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Lesson 20: Confession (Part 2) BY FATHER ROBERT ALTIER

Posted on 05/02/2006 7:38:26 AM PDT by MILESJESU

Fundamentals of Catholicism by Father Robert Altier

Lesson 20: Confession (Part 2)

We will continue on with the issues regarding confession. The primary issue which we have not addressed yet is the “why” question. Why do we need to confess our sins?

In this vein, people will usually say that they should be able to just lie on their bed and talk to God, and that they do not really need to confess their sins to a priest. Well, first of all, the reason why we need to confess our sins is because God, Who made us human, treats us as human persons. It is just that simple. He made us human and He treats us in a fully human manner, and He wants us to deal with things in a fully human manner. The normal mode of human communication is to speak, and the response is received by hearing the voice of another speaking back to us. Obviously, it would be a different thing for people who are deaf, but that is not the case for the vast majority. For most of us, it is to speak and to hear.

We all know the difference between thinking about something and actually saying it. When you lie on your bed and think about it, you can be as eloquent as possible.

It sounds so smooth and perfect that you could not imagine a better way – until you get up and try to speak it. Then you stumble and stammer. We know how that works, and it is not always as smooth and easy as lying on your bed thinking about it.

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TOPICS: Apologetics; Catholic; Ministry/Outreach; Prayer; Worship
KEYWORDS: confession; fraltier; reconciliation; sacraments; talks
Fundamentals of Catholicism by Father Robert Altier

Lesson 20: Confession (Part 2)

We will continue on with the issues regarding confession. The primary issue which we have not addressed yet is the “why” question. Why do we need to confess our sins?

In this vein, people will usually say that they should be able to just lie on their bed and talk to God, and that they do not really need to confess their sins to a priest. Well, first of all, the reason why we need to confess our sins is because God, Who made us human, treats us as human persons. It is just that simple. He made us human and He treats us in a fully human manner, and He wants us to deal with things in a fully human manner. The normal mode of human communication is to speak, and the response is received by hearing the voice of another speaking back to us. Obviously, it would be a different thing for people who are deaf, but that is not the case for the vast majority. For most of us, it is to speak and to hear.

We all know the difference between thinking about something and actually saying it. When you lie on your bed and think about it, you can be as eloquent as possible. It sounds so smooth and perfect that you could not imagine a better way – until you get up and try to speak it. Then you stumble and stammer. We know how that works, and it is not always as smooth and easy as lying on your bed thinking about it.

Also, anybody who has been to confession has experienced that point of having the weight removed. For those of you who are thinking about converting, this is something you have not yet experienced, but you will. It does not matter how many times you lie on your bed and think about it, how many times you tell God you are sorry, the fact is that when you walk out of the confessional it almost feels like you could float. It feels like a 50-pound backpack has just been taken off of your shoulders, and now you can sail along. Something is clearly different from having actually confessed it. The feeling of floating is rare, but this usually happens if it is your first confession or if you have been away for many years.

Remember that Jesus gave to His apostles the ability to forgive sin, and we cannot forgive something that we do not know. If you just come up and say, “Father, forgive me,” what did you do that I have to forgive? If you do not tell me something, there is nothing to forgive. The priest needs to know what it is. If you did something that was very hurtful to your spouse, do you think it would be acceptable if you went and laid on your bed for a while and thought about it? “Yes, I’m really sorry that I offended my wife. She should be happy about that now. I’m taken care of because I laid here and thought about it.” It is not going to be enough. Anybody who has been in that situation knows that. You have to apologize. And it is not enough, as we all know from experience, for somebody to say, “Oh, yeah, sorry.” You did not mean it. “Well, I said I’m sorry.” But you obviously did not mean it. We have all experienced that, somebody who is just going through the motions but does not mean it. We need to intend it. We need to mean it from the heart. It is not just a matter of going through the motions; it is a matter of digging in, looking into our hearts, and truly being repentant for what we have done.

The same thing can be thought of with regard to other sacraments. Can we desire to be members of the Church, but do nothing about it? Is it enough to lie on your bed and say, “I’d really like to be baptized. Good enough, I am now.” No, you have to be baptized. It is not enough to think about it. If you want to get married, is it enough to lie on your bed and think about making marriage vows? No. How many times does a couple dream about that before they get married? But they know that until they actually make the vows they are not married. You can think about the vows for months beforehand, but until they actually come out of your mouth at the right moment it is not valid. The same is true with regard to confession.

We can even tell other people what we have done, but they do not have the authority to give us absolution. Until it comes out in the right context, the sins are not gone. Modern psychology also tells us that the human person has an absolute psychological need to tell someone else what he or she has done. It is a necessity according to psychology. You remember all those programs the police started, like Crimestoppers and so on? That is why they did it. Because the police know that for every single crime that has been committed, there are at least two people who know about it: the criminal and the person they have talked to about it. The police know you have a need to tell someone else what you have done; you cannot just keep it in. The word psychology means “the study of the soul.” Do you think that the One Who created your soul knows what it needs? He knows that we need to confess our sins. It is a human need. Again, He deals with us as human people. We have a need to tell someone what we have done, and we have a need to hear we are forgiven and to know we are still accepted and acceptable regardless of what it is that we have done.

