Sin, Confess, Repeat

Fr Jack Feehily at PrayTell commented on religious fundamentalism. I was struck by his experience:

I’ve heard and made countless confessions over 42 years, my repentance was often woefully imperfect or even absent … confessing the same sins over and over again. I see this this pattern with great frequency, people hoping that sacramental grace will actually change them with no effort on their part.


I think there are two factors in play with the first sentence. First, that personal repentance (or contrition or sorrow or pricking of conscience) runs the gamut in us human beings from excellent to non-existent and bordering on magicalism. It’s just who and how we are. It doesn’t mean we stop trying.

Second, I’ve certainly been dogged by two or three persistent sins. And I’ve felt discouraged from confessing them or even going to the sacrament. But there are other graces to be experienced in sacramental celebrations–liturgy if you will–aside from the “magic moments.” Often the highlight of a celebration of the Eucharist isn’t Communion or the Word. Sometimes it’s a peripheral like music. Sometimes it’s personal like the expression of someone else’s faith or some Spirit-guided insight far away.

As for the second sentence quoted, my experience in 12 Steps suggests that we must indeed hope for a higher power to change us, because on some things, especially those persistent burrs that stick to us, we have no hope doing it on our own.

On the other hand, Fr Feehily is right: a hopeful penitent really must make an effort. To the extent our sacraments reinforce passivity and resignation instead of impulse and evangelization, they are unreformed relics of a tired age.

My wife and daughter were watching Moonstruck the other night. Aside from the “Snap out of it!” scene, I think Loretta’s confession at 1:03:02-1:04-37 here is my second favorite. The character attempts to tuck a serious sin in between two routine offenses. Her confessor gently rounds things back to the big one. He gives her a routine penance, but how the scene was handled struck me as very Francis-like. “Be careful,” he warns her.

Why would he warn her with such affection and feeling if he didn’t know her well, if he didn’t have an understanding of human nature, and if he had any hint she might well be swirled into something more serious than a full moon overhead?

For me, Penance gives God another chance to say to us, “Be careful!” The choices are ours to make. Over and over. Bad ones, too. But God’s ear is always open, and often, there are graces deep in the sacraments for which we can look. And expect to find.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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6 Responses to Sin, Confess, Repeat

  1. Liam says:

    The Jesuit gift is learning how to discern when the inner voice “but you’re not really sorry and you’re not really going to change” is not a voice of true compunction but, more typically, a voice of the Evil One that is whipsawing you. This was one of the bases for the great disgust Jansenists had for Jesuits. They were more inclined to see it as compunction, and good voice. The Jesuits, the great developers of post-Tridentine confessional praxis, were obviously not, and went one step further by championing the Sacred Heart devotion to match confession with an affirmative devotion and encouraging the reception of Holy Communion.

  2. Liam says:

    PS: Do you think Grahame Greene’s “The Power and The Glory” has become the standard reference for modern Catholic fiction on this issue?

  3. Dick Martin says:

    Your living by worldly fictional guideline if you think you can get anything out of ” The power and the Glory”. The Scripture: John 3:16 states that Jesus Died for the “Whole” World’s SIN. When you accept Jesus you Receive Forgiveness for ALL your sins. He died Once, for All, for Ever.
    Hebrews 10:11-14
    And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.
    But this Man, after He had offered One sacrifice for sins Forever, sat down at the right hand of God,
    from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool.
    For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. So stop struggling with your sin problem. it’s been solved. The bible says there in now NO condemnation who are in Christ Jesus. and that we should have no more consciousness off sin ever again. Romans 8:1 and Hebrews 10:2

    • Liam says:

      Demonstrating for the upteenth time that you do not understand the sacramental theology of most of the Christian world (Catholic, Orthodox and Oriental churches (who together constitute over 70% of Christianity today) and how they understand their practice to be perfectly consonant with Scripture passages you repeatedly spit out, even if you disagree.

  4. Dick Martin says:

    Maybe the reason I don’t understand is because I haven’t fallen for Theology ” What man thinks about God”. Sadly 70% of The Christian world has been taught Man’s traditions. There’s Just enough Scripture to mis-lead those who are told follow Me. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us when we SEEK the truth. Remember that those in authority ; who have taught falsely will receive a greater punishment. It’s best that you become Born Again and then have the true authority to Teach and receive a Greater Reward.

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