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Confession for FOCUS Missionaries

by Fr. Dylan James FatherDJ@gmail.com 2006


Know that you are a sinner
“If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn 1:8-9).
The Pope speaks repeatedly of the modern “loss of the sense of sin”.
The saints knew they were sinners, and could names and confess their sins –are we better than they were?
To not feel guilty when we sin is a sign of a sick and disordered conscience.

“If the sick person is too ashamed to show his wound to the doctor the medicine cannot heal what it does not know”
(Catechism n.1456, quoting the Council of Trent), i.e. confess your sins to ‘show’ them to the healing power of forgiveness.

Know that you are forgiven


We are liberated from guilt when we acknowledge it and are forgiven for it.
Confession is good for the soul and for our psychological health. It is good for us to hear someone say that we are forgiven.
Jesus died on the cross to free us from our sins. He left us the ministry of priests to be the means by which we are forgiven.

How often?
Canon Law requires us to go to confession at least once a year (Canon 989), preferably at Easter – “the Easter Duty”.
Standard advice strongly recommends going at least once a month.
St. Francis de Sales recommends devout souls go every week (Introduction to the Devout Life, II, 19).
A typical FOCUS missionary frequency is every two weeks.

Why make a more detailed confession?


(i) To aid your own sanctity (ii) To grow in self-knowledge and self-honesty
(ii) Apostolic: To be better able to lead others to use this sacrament

WOW! Don’t be too freaked out at the length of the list of sins on the examination of conscience.
Note that many of the questions are the same sin re-phrased in a different question.
The long list aims to remove the “I’ve not committed any sins” claim. The list does not aim to overwhelm you!

Internalise your examination of conscience. i.e. don’t take in a typed up list that you have put ‘checks’ against.
Internalise your examination as your own list! If it helps your memory, and makes it easier, write your list down.

Seven Deadly Sins: Anagram: PLACES-G, Pride, Lust, Anger, Covetousness, Envy, Sloth, Gluttony.
We can usually assume that each of these capital sins is at work in us in some manner and degree, an examination of
conscience should help us see how. Try to focus on each of them to a similar depth, e.g. not only on sins of pride.

Purpose of Amendment –being sorry means that we resolve not to do it again, i.e. we do not plan to do the same thing.
Note: Confession does not enable us to fool God by confessing what we plan to keep doing. God will not be mocked.

Start your confession by stating your state of life, e.g. single/dating.


Sometimes: add anything that might explain what you’re going to say in the confession, e.g. “I’m a FOCUS missionary doing
campus apostolate, and committed to certain prayers in my plan of life; I share an apartment with a roommate”.

Sins of Omission –say what these are. i.e. do not just say, “I’ve committed sins of omission”,
rather, say, “I’ve failed to be attentive to the needs of my roommate”, or, “I’ve omitted to say my prayers” etc.

Being Late –a BIG sin in FOCUS, regrettably. It is also highly unprofessional.


Being late wastes the time of the people waiting for you. Being late says that you think that your time is more important that
theirs. Being early says that you value your meeting and you value the people you are meeting.

Play –note that this is moral obligation! We have a duty to rest so that we can effectively work at other times. And get enough sleep!
Humour –St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that there is a moral obligation to be humourous (because we make life too
burdensome for our neighbour otherwise). However, jokes can be inappropriate or insensitive –this sort of insensitivity can
be a matter of sin.

Prayer –note that there is not a universal obligation for every human being to do a daily Holy Hour.
However, you have acquired certain moral obligations by joining FOCUS and committing yourself to a certain plan of life.
Confessing your failure in this is therefore confessing your unfaithfulness to your plan of life.

Chastity –be clear, but don’t give gross detail. The priest does not want excessive detail, but he needs enough detail to understand
what you are confessing. The priest does not want to ask a follow up question about this, but if you’re vague he may need to!
e.g. “I was impure with my girlfriend” –does this mean intercourse, or heavy petting, or conversation?! It is unclear.
“I engaged in heavy petting with my girlfriend; we didn’t keep to our agreed boundaries for physical contact”
–the priest will not need to ask a follow-up question after this:
he knows what you did, he knows you are sorry, he knows that you have a usual plan for how to avoid this sin.
e.g. “I was impure with myself”. Unclear.
Describe: The act itself; The degree of consent; The number of times:
“I engaged in an incomplete act of masturbation, while half-sleep, on two occasions”. Clear.