If you think about it, people are paying psychologists a couple of hundred dollars an hour to sit in their office and tell them their sins, and they walk out with all of their sins still on their soul because the psychologist has no authority to forgive them. Well, Americans do like a bargain, so we have the best one in the world: There is no charge in the confessional. You can come in, confess your sins, and they are forgiven – for free. All it costs is a little bit of your pride. You have to humble yourself and come in and confess your sins. That is all it takes. You do not have to pay $150 dollars an hour to do it, and you walk out without your sins anymore. It is the best bargain in the world.

We need to talk about what forgiveness means also. When we talk about God forgiving us, we are not talking about sweeping our sins under the rug only to be dealt with at some later time. When God forgives our sins, they are destroyed. They are gone forever. You will never ever hear from God about that sin again – even on the Day of Judgment. If you bring the sins to God, He does not have to bring them to you. They are gone. Whatever you hold bound on earth will be held bound in heaven, and whatever you forgive on earth will be forgiven in heaven. It is gone. He literally removes them from your soul and they exist no longer.

We need to make a clear distinction between the sin and the effects of the sin. The sin is gone, the effects remain. If you have ever broken your arm, you put a cast on your arm and it is there for six weeks. When you take the cast off, your arm is about one and a half inches around, and it is very weak and tender. But the doctor says that the bone is healed, and so it is. Now you have to build it back up. You have to strengthen and develop that arm again with therapy so it works right. The same idea is true with regard to what we do with sin. When we go to confession, the sin is forgiven and it is gone, but the effects remain. Part of the effect is that we are weak in the area where we have sinned, and we are going to have memories of the things we have done. That causes a lot of trouble for people. They look at the temptations and they look a their memories, and they think, “My sin must not be forgiven because I’m still having all these troubles with it. I’m having temptations and the memories and all these things, so the sin must still be there.” No, that is part of the effect of sin, not the sin itself. The effect of the sin still remains, all of the hurt that we have caused to ourselves, all the weaknesses that are inherent within due to the sin, but the sin itself is gone. The only reason God will ever bring it to you is if there is some aspect of this sin that still needs to be addressed spiritually, but the sin itself is taken care of.

One of the tricks of the devil, and it works very well, is that he tries to shame you with it. He brings things up in front of you and says, “Look at what you did. You rotten thing, you, look at this sin! Can you believe you are such a disgusting creature as to do something like this?” Then we start falling into the self-pity and all the other stuff. Do not play his game. The thing to do is very simple; just say, “I have already confessed it and God has forgiven me.” If it has not been confessed, then say, “Thank you for bringing that to my attention. I will confess it next time I go to confession.” Either way, you pull the rug out from underneath him. In the first one, you are acknowledging that you did it. What he wants is for you to either say, “I never did it,” or to say, “God hasn’t forgiven me.” So you are acknowledging both: “I have already confessed it and God has forgiven me.” I always like to add: “You lose, Satan.” You do not have to do that if you do not want to, but it is the truth. With the other one, it pulls the rug out from under him. He is trying to shame you with something, so if you stick it right back in his face and say, “Thank you. I will confess that as soon as I can,” what is he going to do? His attempt to shame you has failed because you took it and made it into something positive instead of the negative thing that he wanted to do with it. That is the way to handle it.

Do not play his game. The more we play around with the devil, the worse trouble we get ourselves into. So recognize how he works and tell him to get lost. Since his name is Lucifer, I like to call him “Loser-fer” because he is the ultimate loser. He has chosen against God and he is spending eternity in hell. That is what a loser is all about. As Mother Teresa said, the only ones who are a success in this life are the ones who succeed in getting to heaven, and the only ones who are a failure in this life are the ones who fail to get to heaven. It does not matter if you die with ten billion dollars. If you go to hell, what difference does it make? What profit is there for a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul in the process? What good does it do? The only thing that matters is getting to heaven, so do not play footsie with the devil. It does not do us any good at all.

This point with regard to forgiveness (in case there is any concern on your part that maybe God does not really forget) is that when He forgives, He forgets. We do not tend to do that, but God does. The sin is gone. When He looks at your soul, He does not see the sin because it is not there anymore. God knows everything. It is not that He does not know what you did, but it is a matter that when He looks at you, He sees a pure soul. The beauty of what happens in confession is that your sins are gone.

There is a story of St. Claude de la Colombiere, the spiritual director to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. At this time of this story, he was not yet her spiritual director. St. Margaret Mary is the one to whom Jesus appeared in the apparitions of the Sacred Heart, and He said to her, “These things are going to be happening to you, so you need to have a spiritual director, somebody who is going to help you through this.” He told her that He wanted her to go up the street and talk to Father Claude de la Colombiere and that he was to be her spiritual director. Well, Father Claude was no dummy. She comes trooping in and says that Jesus appeared to her and that Father Claude was supposed to be her spiritual director. He did not go for that idea too well. All you have to do is ask yourself what you would think if your next-door neighbor came over and said, “Guess what, Jesus appeared to me!” You would probably say, “Sure He did. Uh-huh.” You are going to be skeptical; at least I hope you are. St. Margaret Mary was rather insistent, and so finally after a while he said, “Fine. If Jesus appears to you again, ask Him what my last mortal sin was. If you can tell me my last mortal sin, then I will be your spiritual director.” So she went off, and sure enough Our Lord appeared to her. You can only imagine the conversation, but she got her answer and she went back to Father de la Colombiere. He asked, “Did Jesus appear to you?” “Yes, He did.” “Did you ask Him what my last mortal sin was?” “Yes, I did.” “What was His answer?” “When I asked what your last mortal sin was, Jesus looked at me and said, ‘I don’t remember.’” And so Father Claude said, “I’ll be your spiritual director.” He had confessed his sin and it was gone, so when Jesus looked at his soul, it was not there and He could say, “I don’t remember.”

