dimanche, août 27, 2006

Ament et cantabunt !

Being the work of God Creation expresses His perfection and His glory. The glorification of God is indeed its first raison d’être and the Scriptures, especially the Psalms, relate that earth and heavens proclaim the glories of God. The canticle of the Three Children, in the Book of Daniel, is a beautiful invitation to all the creatures to sing the glory of their Creator: All works of the Lord, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever. Then all the creatures, one by one, are invited to glorify the Lord; angels and heavens, waters and powers, sun, moon and all the stars, fire and heat, cold and frost, ice and snow, animals and men are asked to unite together for the praise of God.

Now, there is one thing that we have to take into consideration. Every creature glorifies God according to its own nature. So, a stone glorifies God as a stone, a dog as a dog, a flower as a flower and so forth, and of course, it goes without saying that a man glorifies God as a man, or at least, is supposed to glorify Him as a man. I don’t know if you have well realized it, but God has given us a wonderful faculty, which is language, and, let us be more precise, human language.

So, it is with and by our human language that we worship God. This language is not a necessary condition to do this. First, we should be worshipers in spirit and in truth, which involves our soul and its main abilities: intelligence and will. At this point, speech is not necessary. Some people are deprived of this ability, and yet they can be true worshipers. But now, since a human person is a body and a soul, the interior acts of our soul must be manifested externally by our body. Besides, most of the time, we do this naturally and spontaneously. We have just to look at the face of someone to know if he is happy, sad, scared, angry or annoyed. Consequently, our reverence and our adoration for God must be expressed physically by our attitude, our postures and our words. It is the way, for us human beings, to worship God as men. We are neither parrots nor angels and our adoration cannot be satisfied with mental prayers only or vocal prayers only. Speech is our principal natural means of communication, and once again, we worship God according to our nature. It is already true for the private prayer. It is even truer for the public prayer which we call the holy Liturgy according to the definition given by Pope Pius XII. The Liturgy is a public act of adoration offered to God by the Church which is a society composed of men. I am speaking now just about the Church on earth and her liturgy in our present condition.

So, dear brethren, we have to participate in the Liturgy as men, by using our human faculties of expression which are words. They can be said or sung, but they certainly cannot be mumbled, whispered or murmured. In other words, you are asked to speak and to sing clearly by using well the abilities that God has given to you and not by buzzing like a fly or a bee. Flies and bees worship God in their own way; we do in our own way as men.

And I really don’t think I ask you something difficult. In fact it is not me who asks you this, but the Church and with simple good sense. I am even surprised myself that I have to preach on this subject today, but the fact is that we must improve in this parish regarding this matter. Some of you have already made some efforts, and I would like to thank you for trying to make our Liturgy more reverent and more beautiful. And I am sorry to tell you this, but whispers, murmurs and buzzing are not beautiful. You can use them for gossiping or conspiring behind the backs of people, but not for worshiping God, at least now. Maybe, one day, when persecutions will come, it will be necessary to worship God in silence, but it is not yet the time.

God deserves to be worshiped and to be well worshiped. That supposes on our part some efforts which is, in the end, not terribly difficult. Almost everybody can speak clearly and articulate well, and by the way many do it very well 5 seconds before or after Mass in the vestibule, or even sometime during Mass.

Many of you pray the Rosary before and after Mass and this is a good thing. You pray well by speaking clearly during this prayer, so I wonder why you don’t speak clearly during Mass. And I remind you that even though the rosary is a very good prayer recommended by the Church, it is still a private prayer, while Mass is the public prayer of the Church. So, I am glad that you do some efforts to pray the rosary, but you should do more efforts for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The efforts asked are just to speak naturally at the same volume as the priest, as you do during a usual conversation. Only the priest has some prayers that he says in a low voice, because he acts in the name of Jesus Christ, sacrificer and victim. He offers the Sacrifice directly to God for all of you and doesn’t need to speak loudly for this.

Now there are times we do celebrate a true low Mass, which is when the priest celebrates in a low voice the entire Mass. It is a beautiful way to celebrate the Sacrifice of Jesus which is sometimes necessary when for example two or more priests celebrate at the same time in the same church. It is a beautiful way to celebrate Mass, especially when you are in an old XII century church, early the morning, worshiping God under the Romanesque vaults of an ancient abbey sanctified by many generations of monks. There, the stones pray with you and with the awakening nature outside. You can feel the memory of the place and words don’t have to be necessarily expressed. Such a way of celebrating Mass pushes us to contemplation and to raise our souls toward God.

There are other ways to celebrate Mass. High Mass is one of them and is recommended by the Church especially for Sundays and Holy Days of obligation. As for a low Mass, the Church wants the congregation to participate in the Liturgy. Pope Pius XII wrote that the fruits of such participation can only be good if we follow the teaching and the rules of the Church which provide against abuses and errors. It is true and I could experiment with it myself.

