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It may be useful to review the steps that one takes in preparing for a good confession. The Catechism of the Catholic Church outlines the three essential acts. First, there is Contrition. This is “sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sins committed, together with the resolution not to sin again. This resolution is the purpose of amendment that vouches for the authenticity of this sorrow. If the contrition arises from the love by which God is loved above all else, it is called “perfection contrition,” or contrition of charity. This contrition obtains immediate forgiveness of mortal sins as long as it includes the firm resolution to go to confession as soon as possible. If the contrition, on the other hand, arises from a consideration of sin’s ugliness or the fear of punishment, it is called “imperfect contrition,” or attrition. This contrition would not directly result in the pardon of sins, but it is still a gift of God and is sufficient for the valid reception of sacramental absolution. We should foster contrition by preparing well for the Sacrament with a careful examination of conscience. It must be pointed out that this contrition is rooted in the will, not in emotion or feeling.
Then the next step is Confession, which consists in telling our sins to the Priest. It is absolutely necessary that the penitent mention all the mortal sins he committed since his last good confession. A generic reference does not suffice: he should, as far as he is able, specify what kind of sins they were, as well as the number of times he committed them. A mortal sin involves grave matter, full knowledge and full consent. To illustrate, it might be useful to reflect on why Pope Francis replied “Who am I to judge?” when he was asked what he thought of gay people. He was only applying the moral principle about a mortal sin. Only when one is certain that someone with same-sex attraction is actually engaging in homosexual acts can one say that he is doing something evil because, as the Catechism says every homosexual act is intrinsically evil and is always a grave matter. There is no way, however, that the Pope or anyone else can know that a gay person is actually engaging in homosexual acts. Only a confessor who is told by a penitent that he has, with full knowledge and full consent, committed a homosexual act can judge about the evil nature of the act. By replying “Who am I to judge”, the Pope has not changed the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that every homosexual act is intrinsically evil.
The penitent has to as soon as possible perform the penance imposed by the confessor. This is called Satisfaction, which consists of some meritorious act, such as saying a prayer or doing some corporal or spiritual work of mercy. This is not to be confused with the duty of making reparation done to our neighbor, such as returning a stolen good or repairing the damage done by a calumny. There are priests who give very light penances because they take it upon themselves to do the harder penances for their penitents.
One of the spiritual benefits during the Jubilee Year of Mercy is the plenary indulgence that can be obtained by crossing the holy door of one of the Jubilee Churches declared by the Bishop of the Diocese. As a reminder, an indulgence is “a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church.” If these temporal punishments have not been removed while one is on earth (through performing acts of penance or complying with certain conditions such as visiting a specific Church), a soul has to spend time in Purgatory if one dies in the state of grace. These punishments can be removed by indulgences. An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin. Indulgences may be applied to the living, including oneself, as well as to the dead.
In the Metro Manila area, some of the Churches one can visit to gain the plenary indulgence are the Manila Cathedral, the Sacred Heart Church in Makati or the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Cubao. To gain the plenary indulgence, one must pass through the Holy Door, recite a prayer (say, Our Father) for the Holy Father, go to communion on the same day and go to confession a week before or after the pilgrimage. An indispensable condition to gain the plenary indulgence is to make an act of perfect contrition, declaring hatred even for any deliberate venial sin. If one is unable to make this perfect act of contrition, the indulgence earned is only partial. A practical consequence of earning a plenary indulgence is that if one should die immediately after, he goes straight to heaven. If one applies the plenary indulgence to a loved one who has already gone to the next world and is still suffering in Purgatory, that soul is immediately sent to heaven. Those souls we help to shorten their Purgatory will be eternally grateful to us and will do everything possible to help us also go to heaven.
One should go to confession immediately after committing a mortal sin. But as mentioned above, frequent confession (even if the soul is in the state of grace) is advisable in order to receive the sacramental grace that acts as spiritual nourishment strengthening the soul for the never-ending struggle to be holy. I compare frequent confession to recharging one’s spiritual battery. The added benefit is the spiritual mentoring we receive from our confessor. Once we develop the habit of frequent confession, it is advisable to avoid routine: varying the mode of examination of conscience from time to time; invoking of the Holy Spirit; fostering one’s sorrow beforehand. For comments, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.