That is what God does. God is merciful; He does not hold this over your head. God is not up there looking for something to condemn you with. He is there to look for the means to forgive you. He loves you. He is your Father. He is not looking for a way to club you over the head or cause you difficulty. He wants you to be reconciled with Him, and He wants you to go to heaven. For those of you who are parents, if the day ever comes when you have a rebellious teenage kid and you have to kick them out of the house, what do you do? First of all, it just about destroys you to have to do it. Secondly, you continue to pray for that kid and keep looking and waiting for the day when that kid is going to come home. The door is always open, provided that the kid is going to get his act together. You are not going to say, “Good. Come back in and keep doing your drugs. Keep doing immoral things. You can live here.” No, that is why you kicked them out in the first place. But if they are willing to get their act together, the door is always open.

That is what we see precisely in the story of the Prodigal Son. You look at that story and there is so much there. It is just packed with all kinds of stuff. In the ancient world of Israel, that kid went off, squandered his father’s property, went off with the pagans, and was doing the worst possible thing. Pigs were considered the most unclean creature on the face of the earth, and here he is with the pigs. By law, when he came back, the townspeople should have gone out and stoned him to death. But his father saw him coming and he ran out to meet him and put his arms around him, which was a statement to the entire town which said, “Keep your hands off my kid. I’m letting him back into my house. Don’t stone him to death.” Jesus is trying to tell us that that is the mercy God is doing. He is watching for us to come home. He wants us to come back far more than we want to come back.

In that same story, Jesus says, “When finally he came to his senses…” That is exactly the reality. When we finally come to our senses and say, “The servants in my Father’s house are doing better than me! I need to go back, and I need to tell him, ‘Father, I’ve sinned against heaven and against you.’” Notice in the story that father does not stop the kid. He lets the kid tell him what he did. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you, and I no longer deserve to be called your son. Treat me as one of your servants.” Only after he had made his confession did the father say, “Quick! Bring out shoes and a ring. Put a nice coat on him,” and all the other stuff. The son had to confess his sin. The father did not cut him off at the beginning and say, “Forget it. Don’t worry about that. Let’s just get you back in here.” He had to confess what he did, and then he was reconciled. That is what Jesus wants us to understand, the mercy of God Who is looking for us to come home, Who wants us reconciled with Him infinitely more than we even want to be reconciled with Him. He is going to give us the grace to be able to come back, but we still have to cooperate.

It is not enough to say, “Well, God wants me to be reconciled; He should do it,” anymore than you as parents can say, “I want my kid to come back home. Therefore, let’s just take him in even though he’s still doing all the things that we kicked him out for.” No. There has to be a change. There has to be a recognition that what they have been doing is wrong and a change in life. That is what parents are going to require. God is the best of all fathers, so He is going to require it too. That is what He is looking for. He is waiting for us to come home; He will take care of the rest. The only thing we have to do is humble ourselves, get down on our knees, and confess our sins. That is all. God will do everything else if we are willing to do that one thing.

When you think about it, what He is asking of us is pretty small by comparison to what He is willing to give. He will do it all, just like a parent. “Come in. Here’s your bedroom. Dinner is at six. Everything is available to you in the house. Welcome back to the family.” That is what God is going to do for us. He will take care of everything as long as we are willing to come back, and He will wait very patiently for us. So that is the way to think about this.

Another thing with regard to forgiveness, as I have mentioned, the priest is there to forgive, not to withhold forgiveness. And there is the point where sometimes you do have to withhold it. There is a story, supposedly a true story but I cannot verify it, about a priest in the confessional. It was a small town so he knew all the people there, could recognize their voices, and so on. A man came into confession and confessed his sins, and the priest gave him absolution. It was a serious sin. Then a couple of weeks later, the man came back and confessed the same sin. As this went on, the priest said, “You keep confessing this same sin, and it is a mortal sin. I don’t think you’re really sorry for it. If you come in and confess this again, I’m not going to give you absolution.” Sure enough, a couple of weeks later the same guy is in the confessional, confesses his sin, and the priest says, “I warned you last time. I’m not going to give you absolution.” The man says, “Father, I truly am sorry. I hate this sin. I don’t want to do it again. I’m weak and I fell. I’m sorry.” The priest gave him absolution but said, “Now I’m warning you: this is the last time. If you ever come back with this, I am not going to give you absolution. Period.” A couple of weeks later, the same guy is back in the confessional with the same sin. So the priest says, “I’m not giving you absolution.” And the man says, “But, Father, please. I really am sorry.” The priest says, “No. I’ve warned you, and I’m not doing it. I’m not giving you absolution.” The priest sat back and he heard the sound of weeping. He assumed it was the man on the other side, so he moved his ear closer to the screen and realized that the sound was not coming from the other side. As he listened for where the weeping was coming from, he realized it was coming from the door on his confessional where a crucifix was hanging. He looked at the crucifix, and the arm on the crucifix rather than being up was down by the Lord’s side, and the sound of weeping was coming from the crucifix. Then the priest heard the words: “When you die for this man’s sins, then you can decide whether or not he can be forgiven. Give him absolution.”

