceremony called
"The Expulsion of Public Penitents on Ash Wednesday"; another Ceremony is called, "The
Reconciliation of Penitents on Maundy Thursday"; and still another Special Rite is used for the Absolution
of those who have been 'Publicly' Excommunicated. Though Public Sins in the Early
Church were Confessed 'Publicly', Secret Sins were
Confessed 'Secretly', and under the Seal.
Sorrow for Sin: Contrition
The other Sacraments demand that the Subject has 'Proper Dispositions', but they do not
Constitute the 'Matter' of the Sacrament. In Penance,
Sorrow is not only a 'Condition', it is the 'Matter' itself; for without the
Sorrow for Sin, Forgiveness is not Granted.
The Priest gives Absolution from Sins in the
Sacrament, provided there is sufficient Sorrow of
Mind, or Contrition, which is a Hatred-of the
Sin Committed, with the Resolution not to Sin again. The word
Contrition is taken from the Latin Word which means to Grind or
Pulverize; in an Applied Sense, it means being Bruised in
Heart. Contrition is a
Sorrow of Mind, not an Emotional Outburst
or Psychological Remorse.
The Prodigal Son had gone-through many Emotional Stages-of
Remorse, particularly when he was Feeding the Swine, or realizing how much better the Servants in his Father's House were. But the real
Sorrow did not come, until it Penetrated his Soul
with the Resolution: "I will Arise and go to my Father".
Sometimes it is said that all a Catholic has to do is go to Confession and admit his
Sins, and he will come-out White as Snow, and then continue
Committing the same Sins. This is a Libel upon the
Sacrament, for where there is no 'Purpose-of-Amendment', there is no
Sorrow. The Sins of such a
Penitent are not Forgiven. The Sorrow
for Sin, necessarily-includes a 'Resolution' not to Sin again;
this is not merely a 'Wish', which has no Relationship-to Practice. Part of the Act of Contrition, contains
this Amendment: "And I Firmly Resolve, with the Help of Thy Grace, to Confess my Sins, to do Penance, and Amend my life. Amen".
It means that Here-and-Now, we take the 'Resolution' not to Sin; we 'Resolve' to take all the Means
necessary-for avoiding Sin in the Future, such as Prayer, and
staying-away-from the Occasions of Sin. The Absolution will
not be 'Efficacious', if there is not in the Sorrow, this Essential Element
— a 'Purpose-of-Amendment'.
This does not imply an Absolute-Certitude, that no-one will ever Sin again, for that
would be Presumption. There are Two (2) Ways to Verify a
One (1) is to make-up for the Sin as-soon-as
possible; for example, if One is Guilty of Sarcastic Remarks against a Neighbor, to seek the
Neighbor's Pardon or, if one has Stolen, to-return what has been Stolen.
The Second (2nd) is to avoid the Occasions of Sin,
such as Bad Reading, Evil Companions,
Drinking Parties, or any Act that previously led
us into Sin.
There are Two (2) kinds-of Contrition: 'Perfect' and
'Imperfect'. Both are implied-in the Act of Contrition, which the
Penitent says in the Confessional:
"And I Detest all my Sins, because I Dread the Loss of Heaven, and the Pains of Hell", ['Imperfect' Sorrow];
"but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all good and Deserving of all my Love" ['Perfect' Sorrow].
Two (2) kinds-of Fear, serve as the basis-of Distinction between the
Two (2) kinds-of Contrition, or Sorrow.
One (1) is a 'Servile-Fear', the Other
is a 'Filial-Fear':
A 'Servile-Fear' is a Fear-of Punishment, which we Justly Deserve, from a Master whom we
'Filial Fear' is the Fear that a devoted-Son might have for a Loving Father; namely, the Fear
of Injuring him.
Applying this to Contrition, 'Servile Fear' draws us toward
God because-of the Dread-of a Punishment for
Sin, namely, Hell. 'Filial Fear' is a
Dread-of being separated-from God, or of Offending
Him, Whom we Love.
Imagine Twins, who had Disobeyed a Mother, in exactly the same-way. One of the Twins runs-to
the Mother and says: "Oh, Mommy, I am Sorry I disobeyed. Now I can't go to the Picnic, can I?". The other one throws
her arms around the Mother's neck and Weeps: "I'll never Hurt you again". The
First has 'Imperfect' Contrition, the Second, 'Perfect'
Which kind-of Contrition, 'Perfect' or 'Imperfect', is sufficient-in
Sacramental Confession? 'Imperfect' Contrition is sufficient, though it is our belief that most
Penitents are Sorry, not because-of the
Punishment their Sins deserve-from God,
but rather because they Heartily are Sorry for having Re-Crucified
Christ in their Hearts.