Slander/Detraction –note the distinction. The tongue is a dangerous thing. Note the comments about how everyone has a right to a
good name. It is important to understand why this is the case, otherwise we can think we are justified in spreading gossip.
More Details
A good confession can be both concise and thorough
Aim to give relevant information, occasionally this involves referring to the specific circumstances of an incident

(i) The Minimalist Approach


“Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been 6 months since my last confession. Since then I have taken the Lord’s name in vain
several times, missed Sunday Mass twice, and masturbated several times. These are my sins.”
This confession aims to confess mortal sins and only mortal sins.
This is a valid and (just about) acceptable confession: remission of mortal sins is the primary aim of this sacrament,
and confession of mortal sins is sufficient matter for the sacrament.
However, such a confession may indicate a person who does not think that other sins are really sins
This confession aims to avoid Hell, it does not aim to love God, or aim for Heaven.
The risk: if you aim low and miss your target, eternal damnation awaits you.

(ii) The Irrelevant Detail Approach


“My Mom told me to take the garbage out, and she’s always nagging at me, shouting and complaining. Last week she yelled at me
so much that…. And my brother took the milk, and I said…, and she said…”
Note: The penitent’s own sin is barely mentioned! The detail is not relevant!
However, sometimes detail is relevant –added detail should help describe the sin and its circumstances.

(iii) Just Right? : a possible example


“Bless me Father for I have sinned. It is 3 weeks since my last confession, though I normally go every 2 weeks. I am FOCUS
missionary doing campus apostolate.
I’ve been almost continually guilty of pride, judgement, criticism, and stubbornness of opinion. Primarily in my thoughts but also in my
words, leading to gossip on several occasions. My gossip has been mainly detraction (damaging a guy’s good name), but slanderous
on two occasions that I can remember (repeating a rumour that I’m pretty sure isn’t really true).
I’ve lacked interior respect for those in authority over me, especially my campus director, and been negligent in carrying out an
assigned task. I’ve neglected to return phone calls to my parents, family and friends, and be in touch by email.
I’ve been vain in my motivation in telling jokes, in conversation, and how I’ve promoted my ideas for what we should be doing on
campus. I’ve told lies a couple times, and exaggerated stories to make myself look good.
With respect to purity, I’ve failed to practice custody of the eyes on several occasions, and entertained impure thoughts several times.
I’ve been impatient in my thoughts on many occasions, and been sharp in my words, especially with my roommate, twice. I’ve
fostered angry thoughts in my mind, especially about my Mom.
I’ve also been covetous of the money of other missionaries, and envious and jealous of the talents of others, especially of 2 disciples.
I’ve been lazy in a great many things. Especially my fundraising and bible study preparation. I’ve wasted a lot of time on the internet,
and on unnecessary emails. I’ve been undisciplined in my sleep and work routine –this caused me to fall asleep in prayer on
Monday. I’ve not given God due concentration in prayer and at Mass, and entertained distractions. I’ve used foul language in front of
my disciples, and otherwise failed to set the example that a FOCUS missionary should set.
I’ve been self-seeking in my conversation, excessive in my times of relaxation (I’ve not planned it). I’ve also been selfish in not
looking out for the needs of my roommate and other members of my team. I’ve sinned against others by being late for them and
wasting their time. I’ve been gluttonous in my food twice, and excessive (but not grossly so) in my alcohol on one occasion.
For these and those sins and I cannot now remember I ask forgiveness.”
Note: This should take too long to say, and can be said clearly but concisely and speedily.

Scrupulosity
Being scrupulous is not the same thing as a healthy sensitivity to your sinfulness and a healthy awareness of what your sins
are. A sensitive conscience is a healthy one, a scrupulous conscience is a sick one (the opposite sickness of a conscience
that either does not see its sin or does not care about its sin).
A scrupulous person will tend to manifest one or both of:
(1) Not feeling forgiven, even after confessing sin;
(2) Thinking that imperfections are serious sins. Analysing sins and imperfections obsessively.
A minor degree of scrupulosity might also tend to pay a disordered attention to small sins while being blinded to bigger more
important sins. Sometimes we need to calmly accept our smaller sins so that we can concentrate on our bigger sins.
A good spiritual director is very important in discerning and addressing these problems.

Men –typically are embarrassed to admit they have done anything wrong!
They will sometimes cover up their confession with phrases like, “I might have done a bit of…”, “If I’ve done any… then I’m sorry”.
Be a real man and admit you’ve messed up. However, this is not always easy: it goes counter to modern male culture –a Christian should
know he can admit his sins and failings. He needs to learn this, both theoretically and emotionally. Do not be afraid.
Women –typically confess more easily. However, a flip side of this can be a tendency to speak freely of their feelings and include excess
information that does not relate to sin and confession per se.

Matter and Form


The Eucharist: Matter = bread and wine;
Form = Words of the priest, ‘This is my body…’
Matter and Form Together = The Blessed Sacrament
Note: saying the words without bread does not cause the Blessed Sacrament to appear!
Confession: Matter = The 3 Acts of the Penitent: Repentance, Confession, Reparation;
Form = Words of the priest, ‘I absolve you…’
Note: saying the words without the penitent having confessed does not cause a valid absolution of the sins.
[General absolution is conditional on later confession (or, if you die beforehand, the firm resolution to make a confession)]
Receiving Holy Communion Worthily
complied by Fr. Dylan James frdylan@priest.com 2006

From the Catechism:


“To respond to this invitation we must prepare ourselves for so great and so holy a moment. St. Paul urges us to
examine our conscience: "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be
guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself."(1 Cor 11:27-28)
Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion.” (CCC 1385)
“Anyone who desires to receive Christ in Eucharistic communion must be in the state of grace. Anyone aware
of having sinned mortally must not receive communion without having received absolution in the
sacrament of penance.” (CCC 1415)

From the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, On certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist,
Congregation for divine worship and the discipline of the sacraments, 2004:
“n. 81. The Church’s custom shows that it is necessary for each person to examine himself at depth, (1 Cor 11:
28) and that anyone who is conscious of grave sin should not celebrate or receive the Body of the Lord
without prior sacramental confession, except for grave reason when the possibility of confession is
lacking; in this case he will remember that he is bound by the obligation of making an act of perfect contrition,
which includes the intention to confess as soon as possible”. (Cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 916; cf. Ecumenical Council of
Trent, Session XIII, 11 October 1551, Decree on the Most Holy Eucharist, Chapter 7: DS 1646-1647; Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter,
Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 36: AAS 95 (2003) pp. 457-458; S. Congregation of Rites, Instruction, Eucharisticum mysterium, n. 35: AAS 59
(1967) p. 561.)

How Long Should I Refrain from receiving Holy Communion after committing a mortal sin (e.g. masturbation)?
Continue going to Mass, but do not receive Holy Communion until after going to confession.
Aim to get to confession speedily.
Even if you wait a couple weeks, still go not go to Holy Communion until after you go to confession.
How long it is reasonable for me to deprive myself of the sacramental grace available in Communion?
A comparison: The Church teaches that general absolution is only permissible if the lack of it will
prevent someone receiving Holy Communion for more than a month.1
I.e. we do not have a ‘right’ to Holy Communion more often than monthly.
However, if, for a very grave reason, you are prevented from getting to confession for some weeks:
In such an unlikely scenario, (i) make ‘a perfect act of contrition’ for your sins, (ii) with the intention of
going to confession as soon as possible. Then, go to Holy Communion.
However, get to confession speedily rather than waiting weeks to receive Holy Communion.

Mortal and Venial Sin, from the Catechism:

1855 Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God's law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate
end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him. Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it.

1857 For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: "Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter
and which is also committed with full knowledge
and deliberate consent."

1858 Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments, corresponding to the answer of Jesus to the rich young man: "Do not kill,
Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honour your father and your mother." (Mk 10:19).