That is how much Jesus wants to forgive us. It is why He died. He wants to forgive us far more than we even want to be forgiven. There is not anything lacking on His side. We do not need to be afraid. That is why I am going through all this, to help you understand that there is no reason to be afraid. Just come to the Lord and be forgiven.

We have to understand that whenever we sin, we sin not only against the other person and against ourselves, but we also sin against God and against His Church. This is because we are made in the image of God and we are all members of the Church. As members of the Church, we are all members of the one Body of Christ. As Our Lord said, whatever we do to the least of our brothers, we do to Him. For this reason, we have to ask forgiveness not only from the person against whom we have committed the sin, but also from God and the Church. This is done through the representative of both God and the Church, that is, the priest in the confessional.

In the confessional, the priest literally stands in the person of Christ, but it is the Lord Himself who is at work. We will talk more about that in a subsequent lesson when we look at Holy Orders. As a man, I have no authority to forgive sin any more than any male who is here today has the authority to forgive sin. As a priest, on the other hand, I have the authority of Jesus Christ. The priest actually stands in the very person of Jesus Christ, so it is the Lord working through the priest to forgive the sin. It is the Lord Himself Who is doing it. As the Pharisees asked, “Who can forgive sin but God Himself?” It is God Who is doing it, but He is doing it in a way that we are being treated with the fullness of our human dignity. He is not asking us to do anything bizarre.

Remember the story of Namaan the Syrian when he came to Elisha the prophet, and Elisha said, “Go down to the Jordan and plunge in seven times.” Namaan got angry and said, “The waters of my own country are better than this. I could have done that there.” His servants came and reasoned with him and said, “If the prophet had asked you to do something extraordinary, you would have done it. He asked you to do something simple – do it.” God is not asking us to do anything extraordinary. He is asking us to do something very simple, simple in the sense that the process is simple. Actually doing it can be nerve wracking for some, but the process of it is very simple. If it were something extraordinary that we had to do, we would do it. But when it is simple, we think, “This doesn’t seem right.” But it is, because the Lord is not asking us to do something that is going to violate us in any way. He wants to deal with us in our humanness, to confess what we have done and hear that we are forgiven.

It is so beautiful that we can know absolutely that our sins are forgiven. This is one of the differences between Catholics and Protestants. For a Protestant, they can hope that their sins are forgiven. As they lie on their beds and talk to God, they can only hope they have enough repentance that He would forgive their sins. For a Catholic, when you go to confession and confess your sins and hear the words of absolution, you can have absolute knowledge that your sins are gone. What a beautiful thing this is because all we have to do is think about how may people throughout time have had difficulty with this whole idea of being forgiven. Even though they have heard the words of absolution, they still struggle with it. Imagine if you did not have that certainty. Imagine if it was up to you to wonder, “Did I have enough contrition to be able to be forgiven?” You would examine it over and over and over again. Why? All it is going to do is lead to scrupulosity. We can have that absolute knowledge and peace of mind.

We talked about how in the sacraments everything is objective. We can look at it and ask, “Was there the right matter, the right form, and the right intention?” The matter for confession is sin. You have to confess a sin. If somebody comes in and confesses a bunch of stuff that is not sin, then we still have to ask them to confess a past sin, Even though it has already been forgiven, they need to confess something that is a sin. They are confessing a bunch of weird stuff that has nothing to do with sin. There has to be sin. And the form is the words of absolution, ultimately: I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. There is a prayer of absolution, but those are actually the words of absolution. And the intention is the intention of the priest to give you absolution. So you have to have the right disposition, as we have already seen. If you are not truly sorry for your sin, if you do not want to amend your life, then even if I have the right intention, if you do not have the right disposition, you still would not be forgiven. But as long as the disposition is there and you have honestly confessed your sins and are truly repentant for them, then you can walk away knowing they are gone and that they are not going to be heard of ever again.

Our Lord told us that anything which is hidden in the darkness will be exposed in the light. This means that if there is an area of sin in our lives that we have not dealt with as of yet, some area that we know about that we are trying on purpose to keep hidden for whatever reason, we are going to have to deal with it. We will not be able to skirt around it, and we will not stand before the Lord one day and think we are going to explain it to Him. There is not going to be any explaining on that day. He will tell us what we did and why we did it. What was your intention? He knows exactly why. We have our choice: We can deal with it now or we can deal with it later. Later means at the judgment. If we bring it to the light, the Lord will not have to do so. But if we choose to keep it hidden, then He will expose it in the light, and He Himself is the light. If we bring it to Him now, it means forgiveness and mercy. If we wait until the Day of Judgment, there is no forgiveness. You can only be forgiven in this life, so if we wait until the judgment we are in trouble. If we bring it to Him now and we are truly repentant for what we have done, then we have the forgiveness of our sins. They are gone and we are free.

Remember too that the priest can say nothing about what happened in the confessional. If he ever says anything about your sins, he will be automatically excommunicated. At the moment it comes out of his mouth, he is automatically excommunicated from the Church. Not only is his priesthood stripped, but he is not a Catholic anymore. That is how seriously the Church takes this. And the priests take it very seriously. On one level, I am horrified; and, on another level, I am kind of excited about some of the stupidity that is going on right now in the United States because you have five states right now trying to make it mandatory that if a priest hears about child abuse in the confessional he has to report it. In the state of Minnesota, that is the only exception written into the law. Any professional must report child abuse within 24 hours– except a Catholic priest in the confessional. It is written into the law because they know we are not going to talk. The exciting part is that some priests might actually have the privilege of being able to go to prison for this particular purpose. It might sound a little weird for me to talk that way, but the fact is if we get persecuted for doing God’s will that is a great gift.

There are priests throughout history who have been persecuted for this, priests who have even lost their lives for it. Saint John Nepomucene, for instance, was killed because he was the confessor to the queen, and the queen was apparently a rather holy lady and went to confession regularly. The king, on the other hand, was not such a good guy, and he assumed that if his wife was going to confession regularly it must be because she was doing something really bad on a regular basis. He thought she was probably committing adultery or something like that, and so he called St. John Nepomucene aside and asked what it was all about. Of course, St. John would not talk. The king promised him all kinds of things and he still would not talk. Finally, the king told him, “If you don’t tell me, I’m going to have you killed,” and he still would not talk. So he was put to death because he would not talk. There are priests who have gone to prison because of these things.

I remember that Alfred Hitchcock movie about the priest who was framed in the confessional. It was based on a true story. It was a priest in France, and the man who was actually the murderer was an employee of the parish. There was some special collection that they had, and a lady had offered to take the money to the bank. As she took off to the bank, this man took one of the knives from the dining room, which apparently had been a gift to the priest and had his initials engraved on it, and killed the woman. Then he came to confession. He still had blood on him, and some of the blood on his clothes and hands dripped onto the priest’s cassock. It was not a confessional with an entirely closed wall; the screen part was closed, but underneath was open. So they found the murder instrument, which had the priest’s initials on it, there was blood from this woman on the priest’s cassock, and he could not talk because what he knew about the murder he knew from the confessional. The priest went to prison, and the man who murdered the woman took the money and went to Argentina. Some years later, his conscience caught up to him and he came back to France and confessed his sin. He confessed to the police, and they let the priest go, but the priest had spent approximately ten years in prison for murder prior to this man actually confessing what happened. That is how seriously the Church takes the seal of the confessional. So you do not have to worry about the priest talking about your sins and blabbing them all over the place. It is not a problem.

Now just a few things with regard to the history of confession. When confession started out, there were public confessions. That lasted a bit. And there were public penances for some things. If you would commit murder, fornication, or apostasy, there were public penances that had to be done for those kinds of sins. People could actually figure out what your sin was, even if you did not confess it publicly, but initially it was public confession. Needless to say, that did not work too well. People are people and they like to gossip. If somebody confessed that they committed adultery, for instance, they would say, “Well, I saw Mr. Jones with Mrs. Smith last week. I bet that’s who it was!” Then the gossip starts, which is a sin all by itself. Anyway, that changed and then you had to confess to the bishop because he was the head of the local Church. He represented the Church; therefore, that was who you confessed to. As things continued to grow within the Church, things became a little too much for just the bishop to hear all the sins, so then that authority was granted to the priests. The priest only has authority to hear confession as long as the bishop has extended it to him. The bishop can take that back anytime because he is the one who has the authority as the successor of the apostles. The priest only has the authority as long as the bishop has given him the authority or the faculties to do it.

Then it was that the priest could hear the confession, but only the bishop could give absolution, and the absolution would be given only after the penance was completed. Some of the penances were very hefty. If you ever go to Mount Sinai, my favorite penance of all is a stairway that is 600 steps high carved into the side of the mountain. That was a penance one of the monks had to do. I have always wondered what he did, in case anybody ever confessed that sin then I would know what penance to give them! Imagine how long it would take. It is interesting when you go up there. The steps start probably about 10 or 12 feet wide, and as you get to the top they are only about 3 feet wide. You know how human beings are, we start out rather generous and then we get less so as we get to the top. And they also get very high as you get to the top, so you are taking these huge steps. Obviously the monk wanted to finish his penance. But there is a monk who did not learn a lesson from the first one, because on the back side of the mountain there is another stairway about 300 steps long, so somebody else did something stupid too. But that was not the norm for most of these things. Most often you would have to beg for alms at the church door and things like that.

That is also where indulgences got started. We hear about the unfortunate things that happened with indulgences around the time of Martin Luther. When Luther was complaining about the selling of indulgences, he was absolutely right. The Church has never approved the selling of indulgences. That was an abuse which worked in and the Church condemned it. But that was happening at the time of Martin Luther, and he was right to say that was wrong. Indulgences are actually the merits of Jesus and Mary and the saints that are beyond what was necessary for them to be able to get to heaven, and that the Church looks at as being the treasury entrusted to Her to extend to others. Our Lord condemned the Pharisees for binding heavy loads to put on other people’s shoulders and not lifting a finger to help them, so the Church was looking at some of the penances people were given, penances that might take fifty years. “Beg for alms every Sunday at the church door for the next 50 years,” well, that could be a bit of a problem, especially if somebody is about 60 years old. They might not be able to finish it in their lifetime. So the idea of the indulgence was to reduce the time of your penance.

