Sunday, 27 May 2012

I have sinned.


It was another Saturday morning and Father Ignatius made his way into the confessional and sat there praying silently.

It was one of those old fashioned wooden confessionals consisting of a large cubicle into which he sat and at either side of him there was a little window covered by a thick curtain. On the other side of the window his parishioners would kneel to confess their sins; alternating one on the left and one on the right.

He was half-way through reciting the Hail Mary when he heard two people kneeling at either side of him. He leant to his right and said quietly “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

This was his signal for the person at the other side of the curtain to start his confession.

At first he had two or three young children confessing their usual “I have been naughty … I disobeyed my parents … I forgot to say my evening prayers …” type of sins.

These were then followed by a few adults with more mature sins to confess. Nothing too serious though like murder or robbing a bank; but the usual sins he had heard times before perfectly symbolizing the frailty of human nature and the tendency to fail again and again at the same stumbling block.

It got to the point that, over the years, he got to recognize his parishioners by their voices and he could foretell their litany of sins before they even started speaking.

“Ah … it’s Mrs Salter once again …” he would think, “and here comes that same old sin once more … it’s like going to the doctor for a repeat prescription for the same old ailments!”

He would yet again, gently and with love and sympathy, dispense his words of wisdom before absolving her and mete out a penance.

And Mrs Salter would be followed by Mrs James … and Mr Collins … and so on and so forth … all religiously kneeling beside him confessing, more out of habit rather than determination, the same old sins week in and week out.

He’d fantasized that one day he’d stop one of his parishioners before they started and he’d say, “Now let me guess … you’ve done this and that once again this week … and you’ve also done this …”

Of course, Father Ignatius would never sully the sanctity of the Confession by doing such a thing, but the thought had crossed his mind many a time. Besides, if he did such a thing they’d probably think he was a mind-reader … and that would be worse for his reputation!

One Sunday morning he resolved to address the problem head on; but he had to do it with kindness and diplomacy.

He approached the lectern and said:

“I love ginger marmalade!”

Well … that certainly focused his parishioners’ attention.

“I have ginger marmalade on toast for breakfast every morning,” he continued, “sometimes Mrs Davenport, our kind and very helpful housekeeper, only serves me two slices of toast for breakfast …

“So I wait when she's not looking and sneak into the kitchen for two more slices!”

Mrs Davenport frowned in the front pew as the congregation laughed.

“Mrs Davenport says that I am putting on weight …” said Father Ignatius, “and it’s true that when I stand on the weighing machine it confirms what she says …
“So I have resolved to do something about it …

“From now on, I promise to stop weighing myself!”

The congregation laughed again. The priest waited until they’d settled down before going on.

“You see … ginger marmalade is my weakness. You may call it my sin.

“No matter how much I try … I always weaken and have some more. Sometimes I serve a little bit more marmalade than I need on my plate; and then, having finished the toast, all four slices, I enjoy the extra marmalade by itself …

“But this is not my only sin of course. I confess many others to Father Donald and Monsignor Thomas when he visits here …

“Now I don’t know about you … but I find that I frequently seem to confess the same sins I committed before …

“Just like ginger marmalade … the wily old devil seems to know my weakness and he tricks me yet again into the same sins.

“Do you remember I wonder when the Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman caught committing adultery?

“Now that was a whopper of a sin! Not just an extra spoon of ginger marmalade … was it?”

The congregation laughed.

“And according to Jewish law she had to be stoned to death for that sin,” continued Father Ignatius gently.

“Now we’re told in the Gospel of John that Jesus wrote in the sand with His finger.

“We’re not told what He wrote … I guess He wrote ‘Dear God … will they never learn?’

“But that’s not important … what is important is that after He said let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone … and when they all left one by one … Jesus turned to the woman and asked ‘Is there no one left to condemn you?’

“She said ‘No one …’

“And Jesus replied ‘I do not condemn you either. Go, but do not sin again.’ ”

Father Ignatius paused for a few moments.

“Go, but do not sin again,” he repeated.

“Now Jesus did not mean do not sin any sin whatsoever ever again for the rest of your life …

“He knew that that would be impossible. The woman was human, and it is natural that she would sin again.

“Jesus knows our human nature and He knows that we are liable to sin again and again …

“What Jesus said to the woman is, do not commit that particular sin again … it is serious enough to get you into a lot of trouble with the Pharisees as well as with God Himself.

“And that’s what Jesus is saying to us today …

“He knows we are weak … He knows that we will sin … which is why we have the Holy Sacrament of Confession.

“By saying ‘do not sin again’ Jesus is warning us to beware of those particular sins which are serious enough to lead us into damnation, and into an eternity of exclusion from our Father in Heaven.