Suppose, however, that a Person is in a State-of Mortal Sin, and is unable to-go-to
Confession; for example, a Soldier who is Ordered-into Battle. Would 'Imperfect'
Contrition then, suffice-for the Forgiveness of Sins? No, but
Perfect Contrition would, if he had the resolution-to receive Sacramental
Confession, at the earliest-opportunity.
That makes a word about Perfect Contrition more Imperative. The usual attitude-of
Penitents is to make a 'Personal Equation' between their own Sins, and the
Crucifixion. Each One says in his Heart, as he receives the
"If I had been less Proud, the Crown of Thorns would have been less Piercing.
If I had been less Avaricious and Greedy, His Hands would have been dug less by the Steel.
If I had been less Sensual, His Flesh would not be hanging from Him like Purple Rags.
If I had not wandered away like a Lost Sheep, in the Perversity of my Egotism, His Feet would
have been less driven with Nails.
I am Sorry, not just because I Broke a Law: I am Sorry because I wounded Him Who Died out of
Love for me".
Our Lord had-to Die on the Cross,
before the Abysmal Dimensions-of Sin could be appreciated.
We do not see the Horror of Sin, in the
Crimes paraded-in the Press, nor in the Great Crises-of History, nor in the
Wholesale Violence of Persecutors. We see what Evil is, only
when we see Goodness, nailed-to the Cross. If any of us says in our
Heart, "I am not as Bad, as those who Crucified Him", we are Forgetting that
they did not Crucify Our Lord;
Sin did. They were our Representatives, our Ambassadors, that day at the Court of Satan.
We empowered them with the Right-to Crucify.
One (1) look-at the Crucifix, therefore, is a
Double (2) Revelation! A Revelation-of the Horror of Sin, and the Love-of
God. The Worst Thing that Sin can do, is not to Kill Children or Bomb Cities in Nuclear Warfare;
the Worst Thing that Sin can do, is to Crucify Divine
Love. And the most Beautiful Thing that Love can do, at the
Moment-of Crucifixion, is to extend-to us Forgiveness in the
Priestly Prayer to His Heavenly Father: "Forgive them,
for they know not what they do".
In Perfect Contrition, we become Tremendously Impressed-with the Infinite
(∞) Endurance-of Our Lord to
Suffer the Worst that Evil can
Inflict, and then Pardon His
Enemies. He certainly did not Teach us to be Indifferent-to
Sin, because He took its Full
Consequences upon Himself. He
Paid for it, but on the other-hand, there was Mercy, with that
Justice. He offered Forgiveness, in the Hope that
we would Repent out of Gratitude for
His Payment of the Debt, which our
Satisfaction for Sins, or what is sometimes called
"Penance", is distinct-from Sorrow. Few dwell sufficiently on the
difference between being-Forgiven, and Atoning-for the
Sin, which was Forgiven.
Suppose I Stole your Purse, in the course-of a Conversation, and then I said to myself:
"What a Scandal I am to this Person. I am supposed to bring Justice and the Love of God, and here I Violate God's Law of Justice,
Impugn His Mercy, and Nail Him to the Cross, by Stealing the Purse". So I say to you, "Will you Forgive me?".
In your Kindness, you would certainly say: "I Forgive you". But you
would also say something else, would you not? Would you not say, "Give me back my Purse?". Could I really say that I
was Sorry, unless I returned the Purse?
There is a Story told, which is Sheer Imagination, with no basis-in-fact, about a Man who came to
Confession, to a Priest. During the course-of the Confession, he
Stole the Priest's Watch. At the end-of the Confession, he said to the Priest:
"Oh, Father, I forgot to tell you. I Stole a Watch". The Priest, emphasizing the necessity-of
Satisfaction, said: "You must return the Watch to the Owner". The
Penitent said: "I'll give it to you, Father". The Priest said: "No, I don't
want it. Return it to the Owner". The Penitent said: "The Owner doesn't
want it". The Priest said to him: "Well, in that case, you can keep it".
Immediately, One can see some of the Fallacies. First, there was
no Real Sorrow in Confession; otherwise, he would not have
'Added' a Sin, while Confessing others.
Second, there was Deceit in his Satisfaction.
There must always be Satisfaction for Sin, because every
Sin Disturbs the Order of
God. Sin Upsets a Balance. It is to no purpose
to say, "Don't cry over spilled Milk", just because we happen to have spilled someone else's Milk. If we cannot
gather-up the spilled Milk, we can at least Pay for the Bottle, or buy some more Milk.
At the end-of the Confession, the Priest gives-to the
Penitent, what is called a "Penance"; a certain number-of
Prayers to say, or Fasting, or the Giving-of Alms,
or Acts of Mortification, or a Way of the Cross, or a
Rosary. All of these are to "Make-up" for the
Sin, and to-Prove that the Sorrow was Sincere. This is what
Catholics call "saying my Penance", or "doing my Penance".
God does not ask us to-make an 'Exact' Reparation
for our Sins, but rather to do it in a 'Proportional' Manner. This is because the
Sacrament of Penance is less a "Tribunal of Strict Justice", than a "Reconciliation
between Friends". The Priest, Representing Christ, is not a Judge, sentencing a
Criminal to Prison. The Penitent is not an
Enemy. He is a Reconciled Friend, and the Reparation,
Penance, or Satisfaction, is the Work-of
Friendship between Members-of Christ's Mystical Body. The
Penance also has a Medicinal Value, that of Healing the Wounds
of the Soul, which is why it has to be performed-in a State of Grace.
Our Lord Forgave our Sins,
on the Cross, but He Paid
for them in Justice. Our Lord
Forgave the "Thief on the Right", but, He did not
stop his Crucifixion. The Pain the
Thief endured, was a Reparation for his Evil Life.
Penance is a Sign that we are applying Christ's
Death on Calvary, to ourselves.
Here, the Sacrament of Penance, differs-from the Sacrament of
Baptism. In Baptism, the Merits of
Christ's Passion, are applied-to ourselves, without any Action on our part; but
in the Sacrament of Penance, we make some Satisfaction.
Power and Efficacy are given-to our Acts, because they are
United-with the Passion of Christ. There are Two (2)
Debts to be paid-for Sin. One
(1), is the Eternal (∞)
Debt, which is Hell; and the Other, is the
Temporal Debt, or Atoning
in our Lifetime, for our Imperfections and our "Want
of Charity", after our Sin has been Forgiven. The
Eternal (∞) Debt of
Hell, is completely Remitted in the Sacrament. The
Temporal Debt for Sin, remains.
In Scripture, we find Records-of People being Forgiven,
for whom a Temporal Punishment remains:
Adam and Eve were Restored to Grace, but they were made subject-to
Miriam, the Sister-of Moses, gained Forgiveness for her Sin,
but she was shut-out from the Camp for Seven (7) Days, and Afflicted
Moses was Forgiven, but was Punished for his Lack-of Trust in
God by being Excluded-from the Land-of-Promise.
David's Sin with Bethsabee was Forgiven, but he had to
Suffer Misfortunes for it, and the Child Died as a
That is why Saint Paul urges us to take-on Voluntary Penances, that we may "Help to
Pay off the Debt which the Afflictions of Christ still leave to be Paid, for the sake of His Body, the Church". Daniel consoled Nabuchodonosor
with the words: "Deign my lord king, to be advised by me; with Almsgiving, with Mercy to the Poor, for Fault and Wrong-doing of
thine, make Amends; it may be that he will Condone thy Guilt" (Daniel 4:24). And Joel writes: "Time now, the Lord says,
to turn the whole bent of your Hearts back to me, with Fasting and Mourners' Tears" (Joel 2:12). Did not Our
Lord say-of certain Cities, that they would be Condemned, because in them "were
done most of His Miracles, but for that, they had not done Penance" (Matthew 9:20).
Penances given after Confession, are generally Light.
Some say they are, too-Light. But we must not-Forget Indulgences. To understand them, we should recall
that we are Members-of Christ's Mystical Body. When we do Evil,
or commit Sin, we affect every Member-of the Church in some way. This
is even done in our most-Secret Sins. It is evident that we do it in
Stealing, Murder, and Adultery; but, we do it
even in our Solitary Sins, even in our Evil Thoughts. How? By
diminishing in some-way, the Content-of Charity and Love within
the Whole Mystical Body. Just as a Pain in the
Eye, affects the Whole Organism, and makes us Hurt
all-over, so, if I Love Christ less, do I
Impair the Spiritual Well-being of the
But, because I can Harm the Church by my
Sin, so can I be Helped by the
Church, when I am in Debt. Saint Paul applied-to the Mystical
Body, the Lesson of the Physical Body: "All the different parts of
it [the Body] were to make each other's Welfare, their common-care" (1Corinthians 12:25).