As penances got smaller, the Church realized that you can also offer that indulgence for a soul who is in purgatory. You cannot transfer it to another living person on earth, but you can give it to a soul in purgatory. You either take off the temporal punishment due to your own sin, or it can be given to a soul in purgatory to remove some of the temporal punishment from their sin. If you look in some of the old prayer books, they will give you particular indulgences, 300 days or 1 year or 5 years or 10 years or whatever it might be. The new legislation on this is that there are two types of indulgences. There are plenary indulgences and there are partial indulgences. The idea is that the Church is going to leave it up to God to decide how much the person has really earned by what they have done. For instance, in the old books the Salve Regina had a ten-year indulgence attached to it. The Salve Regina is the Hail, Holy Queen. If you really tried hard, you could probably crank that off in far less than 30 seconds. Well, have you really earned 10 years’ worth of an indulgence for doing that? You probably added a bunch of time to your purgatory for doing that rather than it winding up the other way around. So the Church looks at it and says, “If you prayed it well, maybe you earned more than 10 years. And if you prayed it rather poorly, maybe it took 10 minutes off.” We will leave it to God to say that if it is a partial indulgence the Lord will take care of it.

For a plenary indulgence, there are several conditions. First of all, you have to do whatever is required for a plenary indulgence. There are many ways that a person can get a plenary indulgence. By the way, you can earn one plenary indulgence per day. You can do whatever is required every day and offer that for a soul in purgatory. Secondly, you have to go to confession eight days either side of when you do the work for the plenary indulgence. You have to go to Communion eight days either side. And you have to be detached from every aspect of every sin that you have ever committed.

That is the hard part; that is the catch. In other words, how can you have all of the temporal punishment due to sin removed if you are still hanging onto something of the sin? What does that mean? If you think back to when somebody did something particularly nasty to you and you got even (and you got even good), if you get a little smirk on your face you are still attached to the sin. You are not truly sorry for what you have done because you think it is kind of funny that you did it. That is hanging onto something of the sin. You have to be detached from every aspect of every sin that you have committed. You can still get a pretty hefty partial indulgence, obviously, if you do not get a plenary one. At any rate, go for it. Aim high. See if you can get a plenary indulgence as often as you can. There is no sense in letting those opportunities go.

By the way, the screen in the confessional was put in at the time of the Protestant Reformation. Originally they would take two chairs and put them in front of the Blessed Sacrament, right in front of the tabernacle, and that is where you would make your confession: right in front of Jesus. But at the time of the reformation, there were some people who would accuse priests of things in confession. For instance, they would wait for a time when nobody was in the church and then get a woman to accuse the priest of doing something. So the screen was actually put in to protect the priest instead of the penitent. With time, the Church said, “You know, this works pretty well for the anonymity of the penitent.” At this point, the anonymity of the penitent is guaranteed.

You do not have to go face-to-face; in fact, no one can force you to go face-to-face. The Church teaches that the only time you can go face-to-face is if both the priest and the penitent agree that is the way they are going to do it. If you say to me, “I want to go face-to-face,” and I say, “No, we’re going to go in the confessional behind the screen,” that is what it has to be. If I say, “Do you want to go face-to-face,” and you say, “No, I want to go to confession behind the screen,” then that is the way it has to be. Both have to agree to go face-to-face before it can happen. The screen comes in handy for that purpose, not to mention it saves a lot of time. The average face-to-face confession takes 3-5 times longer than confessions behind the screen because people tend to try to explain everything. You can see somebody’s face and so you talk.

But remember that you are not there to explain the sins; you are there to confess them. Confess them humbly and honestly. I told you earlier that people do some funny things in the confessional. They will speak clearly but suddenly get this little problem with their voice when it comes time to actually say what the sins are. They try to skirt around them. Or sometimes they will say, “I got angry at my kids, I yelled once at my wife, I was driving recklessly, I committed adultery, and…” They try to sneak the major sin in as if you are not going to hear it. “Excuse me, what was that one in the middle there?” Most people, when they confess their sins, either put the worst things first or wait and put the worst things last. Most people do not try to get sneaky about it, but every once in a while you get these people who do. Again, we have heard it all, so do not worry about it. Just be humble and honest and confess your sins and be forgiven.

I need to tell you also that as a Catholic you have a right to to confess your sins to any priest in the world. However, I would personally recommend that you find a priest with whom you feel comfortable and make that priest your regular confessor. The priest does not even need to know who you are. But what will happen is that you will know what to expect from him and a spiritual relationship can develop beyond the mere formalities of the confessional. In other words, he can start to notice the pattern of the sins and give you more concrete direction. If you skip around and go to different priests every time, all that is happening is that you are getting your sins forgiven.