“As we prepare for our weekly confession we need to consider carefully the seriousness of our sins. Which ones are ginger marmalade sins; and which ones are grave enough to exclude us from God’s ever lasting love.

“In our propensity to sin, God is loving and caring enough to forgive us again and again.

“But with our confession there should also be remorse and guilt for what we have done. Confession should not be just a laborious recitation of the same old sins; and a futile exercise which serves no one and certainly does not fool God Himself.

“Without true remorse, and a genuine resolve not to repeat our sins; then confession means nothing. And it would be better not to come to confession at all. At least that is honest in the eyes of God."

22 comments:

  1. Victor,

    I read a very good book about confession where the advice was to only confess those venial sins you intended doing something about. We can kneel and confess every little sin we can think of or we can concentrate on a couple of sins that are really bothering us at one time. The author said that it is useless to confess sins we have no intention of fighting. Know our sins, confess our sins, intend not to sin again... Of course, every mortal sin has to be confessed. Would you agree?

    God bless and thank you for another great story!

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  2. I had this same thought at Confession, yesterday, Victor. I had the feeling that I was repeating the same list of sins, week after week. I think God is helping me understand a bit more each time but, still, it makes me question my sincerity when I don't seem to progress beyond these same faults.

    Thank you for the inspiration to do better.

    God bless:-)

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  3. Hello Sue and Vicky,

    Thank you for writing in with your thoughts.

    I really don't know what to think any more about sin and Confessions. Let me be honest here. We sin the same sin again and again because, let's face it, it's pleasurable. We enjoy it. If the sin was not pleasant the devil would leave us alone and go pester someone else.

    Let me confess a sin. (OK ... wait for it).

    I like chocolate. Now ... I've been told time and again that chocolate is not good for me. But I buy it all the same. I "hide" it so that I don't know where it is in the house. I fight the urge, (or is it a need?) to have chocolate. But then the temptation is too much and I remember where it is hidden and voila!

    We agreed as a family NOT to buy chocolate. Or to have someone else hide it for me. This problem has been easily resolved however by me going to the small shop round the corner and buying it, instead of searching the house as a demented dog.

    Now then ... gluttony is a sin. Venial maybe. But it's a chocolate flavoured sin. Should it be confessed or not; as Sue suggests.

    I have no intention of giving up that sin. I can't. I only confess it in the vain hope that the priest will give me a bar of chocolate and send me away. He never does. (He's a bit slow that way!).

    As Vicky says. We confess the same sins over and again. It may be chocolate, or something else more interesting for the priest to hear. But we continue sinning because ... as I said ... it is pleasurable.

    So Sue ... what do we do? Stop confessing altogether? We can't help sinning the same sin over and again so, as your book suggests, do we stop confessing it and keep sinning it?

    I really don't have an answer. Perhaps I should blame it all on the devil for being too persuasive!

    God bless you Sue and Vicky, and your families too.

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  4. I once heard a priest say that the reason we commit the same sins over and over again is that deep down we either don't believe God has forgiven us or we don't know that He has. Well, I am not sure of the truth of that statement but it does give food for thought. Sometimes our head knows we have been forgiven, but it takes our heart a bit longer to catch up. The woman caught in adultery knew to the depths of her soul that she was forgiven.
    The important thing is, that like the saints, we keep getting back up after we stumble or fall, even if it is the same pebble or rock that keeps tripping us up~that's part of what made them saints.
    Happy and Blessed Pentecost, Victor!

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  5. I understand Karinann that God, through the priest in Confession, will have forgiven our sin. And we may well have accepted that forgiveness.

    Yet ... we go and sin it all over again. Why?

    I don't know whether that woman committed adultery again. But I know that many of us do commit the same sin again. It's as if the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

    And God knows that too well.

    God bless.

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  6. Victor, I used to have a similar problem with a sweet tooth and sheer willpower didn't seem to help. The thing that made a difference was to give up sugar and this only came after I read about how addictive it is and how the food companies deliberately add sugar to fuel our addictions (build up sales, etc).

    When I began to see sugar as bad (ie. bad companies exploiting innocent consumers), the pleasure was outweighed by the perception of sin and it wasn't hard to avoid.

    I'm thinking of maybe writing a post about our experience with this as I get a lot of visitors to my sugar-free post so I think there's lots of us out there who have the same concern. Not sure whether that would be useful.

    God bless, Victor:-)

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  7. Victor,
    I have had this problem for years (confessing the same sins over and over). At my old church the priest knew my voice well and one day when I was in the Confessional (Mass was about to start in a few minutes) the priest stopped me during my Confession and said, "If you don't have any mortal sins to confess I'll just absolve you now." I think he knew my all too familiar list of sins and figured he'd kill two birds with one stone - forgive the sins he already knew I was going to confess and get Mass started.