Religion is not Individual, it is Social; it is Organic. Look-to the Natural Order, and see how many Benefits I receive-from my
Fellow Man. There are a Million (106) Ways, in which they are Indulgent-to me. I did not raise
the Cow, that furnished the Leather, that went into my Shoes. I did not raise the Chicken, I eat at Dinner -- but that is a Bad Example; I do not
like Chicken! So let us say, the Chicken you eat. Somebody's Work or Labor allowed you to Indulge-in this Luxury. We might almost say that we are surrounded-by
Social "Indulgences", because we share in the Merits, Talents, Arts, Crafts, Sciences, Techniques and Needlework.
Now, in the Society-of Christ's People, His Mystical Body,
it is possible-to share-in the Merits and the Good Works, the
Prayers, the Sacrifices, the
self-Denials, and the Martyrdoms of others. If there be an Economic
"Indulgence", so that I can ride-in a Plane someone else built; why should there not also be a
Spiritual Indulgence, so that I can be carried-to Christ more-quickly,
through the Bounty-of some Members-of the Mystical Body.
Go-back now to the distinction-between Forgiveness-of
Guilt, and Satisfaction-for Guilt. Every
Sin has either an Eternal (∞),
or a Temporal Punishment. Even though our
Sins were Forgiven, there still remained some Satisfaction
to be made in-Time; or else in-Purgatory, after
Death, provided we Die in the State of Grace.
An Indulgence refers not to Sin, but to the
Temporal Punishment. Before the
Indulgences can apply, there must have been Forgiveness of the
Actually, there are Several-ways of making-up-for the Punishment due, after the
Guilt of Sin has been Forgiven.
Three (3) are Personal, One (1) is Social:
(1) The Saying or Doing-of the Penance,
given-in the Confessional Box, at the end-of Confession;
(2) Any Works-of Mortification which are
Freely Undertaken during Life, such as Helping the Poor and the Missions, Fasting, and other Acts-of
(3) The Patient Imitation-of Our Lord's
Sufferings on the Cross, by Enduring the
Trials of Life; and
(4) The Social Remedy of applying the Superabundant
Merits of the Mystical Body, to our Souls.
As we depend-on Intellectual Society to make-up-for our Ignorance, so we depend-on a Spiritual Society
to make-up-for our Spiritual Bankruptcy.
It may be asked where the Church gets Power to
Remit Temporal Punishment due to
Sin? Well, the Church happens to be 'Very Rich',
Spiritually, just as some Men are Very Rich, Financially. In a Village there lived a Rich Banker who set-up a Trust Fund in a Bank; he
bade all of the Sick, Infirm, and
Unemployed to draw-from that Reserve. The Banker told them: "Have no Fears that this Fund will ever run out, for I am
Rich enough to care for all of you". If the Banker paid part-of the Hospital Bills, that would be a Partial
Indulgence of the Debts-of the Sick; if he paid all of their Bills, that would be a
Plenary Indulgence of their Expenses and Costs.
The Church is a Spiritual Banker. It has all the
Merits of the Passion of Our Lord
and the Blessed Mother, the Merits of the
Martyrs, Saints, and Confessors, and the
Patient Endurance of Persecution in the Present Time; all of these Merits
are far-greater-than those needed-for Salvation of these Saintly
and Good People. The Church takes that
Surplus, puts it into Her Treasury, and bids all
Her Weak and Wounded, who cannot
Pay all the Debts they Owe for their
Sins, to draw-on those Reserves. The Church
lays-down certain Conditions, for making-use-of this Treasure, just as the Banker did. The Users have to be
Deserving, they have to be in the State of Grace, they have to fulfill Certain Conditions; e.g., a
Prayer, a Pilgrimage, or any One-of a Thousand little-things.
When the Debt of Temporal
Punishment due-to Sin, is Liquidated only in-part by an
Indulgence, it is called a Partial Indulgence. But, if all the
Debts of Temporal Punishment are
Paid-for by Fulfilling the Conditions, it is called a Plenary Indulgence.