But some people shop around to see if they can find a Father Groovy somewhere who will tell them that their sins are okay. That comes in oftentimes with contraception. Some of these priests do some very unfortunate things. They will say, “You’ve already got a couple of kids; you’re open to life. It’s okay if you contracept now.” No, no, no. They are confused. Sometimes they say these things like they did back in the 60s and 70s: “Oh, just follow your conscience.” It implies that you have a well-formed conscience and you know what the truth is. But this is not about living in this “If it feels good, do it” society. That is not what this is about.

If you have a regular confessor, it helps because you know what to expect. I personally will not go to a priest that I do not know well because I want to know what to expect from him. I do not want someone who is going to make a mountain out of a molehill, nor do I want somebone who is going to make a molehill out of a mountain. If I have committed a sin, I want him to tell me it is a sin. If it not a sin, I want him to tell me it is not a sin. I do not want somebody who will get goofy on me and give me all kinds of stupid stuff. I want somebody who will be straightforward and tell me the truth and believes in the sacrament. That is my recommendation to you. You can do it any way you want. If you want to hop on an airplane and fly across the world to a pilgrimage place and go to confession there just in case some priest locally might recognize your voice and say, “Oh, you’re the one who came to confession with me eight years ago. I know that.” Even though that is not going to happen, some people have those kinds of fears. If you want to hop on a plane and go someplace, that is your right. You can go halfway across town. You can go to a different parish every week. You can do it however you choose to do it. But my recommendation is that you find a priest and make him your regular confessor.

There is also a grave abuse going on called “general absolution.” General absolution is when you come to church and do not confess your sins and the priest simply tries to give you absolution. They usually have some songs, a homily, and Scripture readings, things like that, but there is no confession. That is invalid. Your sins are not forgiven. That is there as a valid form only for cases of emergency. In fact, Canon Law says in case of grave necessity. Those are the words that are there: grave necessity. Traditionally, that means you are on the Titanic and it is going down, or you are on a plane and it is going down. The priest does not have time to hear people’s confessions at that point, so he gives them absolution. If you happen to live through the emergency, you still have to go to individual confession and confess your sins, but for that moment the intent is that you would confess your sins if you had an opportunity. The priest will give you absolution so that if you die you are going to be fine. If you live, then you must get to confession. The bishops of the United States got together a number of years ago and asked the question: What does grave necessity mean in the United States? And they determined that it means 30 days of being deprived of the sacraments because of an inability to see a priest. Well, we have 220 parishes in the Twin Cities. There is nobody who could not get to a priest within 30 days. So there is no reason to have general absolution in this diocese or anywhere around us, for all that matters. In fact, the tragic thing is that for some of these people they drive right past five or six churches in order to get to a general absolution service. And we have all kinds of different terms for it: Minute Wash, McPenance, or whatever you want to call it. It is a grave abuse and it is a violation.

The priest in the confessional is called the physician of souls. What if the doctor came out and saw a waiting room full of patients and said, “Just take an aspirin and go home”? You would be upset: “You didn’t hear what my problem was, you didn’t diagnose my situation, and you didn’t deal with me individually. Maybe I didn’t need to just take an aspirin and go home.” The same is true in the confessional and even more so because it is your soul, which is infinitely more valuable than the body. The priest is the physician of souls and he needs to hear what your ailment is; he needs to be able to deal with it directly. If you know of anybody who is going to general absolution, let them know that their sins are not forgiven. The Church is very clear: If you go two times in a row without individual confession in between, your sins are not forgiven. Besides that, you must have the intention when you go to general absolution to confess your sins. If there is not any intention to confess your sins as soon as you reasonably can, your sins are not forgiven at all. Most of those people are not being told that and they do not know. They are running around and their sins are not forgiven. They need to get to confession.

And it is a grave sin on the part of the priest. This is just my own opinion on the matter, so take it only as that, but I personally think that God will be merciful to the people because they do not know. If the priest does not tell them, it is not the people’s fault. My way of looking at is that God in His mercy will forgive all of those people, but the priest gets all of their sins because he is not willing to sit there and listen to their confessions. He thinks this is going to be the easy way out. Well, all of their sins go back to him. I have enough of my own sins to deal with; I do not need all of yours too. It is not good for either party to try to do these things skirting around the issue. We need to be able to confess our sins.

One thing that people oftentimes say is, “Oh, poor Father, he is so busy. He doesn’t have time. I hate to bother him with my sins.” It may be true that the priest is busy, but there are actually very few opportunities that a priest has to exercise his priesthood. For instance, teaching this catechism class I am not exercising my priesthood; I am not operating as a priest per se. Anybody who would have this knowledge could stand up here and teach this class. You do not need to be a priest to do this. The only time a priest gets to exercise his priesthood is when he is performing the sacraments, when he is baptizing someone, when he is saying Mass, when he is absolving people in the confessional, and so on. Really, it is a great privilege for the priest. He does not always see it that way, but it truly is a great privilege for the priest to be able to exercise his priesthood. So do not feel sorry for him. If you have a legitimate request to have your confession heard, the priest has an obligation to hear it even if he does not seem too terribly enthused.

