That in Confession We Should Take Particular Account of Anything Contrary to Chastity

by admin on February 26, 2012

ST. BONAVENTURE, speaking of confession, lays down a general instruction very important for all. He says that all should be much on their guard not to fail to con­fess sundry little things that often happen and cause shame, on the plea: “Oh, that’s no sin, at least it is not a mortal sin, and we are not bound to confess venial sins.” Hereby great evils often gain entrance, which to many have been the beginning of their perdition. God deliver us from thus giving entry to the devil and opening to him this side door, for he needs nothing more than this to effect his purpose. Presently, shame making common cause with the vileness of the thing in question, he will get you to believe that that was not a sin which was, or, at least, that it is doubtful whether it was, and that you may omit to confess it. In people who have been good and not in the habit of having mortal sins on their conscience, this shame is wont more especially to prevail when anything happens to them; because, as pride and craving for esteem is so connatural to us and so deep-rooted in our constitution, it then starts up and makes us greatly afraid of falling from our reputa­tion and losing the good opinion which our confessor had of us. So it sets the man to work looking for reasons to persuade himself that this disgraceful act, which he now finds himself so ashamed to mention, did not amount to mortal sin, and so he is not obliged to confess it.

At other times, though he does not altogether conceal it, shame makes him so mince matters, and speak in such roundabout terms, that the confessor cannot tell what he would be at, or at least takes it not to be so grave a mat­ter as it is; and the penitent might just as well have held his tongue as say what he did say. A confession ought to be so clear that the confessor shall understand the gravity of the sin. If the penitent confesses a thing in such a way that it does not appear to be a sin, or in such a way that the gravity and necessary circumstances are not declared, it is as though he had entirely failed to confess it. Shame, or rather pride, blinds and deceives people so that they do not declare it all. Little or no sorrow has that man got for his faults who has not virtue enough to tell and declare them to his confessor. You should offer this shame and confusion in compensation and satisfaction for the fault that you have committed, thereby to appease God our Lord. The very feeling of shame and difficulty in telling the fault ought to be enough to rouse your suspicions and make you think it worth while to tell it, though there were no more in the matter than the overcoming of this shame, and the mortifying of yourself and not letting the devil and the flesh have the best of the transaction.

This especially, because in this matter of chastity there are many things which those who know no better think are not mortal sins, and which really are so. There are other things about which it is not easy to determine whether they amount to mortal sins or not, because they are very doubtful; and these also you are bound to confess under pain of mortal sin, saying that you were in doubt whether such a thing that you did was a mortal sin or not, or that you doubt whether you consented or took delight voluntarily and with advertence in the thing or not. Thus it is enough for one to be in doubt whether his fault amounted to mortal sin or not, to be bound to confess it under pain of mortal sin; and if he does not confess it, his confession will be sacrilegious, and his Communion also.

Very often the confessor himself, for all his learning, cannot settle whether the thing amounts to a mortal sin or not; and how dare the penitent be judge in his own cause, and defy the court, and make up his mind that it did not come to so much, and so fail to confess it? Such a one puts himself in great danger, especially when it appears that he is inclined to leave the thing alone and would like, if he could, to blot it out, and that it should not appear to count for so much, for the shame that he has in saying it. I would not take it upon myself to reassure him. There needs no better witness than the individual’s own conscience. He who accuses himself in confession of smaller things, cannot help feeling remorse, seeing that he is omitting a thing that he knows to have more in it than all the rest. At the hour of death you would not dare to fail to declare it. Just as little should you dare to leave it out now, seeing that we should confess every time we go to confession all our doings just as if we were going to die there and then. St. Gregory says: “It is a mark of good souls to fear fault even where there is none.” So, too, it is a mark of souls that are not good not to fear fault where there is ground for fearing it.

Some people say: “I leave it out, not to make myself scrupulous.” This is another usual deceit of the devil. It is not making yourself scrupulous, since those who are aim­ing at virtue confess, and should confess, less things than that, not of necessity, not out of scruple, but for devotion and reverence for the Most Holy Sacrament. Such is the purity with which we ought to approach it that, even where there is no fault, it is the counsel of spiritual men that we should accuse ourselves in this fashion: “Father, I accuse myself of having had impure temptations.” And if you think that you have been negligent in resisting them, you should say: “I think there has been some negligence in letting them in and not casting them off, but nothing more than light and venial negligence.” It is very common for there to be some fault and negligence therein, because these temptations take a great hold of one. But even though you think there has been no fault on your part, you may say: “I accuse myself of having had many thoughts and tempta­tions against purity, though I think that by the mercy of the Lord I did what I could on my part, and there was no fault in them.” That is how we are advised to confess also evil thoughts that arise against God and His saints and against faith.

Even of less things than this we are advised to accuse ourselves in this matter; as of what happens in sleep, although there is no fault there, because where there is no liberty there is no fault. Nevertheless, you are well advised to accuse and humble yourself over this illusion, though you need not when you have given no cause for it and there has been no fault of yours therein. So they who fear God make a point of seeking reconciliation on this matter before Com­munion, out of reverence for so sublime a sacrament. Theo­logians examine whether we should omit Communion on that account, and they say it would be more reverent to put it off to another day, unless there is some special reason to the contrary, as when it is a general Communion day for the community, and one would be noted if one did not com­municate; but where Communion is optional, it is good to follow the advice given.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: