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What Everyone Should Know About:

The Sacrament Of Penance

by St. Alphonsus de Liguori

Continued from Issue No. 29


Let us now proceed. We have spoken of the examination regarding mortal and venial sins. But were a person to do an action with a doubt whether it was a mortal or a venial sin, what kind of sin would he commit? He would be guilty of mortal sin, because he exposes himself to the danger of grievously offending God. Hence he must first (wisely) resolve the doubt;2aand if he neglects to do so, he must confess it, at least as it appears before God. But superscrupulous persons, who have doubts about everything, must follow another rule: they must obey their (wisely chosen) confessor. When he tells them how to handle their doubts and resolve scruples, they should obey with exactness; otherwise they will render themselves unable and unfit to perform any spiritual exercise.

Before I proceed further I exhort every one of you to make a general confession, if you have not as yet made one. And I now speak not only of those whose confessions have been sacrilegious on account of having concealed sins, or invalid because of lack of sufficient examination of conscience, or of sufficient sorrow; but I speak of all who wish to be permanently converted to God. A general confession is a great means of bringing about a true change of life. After her conversion to God, St. Margaret of Cortona told all her (unforgiven) sins to her confessor and thereby made herself so pleasing and dear to God that Our Lord Himself spoke to her and called her "My sinful one, My poor little one." She one day said to Jesus Christ, "Lord, when will You call me Thy daughter?" Jesus Christ answered, "When you have made a general confession of your whole life, then I will call you My daughter." She made a general confession; and from that time on Jesus always called her His daughter.

Sorrow

Sorrow for sin is so necessary for obtaining forgiveness, that without it even God Himself (at least in His ordinary Providence) cannot pardon sin.Unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish (Luke 13:3). A person who dies without making an examination of conscience or a confession of his sins, may be saved by making an act of sincere perfect contrition when he has not time to confess his sins nor a priest to whom he can confess them. But without sorrow it is impossible for the sinner to be saved.

And here is the mistake of those people who, in preparing for confession, endeavor only to call to mind their sins, but make no effort to excite a true sorrow for them. This sorrow we must earnestly ask of God; and before we go to the confessional let us say a "Hail Mary" in honor of the sorrows of the Blessed Virgin, that She may obtain for us a true sorrow for our sins.

Even after mortal sins are forgiven in Confession, the soul must still pay part of the temporal punishment due to sin. God in justice exacts this of the forgiven sinner. Whatever temporal punishment is not paid in this life is paid for in purgatory. That is why it is most useful to gain indulgences while you are alive so that your purgatory time will be shortened. Here Our Lady of Mount Carmel is depicted removing some souls on the first Saturday according to Her Sabbatine privilege promise. For more information about this promise write The Fatima Crusader.

Five Conditions for Forgiveness of our Sins

To obtain the forgiveness of our sins in the sacrament of penance, our sorrow for them must have five conditions: It must be sincere, supernatural, sovereign, universal, and accompanied with a hope of pardon.

1. Our sorrow must be sincere. It must be not be in the mouth only, but also in the heart. This is the kind of sorrow required by the Council of Trent: "A sorrow of the soul and a detestation of sin committed, with a purpose of sinning no more" (Sess. 14, chap. 4). The soul, then, must conceive a true sorrow, a true displeasure or regret and true bitterness of heart, for the sins that have been committed; it must hate and abhor them, saying with the penitent king Ezechias, "I will recount to Thee all my years in the bitterness of my soul" (Is. 38:15).

2. The sorrow must be supernatural; that is, it must arise not from a natural but from a supernatural motive. It would not be sufficient to repent of your sin because it has harmed your health, your property, or your reputation. This would be a natural motive, and sorrow proceeding from such a motive is of no use. The motive, then, of our sorrow must be supernatural; we must repent of sin either because it has offended the infinite goodness of God, or because by it we have deserved hell or lost Heaven ...

