Should we go to confession frequently, even when we have not committed any mortal sins?
“Frequent confession” is the practice of receiving the sacrament of penance more than once a year (as required by ecclesiastical law) or even when we do not have mortal sins to confess. This practice, inspired in the Church by the Holy Ghost, is one of the more efficacious means to advance in perfection, for it is a law of the spiritual life that the closer we come to God, the more we realize how far our thoughts, words and deeds stray away from His will for us. The Saints give us a striking example of how a greater holiness of life makes us grow in humility and acknowledge our need of God’s mercy. This growth and acknowledgement is greatly helped by the frequent reception of the sacrament of penance. This is because confession demands that we thoroughly examine our conscience, grow in knowledge of ourselves, regret our sins for what they are—offenses against our loving Father in Heaven—and take responsibility for our actions by confessing them, while at the same time expressing our firm purpose of amendment.
The salutary effects of frequent confession have been taught in many ways by the Saints and great spiritual authors. Pius XII, in his encyclical Mystici Corporis (1943), opposing the opinion of those who say that frequent confession of venial sins is not necessary, while acknowledging that venial sins can be expiated in other ways, states that frequent confession is one of the best means for a rapid progress in virtue. Consequently, he proceeds to describe the fruits to be obtained from it.
St. Francis of Sales encourages us to this practice by summarizing its salutary effects: “By frequent confession, you not only receive absolution from venial sins you confess, but likewise strength to avoid them, light to discern them well, and grace to repair all the damage you may have sustained by them.”
Do we have sufficient contrition when we confess a sin, knowing that, in all likelihood, we will fall again into it?
An important distinction must be made, between “expecting to fall again” and “wanting to fall again”.
Undoubtedly, the penitent who wants to fall again into sin—who is determined to renew his fault at the first possible occasion—is not “penitent.” He does not have any contrition; he does not regret having offended God and is willing and decided to offend Him again. He abuses the sacrament. He may perhaps think that he will receive an efficacious absolution, but he is utterly wrong, for the absolution cannot erase a sin unless it is repudiated by he who committed it, which implies the will not to offend again. But, thank God such extreme cases are not common.
Most penitents sincerely confess their sins, while having at the same time an acute feeling of their weakness, a feeling justified by the unhappy experience of their relapses. They fear—they are almost sure—that their good intention, when tested again, will not be more effective in the future than it was in the past. And they conclude: I do not have the contrition necessary to receive validly the absolution—but they are wrong. Indeed, in confessing their sins they acknowledge them as evil; they wish both to have never committed them and not to fall again into them. In fact, that is a real contrition! To forgive us, God does not demand our certainty that we will not fall again—on our part, such certainty would be presumption, given our fallen nature. He only demands from us the intention of doing what we can, with the promised assistance of His grace, to avoid sinning again.
If the penitents have such an intention, they should not fear any hypocrisy or insincerity on their part. Their dark predictions do not modify the intention they have at present. They must reject having a blameworthy distrust regarding the grace of the sacrament. If the sacrament of penance is a means of spiritual progress, it is not so much by the psychological effort it requires from us—it is because it applies to our sick souls the true remedy, the expiatory and meritorious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus grants us not only the forgiveness that He obtained for us by his Passion, but He also gives us graces of healing and strength for the struggles to come precisely in regard to the sins for which we have sought absolution. Our trust should be put in these graces, not on the problematic capacities of resistance of our good will.
Thus, the penitents should not worry about “tomorrow.” Tomorrow’s grace will suffice for tomorrow, provided that they remain in trust and prayer. For today, they have today’s grace, a grace of contrition. To carry in their imagination the temptation of tomorrow is to carry a burden for which they are not helped now and, therefore, they should not be surprised that it appears to them far too heavy, unavoidable, and overwhelming.
But all this should not be taken as an invitation to negligence or recklessness. Their accusation must be completed by a resolution—a resolution whose fulfillment will be entrusted to the divine aid, but that they will work hard to hold. For it to be efficacious, this resolution must be clear-cut, bearing on a particular sin to avoid, not on the whole of the faults accused, not even usually on several faults. Better still, they should endeavor to foresee, according to past experience, the circumstances that could bring them to the fall, the “occasions” into which, if they put themselves, they are likely to fall. The resolution must be concerned with these occasions to be avoided. They may know that a certain person involves them with gossip, that certain readings lead them to impurity, that a certain topic of conversation excites their anger: the resolution will be to avoid that person, those readings, that topic of conversation…
For penitents to act in this manner is to be realistic, to take themselves as they are: capable of giving way and falling into sin where somebody else would perhaps remain strong and resist the temptation. They take measures not to expose themselves presumptuously to temptation. Nothing of this is inconsistent with their contrition.
From time to time, it would be good to guarantee their resolution by submitting it to the confessor at the end of their accusation. That would certainly help them in better keeping it.
Is there a simple, common-sense answer to the Protestant objection against the Catholic prayer asking for the intercession of the Saints?
Indeed, there is such an answer.
If it is lawful for a man to ask for the prayers of his fellows while they are on this earth, weighed down by all the disabilities attaching to man’s fallen nature, why should it be unlawful to ask the prayers of the same persons when they have won their crowns and entered into the joy of Heaven? If it is an obligation of Christian charity for men to pray for one another, even for their enemies in this world, are we to suppose that this obligation ceases with entrance into the next? If the continual prayer of a just man availeth much (Jas. 5:16), it may be presumed that the prayers of a just man made perfect in Heaven gain much more. In short, if it is lawful to ask for the prayers of a man still affected by the weaknesses of his fallen nature, it is lawful to ask for the prayers of a Saint.
The objection that the invocation of saints and Angels interferes with the office of Christ as sole mediator between God and men is founded on a confusion of ideas. Our Divine Lord is the sole Mediator of redemption between God and man, but everyone who prays for his fellow men, be he a Saint in Heaven or still a sinner upon earth, is in a sense a mediator of intercession, and his prayers are acceptable to God, not through his own merits, but through those of the one Mediator, Jesus Christ. So, far from the invocation of saints detracting from the mediatorship of Christ, the practice adds a greater glory to it.
Therefore, let us, who are engaged in spiritual warfare against the encroaching darkness in this world, constantly call upon the holy Angels and blessed Saints who are now reigning in light and pray with our whole hearts: Holy Angels and Saints of God, pray for us and protect us.