    Like you, I am a chocoholic and like you I stop at a store if I need my fix. Maybe Vicky is on to something here because sheer willpower doesn't work and neither does prayer in this area. For me, at least. I definitely have a sweet tooth!

    God bless you, Victor!

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  8. Thank you Vicky and Mary.

    Yes Vicky ... a post on sugar would be very helpful; and sweet of you to do it.

    Actually, I have not had chocolates since Christmas ... and having said this I am now ready to bite off the table's leg !!!

    Now then Mary. Yes ... we do sin again and again ... I'm talking about venial sins like yours. And your priest was right to forgive you straightaway. So what are we to do ... if we can't stop with the venial sins? Stop confessing them and keep on sinning? Isn't NOT confessing all sins a sin in itself?

    I'm getting confused here when I consider all my venial repeat sins. I ask myself ... what's the point of Confession?

    Thank you Vicky and Mary for getting into this conversation. God bless you both.

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  9. Victor,
    I answered your comment on my blog but I have to say that I get confused about all this too. Added to the fact is that according to the Church all our venial sins are forgiven at Communion :)

    Sorry, I couldn't wait to throw that fact into the mix :)

    Regular Confession is supposed to obtain special graces for us to grow in holiness and conquer sins (or so I was taught). I think it's not confessing all mortal sins that's a sin (just to further confuse us).

    I have a feeling you're less confused than I am about this whole thing, aren't you? I'm missing a piece of the puzzle, right?

    By the way, maybe God likes chocolate too! Who wouldn't after all? St. Catherine had a sweet tooth and she was canonized! Maybe liking chocolate is a sign of future sainthood?

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  10. Hi Mary,

    You ARE adding to the mix. Are you saying that if we take Communion (without Confession) our venial sins are forgiven? This is news to me.

    I knew that not confessing all mortal sins is itself a sin. But most of us don't do mortal sins, (I don't think). We're just basic venial sins people, are we not?

    This is really getting confusing because:

    1 If we only do venial sins.
    2 And we can say sorry to God (and mean it) before Communion and they're forgiven.
    3 And priests get tired of hearing the same venial sins anyway ... they want something more juicy !!!

    This would make people not go to Confession as often, would it not?

    I think we're both missing a bit of the puzzle. And I'm missing chocolate - but I'll resist for a bit longer.

    God bless.

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  11. HI Victor,

    Great post on confession.

    From reading the comments here, I am thinking that it is only by grace that we can give up certain sins.

    I think that confessing a sin often can help us to resist it more. I know that after years of confessing one particular sin, I finally found that I was able to resist it. I also think that confessing the same sin over and over can have an affect on us. I know that my pride wants to go into confession sometime and not confess some particular sin so I do try to resist it more.

    In the act of contrition, we say at the end, I firmly resolve with the help of your grace to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin. Without grace, it is impossible for us to avoid. We really need to believe in that grace that is given through confessing our sins.

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  12. Hello Therese,

    It's great to see you visiting here. Thanx.

    What you say makes sense. If by repeating the same sin in Confession we resolve to do better next time and not have to confess it then it's a step towards overcoming that sin. You make a very good point here.

    God bless.

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  13. Victor
    I had never really stopped and thought about Confession through the eyes of the priest like that. He must be able to predict half our sins without blinking! Maybe that is a good gauge for us ... if our priest knows what we are going to confess before we say it ... we have more work to do!
    God Bless you.

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  14. Victor,
    If we really want to confuse things we can add:

    There are denominations that confess directly to God and their sins are forgiven too. No matter how big the sins are. They teach that once you claim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior that you cannot lose your salvation. I know this because Randy used to belong to one of these denominations. He also once belonged to a denomination where you had to confess your sins before the ENTIRE church. Needless to say, not a whole lot of young people went to church. Randy used to skip church and meet his friends and sneak cigarettes. Added to this, cigarettes meant you were surely going to hell ;) Boys and girls weren't even allowed to swim in the same pool together. Needless to say, I'm sure Randy felt damned before he even half started his life.

    I don't know the answer to all this. have you ever heard of EWTN? Mother Angelica once had a priest on her show who died in a car accident and came back to earth after meeting the Lord. The Lord condemned him to hell for all eternity but Mother Mary stepped in and asked her son to give him one more chance and Jesus did. This priest said he went to Confession regularly but used Confession as "fire insurance" without firm resolve to sin no more. I think the show is available online. It's a powerful story. Have you seen it? They talk about the importance of Confession in this show.