Suppose I am Standing-in the Center-of the Room, that you have a Right-to Command me, and that I am bound-in
Conscience, to Obey you. You Order me to take Three (3) Steps, to my Right. I
Disobey, and take Three (3) Steps, to my Left. When I take the
Three (3) Steps, to my Left, I say to you, "I am very Sorry. I have Disobeyed you. Will you Forgive
me?". You say: "Yes, I will Forgive you". But look where I am! I am actually
Six (6) Steps from where I ought-to-be, and I am Three (3) Steps from being in 'Neutral' Ground.
Since I have taken Three (3) Steps in-Disobedience, I must put
my foot-down Three (3) Times, Humbly and in
Penance, in-order-to get back-to 'Neutral', before I can begin-doing Right. Those
Three (3) Steps, taken Penitentially, represent the Payment-of
the Temporal Punishment due-to
Now suppose that I just took Two (2) Steps, and someone carried me the Other
One (1), I would then have an Indulgence of One (1)
Step. If someone carried me Two (2) Steps, I would then have the
Indulgence of Two (2) Steps. If someone carried me the Three
(3) Steps, that would be a Plenary Indulgence.
That brings up the question of "Days". One often hears-of the
Indulgence of "Forty Days", "One Hundred Days", or
"Forty Years". The Church has to have some Standard-of Measurement,
and "Days" and "Years" are merely Approximations. In the
First Several Centuries of the Church, Penances
were very Severe, for certain Public Sins. One might have to dress himself
in Sackcloth-and-Ashes, and beg at a Church Door for Forty (40) Days, or Three (3)
Years, or Seven (7)Years, or sometimes Ten (10) Years,
in the case-of Atrocious Crimes. Because these Sins gave
Grave Scandal to the Public, the Penitent would be permitted-to
assist-at the Mass at the Door, or in a Special part-of the Church.
Later on, there began to be Intercessions-of-Persons of High Merit, that they be given
more-or-less extended Remission-of the Temporal Punishment
due-to their Sins; these became known as Indulgences. The
Church then took, as a Standard-of Measurement, the Severe Penances
of the Early Days, and applies them today to Indulgences. For example, for saying certain
Prayers, One receives an Indulgence, which is the equivalent-of "Forty
Days" Penance in the Early Church, or the equivalent-of
"One Hundred Days" Penance in the Early
Church, or a "Year", as the case may be.
There is no exact Statistical Relation between the Sin and its Expiation, as there is
none between the Money you pay-for a Suit-of Clothes, and the Cooperation-of the Sheep-Herder, the Wool-Gatherers, and the Suit-Manufacturer.
What a Beautiful Doctrine, and how Consoling is this Sacrament!
See how it combines the Poor Sinner who is in-Debt, the
Mystical Body to-which he is Restored-by Absolution in the
Confessional, and the Mercy of Christ, the
Head of His Mystical Body, Who gave this
Power to His Church: "Whatsoever
thou shalt Loose on Earth, is Loosed also in Heaven".
My Prayer is only a 'Drop', but, when it is joined-to the other Cells-of the
Mystical Body, when it becomes a 'Bead' in a Rosary, which Unites the Church
Militant on Earth, with the Church Triumphant in
Heaven and Church Suffering in Purgatory, when
it fuses-into the Tears-of Christ on the
Cross, and with the Sword in Mary's
Heart, at the Foot-of the Cross, then it makes its way to the
Sea which is God, where we all meet. Thus, thanks to my Little Drop-of a
Prayer, I have the Right to-say, "I, too, am the Ocean".
One feels like singing-for Joy, for here is a Greater Thrill than the Bath that Cleanses the
Body. Regular Confession prevents
Sins, Worries, and Anxieties, from seeping-down-into
the Unconscious, and Degenerating into
Melancholy Fears and Neuroses. The 'Boil' is lanced, before the
Pus can spread-into Unconsciousness. Our Lord
knew what was in Man, so He Instituted this Sacrament, not
for His Needs, but for Ours. It was His Way of giving Man a
Happy Heart. It is not easy, indeed, for a Man to make his way to the
Cross, and to admit that he has been Wrong. It is very hard; but the
Penitent knows that it was harder to Hang, on that Cross!
We are never made Worse, by admitting we are Broken-Hearted,
for unless our Hearts are Broken, how can