3. Our sorrow must be sovereign. Not that it need be accompanied with tears and positive physical feelings; it is enough if it is a deliberate determination of the will, that one would wish3 he had suffered any positive evil rather than have offended God. Let timid souls who are always troubled at not feeling sense-perceptible sorrow for their sins give their attention. It is enough for them to repent with the will — that is, to be sorry for their sins, preferring to have lost all things rather than to have offended God. St. Teresa has given an excellent method for knowing whether a soul has true sorrow for sin: if one has a sincere purpose to sin no more and would be content to lose all things rather than the grace and friendship of God, let him have confidence; for then there is no doubt that he has true sorrow for his sins.

4. Our sorrow must be universal — extending to all grievous offences offered to God, so that there is no mortal sin that the soul does not hate above all other evils.

I have said mortal sin; for to obtain the pardon of one venial sin it is not necessary to have sorrow for all our venial sins; one venial sin may be forgiven without obtaining pardon of another; to obtain forgiveness of any venial sin it is enough to have sorrow for it.

But whether the sin is mortal or venial, God cannot pardon it unless the soul sincerely repents of it. Let those who confess only venial sins for which they have not sorrow, remember that their confessions are null. So, when they wish to receive absolution, they must have sorrow for at least some of the venial faults that they confess, or must accuse themselves of some sin of their past life for which they are sincerely sorry.

But with regard to mortal sins, it is necessary to have true sorrow for all and a sincere purpose not to commit them again; otherwise none of them (nor any venial sins either) will be remitted; for no mortal sin is pardoned without the infusion of grace into the soul; but this grace cannot exist in the soul along with mortal sin. Therefore, no one can obtain the pardon of one mortal sin without receiving pardon of them all.

The Soul Must Detest and Hate
ALL Mortal Sin

It is related of St. Sebastian the Martyr, that he used to heal diseases by the sign of the cross. One day the Saint went to see Cromatius, who was sick, and promised him health, provided he would burn his idols. Cromatius burned them, except he reserved one of them for which he had a special affection. Thus he did not recover his health and began to complain to the Saint. Then the Saint told him that it was useless to have burned the other idols as long as he kept one of them. It is not enough for the soul to detest some mortal sins. It must detest and hate them all. For a person who has committed several mortal sins, it is not necessary to detest them one by one (that is, reflecting on them separately one by one). It is enough to detest them all with a general sorrow as grievous offences against God. If all be thus detested and deplored, though some sin may have been forgotten, it is forgiven.

5. Our sorrow must be accompanied with the hope of pardon, otherwise it will be like the sorrow of the damned, who are sorry for their sins, not because they are offenses against God, but because they are the cause of their sufferings; but their sorrow is without hope of pardon. Even Judas repented of his treachery. I have, said he, sinned in betraying innocent blood(Mt. 27:4). But because he did not hope for pardon, he hanged himself on a tree and died in despair. Cain also acknowledged that he had sinned in killing his brother Abel; but he despaired of pardon and said, My iniquity is greater than that I may deserve pardon (Gen. 4:13); and therefore he died in a state of damnation. St. Francis de Sales says that the sorrow of true penitents is a sorrow full of peace and consolation; for the more a true penitent grieves for having offended God, the greater his confidence of obtaining pardon and the greater his consolation. Hence St. Bernard used to say, "O Lord! if it is so sweet to weep for Thee, what will it be to rejoice in Thee?"

In order, then, to dispose a soul for the divine pardon in the sacrament of penance, its sorrow must have these five conditions (namely, it must besincere, supernatural, sovereign, universal, and accompanied by a hope of pardon.) It is necessary also to know that sorrow for sin is of two kinds; namely, perfect contrition and imperfect contrition (or attrition).

FOOTNOTES:

2a.

"... onde bisogna che prima di operare deponga il dubbio." That is, one must become reasonably satisfied that the course of action is lawful before undertaking it.

3.

"... sensibilitр positiva; perchщ basta che sia appreziativo colla volanta ... "