    I saw the questions you put down but don't know the answers. Maybe if people continue to confess the same sins over and over God DOES give them the grace to overcome them. You did say you haven't had chocolate since December, right? Though to be honest, I don't think eating chocolate is really a sin unless one consumed it morning, afternoon, and night, without thought of more nutritious food. The sins I confess over and over are mostly sins against charity. Like losing my temper with my child. The hurt in her eyes crushes me and makes me feel like a worm.

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  15. Here's the link Victor if you are interested -
    http://www.sanctepater.com/2010/05/father-steven-scheier-describes-his.html

    An amazing story! I've watched it a number of times.

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  16. Hi Victor,
    I posted it on my blog. It is one of the things that had a powerful effect on my life.

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  17. Great post and comments.
    Actually our venial sins are forgiven at the penitential rite at Mass, not at communion.
    I was taught to confess the sin most on my mind and then make a general confession. I am sorry for all my sins, for example. Otherwise it becomes like a laundry list and I wonder how that changes our hearts.
    I think we confess the same sins for different reasons. I like Karinann's answer.
    I remember with one sin I kept confessing, I eventually stopped committing that sin. It was like healing for me came in baby steps and then, I was all healed.
    All I know for sure is God loves us and forgives us.
    :)

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  18. Thank you Michael, Mary and Colleen for adding to this discussion.

    I'll follow the link you mention, Mary. Thanx.

    I know there are religions who confess to God direct rather than go via a priest. I can understand and perhaps sympathise with that view.

    At least direct to God does not run the risk that any sin is not taken into account. I mean, how do I know that the priest is listening intently to all my sins and he hasn't fallen asleep with my repeat litany every time I confess.

    Yes, we all have our list of repeat venial sins. And God does forgive us if we're honest enough and genuinely remorseful. But ... and here's the difficult bit ... there surely are some venial sins which we have no intention of giving up. Because, as I said earlier, they are pleasurable and make us feel well.

    Do we give up confessing them? At least that's being honest with God and ourselves.

    God bless you Michael, Mary and Colleen.

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  19. 1. Confessing the same sin over and over is humiliating. We must be humble and sincere if we are to advance in holiness.
    2. There's a big difference between deliberately committing a sin and falling into sin from habit. Even if it's venial, to deliberately sin is saying to God "I don't care what you suffered. I'm going to do what I want to do anyway!" That is a lot more serious than the "oops" we commit because of human weakness.
    3. Every sin has a corresponding virtue we need to build. We have to work on building the virtue while avoiding the occasions of sin. In other words, if people drink until they're blotto, don't buy liquor and don't visit bars. Spend that time doing spiritual reading or visiting the Blessed Sacrament.

    I found when I prayed for help to overcome a particular sin due to my irascible nature, I found myself thinking differently and sinning a lot less. Grace did it.

    4. The stronger our relationship with God, the less attractive deliberate sin is for us. God sometimes allows us to fall into old sins to keep us humble and remind us it is by His power we overcome sin, not ours.

    5. Even though venial sins are forgiven (CCC #1394) through worthy reception of the Holy Eucharist, we need the act of accusing ourselves before God of what we've done wrong, even if it's the same old same old so we won't keep fooling ourselves that even venial sins aren't so bad. BTW, the CCC #s 1423-1424 give a beautiful description of the five names for the Sacrament of Confession.

    I'm glad you gave us this story from Father Ignatius because it made me reach for the CCC and study the sacrament again!

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  20. Thank you Barbara. What a wonderful and comprehensive response to the discussion.

    I like the bit that when we deliberately sin we say to God "I don't care".

    God bless you.

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  21. Hi Victor, there are some great comments here. I guess Barb's second point answers the question. Is it deliberate or falling into sin from habit or weakness (pleasurable or not, I guess).

    Great post and comments. You always make me think and I get to hear other thoughts on the subject. I have to assume the priest in the video was talking about grave sin. Still, I guess it was a great grace for him because it changed his life. The "firm purpose of amendment" has always concerned me, not for mortal sin but for venial, so I'm glad you brought up this topic. It's something I think I'll think about a bit more. I'll try not to hog so much comment space next time (grin). I have a tendency to do that when I'm concerned about certain things and this whole subject is one of them.

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  22. Thank you Mary. Please feel free to comment as much and as often as you wish. You're always welcome here as are all my other readers.

    We learn from each other and discussions turn a post into a learning session for all of us.

    I really wsih more readers were like you and contributed so much. There are a handful who visit and comment here often and I'm always grateful to all for the support and encouragement that you give me.

    God bless you.

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God bless you.

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