With that said, I should also point out that you should not show up two minutes before Mass and say, “Can I go to confession?” He is preparing for Mass at that point and it is not a good thing to do. If you come ten minutes before Mass and ask, that is one thing, but if it is two minutes before Mass starts, that is not good. Also, one of my pet peeves: Do not show up right at the time confession is scheduled to end. People will do that. I think they are hoping the priest will be gone so they will not have to go to confession. Get there with plenty of time for you and everybody in your party to go to confession before it is scheduled to end. It is one of those frustrating things. Confessions here are scheduled to end at 9 p.m. and I oftentimes hear more confessions after 9 p.m. than I did in the half hour before it was 9 p.m. People come in 15-20 minutes after confessions were scheduled to end, and it is very uncharitable. So arrive at a reasonable time and get your confession taken care of before it is scheduled to end.

One last thing: How often should you go to confession? The Church teaches that you have to go to Communion once a year during the Easter season, and if you have a mortal sin on your soul you must go to confession prior to receiving Communion. If you have committed a mortal sin you cannot receive Communion until it has been forgiven in the confessional. You must receive Communion once a year; therefore, you have to go to confession if you have a mortal sin before you receive the Holy Eucharist that one time. However, I would recommend much more frequent confession than that. At least go quarterly. In business, you have to keep your books at least quarterly. The least we can do is keep our souls that way. Personally, I could not tell you what I was doing three months ago. I have no idea. If I had to confess what I did three months ago, I could not tell you. Therefore, I would recommend confession even much more frequent than quarterly.

I tell people to watch the small things. Rather than saying you need to go every week or every two weeks or whatever, watch the little things. We all have them. Maybe you start shooting off your mouth, maybe you notice you are getting more frustrated or more angry, maybe more anxious, whatever it might be. After you go to confession, you will notice that you do not have a problem with that. But then as time goes on, you start noticing that you are getting a little snippy or you are shooting off your mouth a little too much. That is when you know you have gone a little too long. If it is after six weeks and that starts to happen, then go every five weeks. Catch it before you start having trouble. For some of us, we would hardly be out of the confessional before we had trouble; but for the most part, that is not going to be the case. Usually we can make it for a while before we start running into trouble. That is my recommendation. As I said earlier, do not wait until you commit a mortal sin to go to confession, otherwise you will. Do not do that to yourself. Get to confession regularly. It is a great help to the spiritual life. If you want to grow spiritually, confession needs to be a regular part of your life. So look at how often you need to go and make it a regular thing. The more you go, the easier it gets, by the way. It is a good thing for you all around.

The Lord be with you. May the blessing of Almighty God, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, descend upon you and remain with you forever. Amen.

[End of Lesson 20]

1 posted on 05/02/2006 7:38:31 AM PDT by MILESJESU
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To: Canticle_of_Deborah; sandyeggo; Siobhan; Lady In Blue; NYer; Pyro7480; livius; ...

Lesson 20: Confession (Part 2) BY FATHER ROBERT ALTIER PING!


2 posted on 05/02/2006 7:43:57 AM PDT by MILESJESU (JESUS, THE DIVINE MERCY I TRUST IN YOU.)
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To: All
1)Fundamentals of Catholicism by Father Robert Altier Lesson 1: The Unity of God

2)Fundamentals of Catholicism by Father Robert Altier Lesson 2: The Most Holy Trinity

3)Lesson 3: God’s Creation of the World

4)Lesson 4: Creation of the Human Person and Original Sin

5)Lesson 5: Jesus Christ – God and Man (Part 1) BY FATHER ROBERT ALTIER

6)Lesson 6: Jesus Christ – God and Man (Part 2) BY FATHER ROBERT ALTIER

7)Fundamentals of Catholicism by Father Robert Altier Lesson 7: Mary (Part 1)

8)Fundamentals of Catholicism by Father Robert Altier Lesson 8: Mary (Part 2)

9)Fundamentals of Catholicism by Father Robert Altier Lesson 9: The Church (Part 1)

10)Fundamentals of Catholicism by Father Robert Altier Lesson 10: The Church (Part 2)

11)Fundamentals of Catholicism by Father Robert Altier Lesson 11: Divine Revelation (Part 1)

12)Fundamentals of Catholicism by Father Robert Altier Lesson 12: Divine Revelation (Part 2)

13)Lesson 13: Grace and the Divine Life (Part 1)

14)Lesson 14: Grace and the Divine Life (Part 2)


16)Lesson 16: Baptism, Confirmation, and Anointing of the Sick

17)Lesson 17: The Eucharist (Part 1) BY FATHER ROBERT ALTIER

18)Lesson 18: The Eucharist (Part 2) BY FATHER ROBERT ALTIER

19)Lesson 19: Confession (Part 1) BY FATHER ALTIER

3 posted on 05/02/2006 8:10:09 AM PDT by MILESJESU (JESUS, THE DIVINE MERCY I TRUST IN YOU.)
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To: All

Lesson 20: Confession (Part 2) BY FATHER ROBERT ALTIER BUMP

4 posted on 05/02/2006 9:42:14 AM PDT by MILESJESU (JESUS, THE DIVINE MERCY I TRUST IN YOU.)
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To: All


5 posted on 05/02/2006 3:02:37 PM PDT by MILESJESU (JESUS, THE DIVINE MERCY I TRUST IN YOU.)
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To: All


6 posted on 05/03/2006 8:22:34 AM PDT by MILESJESU (JESUS, THE DIVINE MERCY I TRUST IN YOU.)
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