Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Use of Confession

I had a bit of a debate with someone today about confession. My friend had been on a week-long retreat and had come back very spiritually motivated. She was also excited about some things she had taken away from reading a book by Maria Valtorta (who's book Poem of the Man God was on the Vatican's forbidden book list back before the list was done away with). She was extremely excited about the holiness of the Eucharist, which is a fantastic thing. One thing she said, however, struck me the wrong way. My friend told me she wanted to go to confession every week just so she'd be holier and more pure for receiving the Eucharist.

For most folks I guess that might not sound odd but think about this- when we receive the Eucharist we are cleansed of venial sins. So, assuming that the person is talking about wiping away venial sins and not mortal, then saying that you want to go to confession so you will be purer for communion is like saying you want to go get your car detailed so you can take it to the car wash.

Now I'm not at all saying that confession is bad or shouldn't be used. On the contrary the sacrament of confession is probably the most underused (and perhaps the most needed) sacrament nowadays. What I am saying is that the sacrament of penance is for cleansing the soul for our salvation. That should include a deep examination of conscience and true sorrow for one's sins. But confession should be used for itself, like finding those little sins you usually don't think about throughout the day and asking for forgiveness and trying to avoid them or unloading the big sins you know you shouldn't have committed but feel really sorry for now. The motivation, or desire for confession should stem from the desire for purity itself and from the desire for forgiveness from God, not from a desire to be clean for something else.

My friend thinks it isn't a big deal whether or not she feels she should go to confession just for communion or not, I think it is a big deal. Motivations, or reasons for willing things, are sometimes just as important as the things themselves. A child is always a blessing from God, but if a parent wants a child just to attempt to patch up a relationship it's the wrong reason. In the same manner if a couple got married just so they could get better pay and split it (happens in the military more often than you think) it is the wrong reason for getting married. Likewise, confession has its own reasons proper to the sacrament and this includes the purifying of the soul for the sake of purifying the soul, not for the sake of receiving another sacrament. A bicycle and a car are both forms of transportation, they get you from point A to point B. However, you don't drive your car in preparation for riding your bike.

So, long story short, confession is for purifying the soul for the sake of salvation. The Eucharist is communion with Jesus via His body and blood, soul and divinity in a way that unites us to Him in heaven as well as with the entire Church in all its forms. They are not one for another but rather each has its own purpose towards the common cause of salvation.


Mac McLernon said...

Actually, I see nothing wrong with going to Confession weekly so as to be in a more fit state to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion.

Yes, receiving the Eucharist does cleanse us from venial sins, but Confession beforehand increases sanctifying grace: we become more properly disposed to welcome Christ into our soul.

It only becomes a problem when it becomes scrupulosity: if your friend wouldn't receive Communion because she hadn't been to Confession that week.

John Paul the Great went to Confession each week. Benedict XVI goes each week. If these great and holy men demonstrate by example that weekly Confession is admirable, then I, a far lesser mortal, can only follow!

You might also want to consider that your friend may have been unable to express her feelings very well - sometimes the "need" for frequent Confession is hard to explain to others - and so she used phrases which were not very exact.

Oh, and just one analogy: you might be the most houseproud person around, with what seems to be a spotless home... but if the Pope were to announce a visit, you can be sure you'd give it an extra-special going over!

aggiecatholic said...

Touche! Well said, I stand corrected.