Page last updated at 10:37 UTC, Wednesday, 06 December 2017 PH
Last October 9 to 15, 2017 an authority in the teaching of Catholic Doctrine to adults in Australia, Fr. John Flader, visited Manila and Cebu and addressed over 300 educators, parents, parish workers, priests and seminarians about the effective teaching of Catechism. Among the publications he shared with us was a pamphlet entitled “The benefits of confession.” I would like to share with my readers a summary of the content of this very timely reminder, especially as we are about to begin another Season of Advent, a time for fostering in ourselves the spirit of penance. Without making any moral judgement, I sometimes worry when I see numerous Catholics going to communion but hardly observe long queues in the confessionals of parishes.
That was not the case in the 1960s and 1970s when many people went to confession regularly. Fr. Flader makes the observation that starting in the 1980s, more or less coinciding with the introduction of the new Rite of Penance in the mid-1970s, the numbers of those going to confession fell off. According to him, with the new rite there was certainly a misunderstanding about the mind of the Church, with some people suggesting that we were no longer to go confession frequently with our “laundry list” or “shopping list” of sins. Rather, it was alleged, that we should wait for the big conversion after we had fallen away and so confession would be less frequent. This view had absolutely no foundation on Christian doctrine.
Fr. Flader then posed the question what can be done to help people return to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Apart from praying and offering little sacrifices for those who have lost the healthy habit of regular confession, he suggests that we remind them that confession has at least the following ten benefits:
First, and most obviously, we receive forgiveness of our sins. When we have been burdened by sin, it is a great relief to hear the words of forgiveness “I absolve you from your sins”—and to know that “what is loosed on earth is loosed in heaven” (Mt 18:18). For those of us who are Christians, we know that Christ did not intend for us to confess our sins directly to God. Christ clearly gave the apostles and their successors the power to forgive sins. That is why when we go to confession to a priest properly authorized to hear confessions, we are convinced that we are confessing our sins not to a mere human being but to Christ Himself.
Second, we receive sanctifying grace, a sharing in God’s own life which makes us holy and pleasing to him. When we have been stained by sin, even venial sin, we come away from confession with our soul completely clean and filled with divine life. For this reason, regular confession is a great help in growing in holiness. I can never forget what the late Cardinal Jaime Sin told some lady visitors in my presence. At some point in their conversation, the good Cardinal literally shocked his visitors with the statement that sometimes he felt the need to go to confession every day. When he saw the expression in their faces, he clarified that he was not advising this practice to ordinary Catholics. He, however, was in a special condition of being responsible for the salvation of millions of souls in his diocese of Metro Manila. Such a burden and responsibility made him eager to “remove the spiritual dust that he inevitably gathered every day.” In the same way that no one can go through a day in the City of Manila without accumulating sweat and dust, which would necessitate taking a shower daily or sometimes even twice a day, going to confession daily was his way of taking a spiritual shower. Of course, for ordinary Christians, a frequency of, say weekly or monthly, is enough. One does not have to be in the state of mortal sin to take this regular “spiritual shower.” It is enough to confess venial sins to get the necessary absolution from the confessor. After all, in our daily bath, we do not usually remove mud or similar dirt, but only dust and perspiration.
Third, we receive a specific sacramental grace proper to the sacrament which in this case helps us to avoid falling again into the sins we have just confessed. While we know we may fall again, we experience a greater strength after confession to avoid doing so. Let me add that in this age of an increasing number of people participating in triathlons and marathons, re-energizing with the right drink or food item is of the essence of continuing in the race. Also, with the proliferation of digital devices, everyone is always looking for ways of recharging batteries. Well, going to confession gives us the actual grace that can be compared to recharging our spiritual battery after a period of going against the current of temptations and other obstacles in our spiritual struggle to be holy in the middle of the world.
Fourth, each confession brings a new beginning in the spiritual struggle. Especially when we have come with mortal sins in our soul, but also when our sins have been venial, the knowledge that we are clean and full of grace is a big help in deciding to struggle harder to avoid falling again. People who do not have this sacrament do not have this clean break, this decisive moment in which to begin again. After all, striving for sanctity in the middle of the world is a matter of beginning again and again, without ever getting discouraged. Regular confession is a big help in this continuous spiritual struggle.
Fifth, we are always helped by the words of advice and encouragement the priest gives us in confession. They are a brief form of spiritual direction and they assist us in our spiritual struggle. From my own experience and those of many others in all walks and states of life, going to the same priest for regular confession (say, at least once a month) helps in overcoming predominant faults and in growing in specific virtues because of the increasing knowledge that the confessor has of us and his consequent ability to give us advice tailored to our very specific circumstances. It would be unwise if we butterfly from one confessor to another. We will just get generic advice or even motherhood statements such as “do good or avoid evil.” Fr. Flader reminds us that even in other matters where we need practical advice, such as keeping our car in good running condition or addressing a specific health problem, it is prudent to go to the same mechanic or medical doctor each time. Shifting from one mechanic or doctor to another won’t give the specialist we are consulting sufficient knowledge through time about our car engine or bodily health for us to get useful advice. (To be continued).