Sadness, confusion, disorientation, darkness, anger and often bitterness—all of these words describe the soul living in the state of mortal sin. In fact Jesus says that sin is slavery. (Jn. 8)
Film: The Mission And Image Of Sin
In the film The Mission, one character, portrayed Robert De Niro, as penance for murdering his brother, is given penance to carry with him a cumbersome ball of his possessions by the Jesuit priest. Wherever this man who committed fratricide went, he had to drag with him on a rope this cumbersome baggage. After having carried out this penance for days and climbing a mountain with it, rising and falling, the priest agrees that he has done sufficient penance. The priest draws close to the sinner and with a sharp knife cuts and severs the baggage and it cascades down all the way to the bottom of the mountain floor—freedom!
This slice from the film The Mission displays in one graphic scene a powerful image of what sin is like in our lives, but also the powerful effects in the soul of the sinner who repents and turns back to God through a good sacramental confession. One of the effects of sin is a binding slavery; it is also like carrying a heavy weight wherever we go. The weight becomes heavier and heavier, almost to the point of being unsupportable. But then comes the transforming moment—a good sacramental Confession. By making this well-prepared, honest and sincere confession the bonds are broken and split asunder and freedom is experienced—the freedom of the sons and daughters of God.
The Year of Mercy and Confession
As we approach the commencement of the Year of Mercy, proclaimed by Pope Francis, which starts on Dec 8th, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and terminates the following year on the Solemnity of Christ the King, the Sacrament of Confession, Reconciliation, Penance, the Sacrament of God’s infinite mercy should be appreciated and received with a limitless trust in His mercy.
Saint Pope John Paul II, Saint Faustina Kowalska, as well as the Angelic Doctor, Saint Thomas Aquinas, unanimously agree that mercy is the greatest attribute in the Heart of Jesus the Savior. Mercy is God’s infinite love forgiving the sinner.
There has been abundant catechism on how to prepare for Confession, booklets on the Ten Commandments as well as books written on the Sacrament of Confession. However, possibly not enough has been said on the many wonderful effects that are produced in the person who makes a good confession. This short article will focus on ten wonderful and uplifting effects that are produced in the soul of the good penitent.
1. Healing. The specific sacramental grace of the Sacrament of Confession is healing. Jesus is the Divine Physician. Sin wounds the soul! What cancer, leprosy, and disease is to the body, sin is to the soul. Every time we make a good confession, Jesus the Divine Physician, with His gentle, tender and loving Hand touches our soul, pours out His Precious Blood and there is a healing. During His Public Life Jesus healed the blind, deaf, mutes, paralytics, and even raised the dead. Still now, through His Mystical Body the Church, Jesus continues to heal His sick members through the priests in the Confessional. It is true Jesus saves us and He heals us! Right now Jesus wants to heal your moral wounds.
2. Freedom from Slavery. As mentioned above in the scene from the movie The Mission, sin is interior slavery. Confession reverses the slavery and communicates true freedom—the freedom of the sons and daughters of God. To break the bonds of our past bad habits, our powerful addictions, our bad impulses and actions we need a powerful remedy. That remedy is direct contact with the Blood of Jesus, poured forth on Calvary that first Good Friday, but applied to every soul that makes a good confession. Instinctively we appall physical slavery and all that this entails. Should we not have an even greater abhorrence and repugnance for the interior slavery of sin and seek freedom as soon as possible? Why not try confession?
3. From Confusion to Peace. Another negative effect of living in sin is a real lack of peace and living in a state of constant confusion. Saint Augustine defines peace as “the tranquility of order.” Sin is total disorder (The tower of Babel within). A good confession results in putting into practice the words of Saint Ignatius as one of the purposes of the Spiritual Exercises—“To order the disordered.” Therefore if you really want to experience a deep peace in the depths of your soul, then why not try to make the best confession in your life? Your disorder will give way to order!
4. Freedom From A Conscience Filled With Guilt. Living with guilt is truly hell on earth! Many can go crazy or be driven to suicide due to a guilty conscience. Lady Macbeth was seen constantly washing her hands. This was an unconscious desire to be freed from the guilt of bloodshed and murder. She could not live with a guilty conscience that turned out to be a moral executioner. For that reason Shakespeare truly asserted: “Conscience does make cowards of all of us.” Could it be that many people have recourse to medicine, to taking pills to try to assuage and suppress the guilt that they are bearing in their consciences? Why not try confession and experience the purity of an innocent conscience? With respect to confession, never forget: it is free of charge. Also there are no negative side-effects that often come about by taking medicine.
5. Joy: Rejoice in the Lord. Saint Thomas Aquinas states that all people feel called to happiness or to experience joy. If we look around us, at work, at school, on the road or freeway, we notice all too often a lusterless, bland, and sad environment. Why is this the case if all are called to live in joy? The reason is this: many are looking for joy in the wrong place. Still, many confuse pleasure with joy. Pleasure can be bought; joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Sin produces sadness in the soul. Only God can give us true joy. For this reason Saint Paul reminds us: “Rejoice in the Lord; I say it again: rejoice in the Lord.”(Phil. 4:4) Our Lady in her powerful hymn of praise, the Magnificat, echoes the same sentiments: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” (Lk. 1:46) Catechists have told me over the years that when the child is waiting to make his first confession he/she is filled with fear and anxiety; then after confession, he/she leaves the confessional radiating joy. Do you want to experience constant joy? Why not make it a habit to go to confession frequently!