1862 One commits venial sin when, in a less serious matter, he does not observe the standard prescribed by the moral law, or when
he disobeys the moral law in a grave matter, but without full knowledge or without complete consent.

NOTE: St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that a man cannot be certain that he is not in a state of mortal sin. This is for three reasons:
(i) We cannot ‘feel’ grace, and thus we cannot feel whether or not we are in a state of grace;
(ii) Self-deception leads us to make inaccurate judgements about ourselves –this is a continual problem in the spiritual life;
(iii) A man might perform an outwardly good act, but do it under an isolated ‘actual grace’ not flowing from the possession
of ‘sanctifying grace’. Thus, the doing of a good deed does not prove that a man is in a ‘state of grace’.
It follows that we should be cautious in assuming that we are not in a state of mortal sin, especially if we have performed a
sin that involves grave matter.

1
“The second condition calls for a prudential judgement in order to assess how long penitents can be deprived of sacramental grace for there to be a
true impossibility as described in Can. 960, presuming that there is no imminent danger of death. Such a judgement is not prudential if it distorts the
sense of physical or moral impossibility, as would be the case, for example, if it was thought that a period of less than a month means remaining ‘for a
long time’ in such a state of privation.” (John Paul II, Misericordia Dei (2002), n. 4.2d)
Act of Contrition: The following are examples of different acts of contrition.

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishments, but
most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the
help of Thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin. Amen.

My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart. In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against
you, whom I should love above all things. I firmly intend, with your help, to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid
whatever leads me to sin. Our Saviour Jesus Christ suffered and died for us, in His name, my God, have mercy. Amen.

O my God, because you are so good, I am very sorry that I have sinned against you and by the help of your grace I will
not sin again. Amen.

I love you Jesus my love above all things. I repent with my whole heart for having ever offended you. Never permit me to
separate myself from you again. Grant that I may love you always and then do with me what you will. Amen.
by St. Alphonsus Liguori

Speaker’s Notes:
Don’t presume that you already make a ‘good’ confession!
Just because a priest does not correct you does not mean that your confession could not be improved
-a priest can only work with what you give him in confession.
Also, our culture deceives us, it leads us to think that we’re not really sinners:
“I’m OK. You’re OK” –no you’re not!

“If the sick person is too ashamed to show his wound to the doctor the medicine cannot heal what it does not know”
-what is not brought to the power of the keys cannot be unlocked (esp. mortal sins)

How often?
Daily confession would probably be compulsive
Humility = accept we are sinners, and humbly wait until your next confession (unless grave matter)

Why confess?
NOT: “This is what is on my heart”
But: “These are my sins” –a different, more important, focus

Scrupulosity
This is relatively rare in our younger generation –we tend to casually presume on mercy
However, obsessing about sins is not the sign of a healthy conscience

Receiving Holy Communion Worthily


i.e. When can I NOT receive it?
How long should go without receiving Holy Communion?
e.g. after masturbating
A comparison: The Church teaches that general absolution is only permissible if the lack of it will prevent
someone receiving Holy Communion for more than a month.2 I.e. we do not have a ‘right’ to Holy Communion
more than this.
Another comparison: The Church requires us to go to Holy Communion once a year (canon 989). Frequent
daily Communion is a very good thing, but it is not unthinkable for us to not receive for a few weeks.
Therefore: go to confession as soon as possible after a sin like masturbation, and do not go to Holy Communion
until after confession. Unless, for a very grave reason, you cannot get to confession for some weeks. In such a
(unlikely) scenario, make ‘a perfect act of contrition’, with the intention of going to confessional a soon as
possible, and then go to Holy Communion.

2
“The second condition calls for a prudential judgement in order to assess how long penitents can be deprived of sacramental grace
for there to be a true impossibility as described in Can. 960, presuming that there is no imminent danger of death. Such a judgement
is not prudential if it distorts the sense of physical or moral impossibility, as would be the case, for example, if it was thought that a
period of less than a month means remaining ‘for a long time’ in such a state of privation.” (John Paul II, Misericordia Dei (2002), n.
4.2d)