6. The Paschal Mystery: From Death To Life. If we have the misfortune of committing a mortal sin we lose the grace of God and His Friendship. However, we should never give in to despair—that is the worse of sins! Like the Prodigal Son we should return to the Home of our loving Father and launch ourselves into His loving arms and He will forgive us. Saint Therese of Lisieux stated boldly that even if she committed all the sins in the world she would run and launch herself into the Father’s arms and trust! The Father’s arms are like an elevator to heaven! The great Saint Augustine, who lived a sinful life into his early thirties, stated that a good confession is a Lazarus experience. If you remember (Saint John chapter 11) Lazarus died and Jesus raised him from the dead and summoned him from the tomb after he was buried for four long days. By making a good confession we are summoned to leave the tomb of our sins and come back to the life of grace!
7. Curative and Preventive Medicine. Confession is like a medicine that heals the wounds of our soul (as mentioned in the first number). However, Confession can serve as a means to prevent future falls. I remember once that I was coming down with a cold, and then a friend suggested that I take a couple of tablets of Airborne, which I did take. What a blessing: the cold that was about to overtake me for probably ten days to two weeks was halted in its tracks! The same can be said of frequent confession. If we commit a mortal sin, then we should run to the confessional as soon as possible. Nonetheless, frequent confession even of venial sins can serve as a remedy to prevent us from falling into spiritual sickness that we call sin! We all know from experience, better to prevent a fall and a break than to heal!
8. An Act of Humility to Crush Your Pride. As a result of Original Sin we are all infected with the Capital Sin of pride and we often are motivated by pride and self-live. Making a good confession can help us to grow in that virtue that is essential for holiness and so pleasing to God: HUMILITY! In the Diary of Mercy Jesus revealed to Saint Faustina the three essential qualities of a good confession: transparency (total sincerity),humility, and then obedience to the Confessor who represents Christ. It is important that when we confess that we do not confess the sins of our husband, neighbor, or others, nor should we rationalize, justify or gloss over our sins. Rather, humility means we tell it exactly as it is. Remember the T.V. Program in the 60’s/70’s Dragnet, where Joe Friday says: “Just the facts ma’am, just the facts ma’am.” This can be applied to a humble confession: “Just the sins ma’am (your sins), just the sins ma’am.” (your sins).
9. Grow in Self-Knowledge. Another huge blessing that flows from well-prepared and well-confessed confession is the increase in self-knowledge. The Greek philosopher Socrates stated: “The life that is not examined is not worth living.” A noteworthy historian interjects: “He who does not know history is condemned to repeat the same errors.”Ignatian spirituality insists constantly on the importance of self-knowledge, knowing oneself, the movement of the spirits in one’s life. Saint Ignatius asserted that one should never leave off ever the daily examen prayer, which is directed at self-knowledge and the awareness of God’s constant presence in our lives. For that reason the desert Fathers had a short but extremely important axiom: know thy self. For that reason a person that examines his conscience well, confesses well, consults the priest-confessor sincerely will definitely grow in self-knowledge. By knowing oneself well—virtues as well as sins—he can avoid falling into many future sins and avoid future tragedies!
10. Fervent and Efficacious Holy Communion. Another exceedingly important effect of a good confession is a more efficacious and fervent Holy Communion. These two Sacraments that we should receive frequently are intimately interconnected! A simple analogy could be useful! Try to imagine your front pane-glass window. You have failed to clean it for more than a year. Consequently, the window has become smeared and sullied by smog, dirt, and simply the polluted environment. So the day has come that you have decided to do house-cleaning and on the list is to clean that front window. You go to the store and buy some Windex—a powerful and efficacious window spray! There you are spraying the window and then with a dry newspaper you rub and rub. What do you notice? The window is as clear as you can see and the sunlight is pouring through the window in its totality! Before the window was half opaque; now it is totally transparent and all of the light of the sun can penetrate and inundate the house! The same can be said with our soul which is like a window pane. Sin sullies, besmirches and dirties the soul. With Confession, the dirty soul is cleansed with the Precious Blood of the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. The soul becomes pure, clean and transparent. Then when the soul receives Jesus in Holy Communion, Jesus who is truly the Light of the world, like an atomic bomb explodes and radiates light. The true Light of His Presence inundates the whole room of the soul. For that reason Jesus said that He is the Light of the world; then He said: “You are the light of the world.” Then the end result of the frequent and worthy reception of these two sacraments is holiness. We are able to obey and to put into practice Jesus’ command: “Be holy as your heavenly Father is holy.”(Mt 5:48)
Saint Pope John Paul II made this comment with respect to Our Lady and the Sacrament of Confession. He said that the Marian Sanctuaries—Lourdes, Fatima, Guadalupe, etc.—are spiritual clinics. In other words we go to Marian Sanctuaries to meet Jesus the Bread of Life in Mass and Holy Communion, but also we meet Jesus who is the healer of our heart, mind and soul. Let us turn to Our Lady whom we invoke as “Mother of Mercy” and “Health of the sick” to help us to live out to the max the year of mercy by having frequent recourse to the Sacrament of Confession, the true expression of the loving and merciful Heart of Jesus!