I remember especially one occasion among others about 16 years ago. I just had recently discovered the traditional Liturgy of the Church and started to go to Mass after many disappointments due to Novus Ordo Masses not very well said. I found these Masses boring and people didn’t seem to realize what they were doing while they attending them. So, this day in Paris, I could clearly see the difference between a true Catholic Liturgy and another way of worshiping which doesn’t attract many people. The rector of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Montmartre had given authorization to have a benediction of the Most Holy Sacrament one Sunday afternoon after a walk for Life in Paris. It had to be done after the regular Vespers of the Basilica which are in French according to the new Liturgy. Many hundreds of traditionalists arrived for this benediction and I was among them. It was still the Vespers and dozens of people, not very young, were trying to sing the Office in this big Church still full of empty seats. It was not very attractive and I thought it was a quite sad.

Then, came the time for our Liturgy. The church became suddenly filled with many young people carrying banners and singing at the top of their voice traditional canticles such as Lauda Jerusalem, O salutaris Hostias, Tantum ergo and so forth. The difference was amazing and I thought that Tradition is very much alive and will go on in the future because of its enthusiasm, its vitality and its youth. Those of you who went to the pilgrimage of Chartres have probably felt the same thing during the Mass at the Cathedral when 15,000 people sang the Kyrie, Gloria and other canticles.

Unfortunately I don’t feel the same thing here in the parish during our Masses our holy hours and I wonder why. Why they don’t sing here at Saint Francis de Sales? There is certainly a reason, but I don’t know it. Why do people sing when I say Mass at the Cathedral, or in Chatanooga Tenessee or anywhere else in the world, but not at Saint Francis de Sales church? Some of you sing and have made some efforts, but the others? So many of you remain silent or sing so low that we hardly hear them.

Singing and music are something important. They express human feelings and reflect what a society is. Music is rhythm and there is no life without rhythm. There is rhythm in walking, respiration, heartbeats. So nature is full of rhythm. We, as rational creatures, have the ability to make rhythm an art and even a prayer. And it is something very natural. Singing is peculiar to men and a baby know how to sing before he knows how to speak. Any good teacher or good pedagogue would tell you the importance of chant in the education of a child. It helps him to stand in a group or in a society and to form his memory.

I am sure that you all remember at least one song that you sing sometimes. It can be the number one song of the hit-parade of the year you fell in love with your wife, a song that you used to sing at the university or in the army, the song of the soccer world cup or anything else. Well, what about a chant which has marked your faith?

Few years ago, I was director of a summer camp for teenagers in France. The main activity of this camp was music. At the end of the camp, after only three weeks, we gave a concert of sacred baroque music and an opera. Our children were able to sing an entire Sunday Mass with Gregorian chant and polyphony. I remember how funny it was when we went to visit certain places during the camp, such as a medieval village or a navy boat. Our children were singing the Gloria Patri from a Mass by Marc-Antoine Charpentier and I can tell you that we didn’t pass unnoticed. People asked us: who are you? This was an occasion of apostolate for us.

It also happened many times during our summer apostolate in Europe when we would say Mass in the church of various villages. Every time, I saw some inhabitants of these villages who attended our Mass crying. I could her them singing with us the Kyrie and other pieces. They just were so moved to tears by hearing the Mass of their childhood that they haven’t heard for 40 years. But they remember it very well because Faith at this time had really built a culture which was expressed by the Liturgy. You could go in any villages until the Fifties, all the parishioners, who were almost all the inhabitants of the village, knew at least three entire Kyriale and different pieces they could sing during processions, vespers or Holy Hours.

So, dear Brethren, I guess you could understand how much it is important to live our Faith, and not only to live with Faith. That makes a major difference which can be the compost and the ferment of a new Catholic society. Our Faith should impregnate or culture and our society. Singing is a wonderful and powerful vehicle for this, as history and sociology show us.
I will finish with one quotation from Saint Josemaria Escriva Balaguer and a question: “the Church sings because Her speech in insufficient for her prayer. So, you, as a Christian, you must learn liturgical chant and you must sing at the top of your voice.”

In the Benedictine monastery of Flavigny in France, it is written on the floor at the entrance of the church:
Ament et cantabunt! Let them love and they will sing !

So, here is my question: if you love God, why don’t you sing?

mardi, août 22, 2006

Sermon for 11th Sunday after Pentecost

One God's marvel, and not the least:
Saint Paul’s epistle for this Sunday follows and completes what we said last Sunday about the necessity of recognizing God’s gift. A certain false conception of humility can push some people to deny their qualities, which is a denial of themselves and of God. Whether they simulate their humility or whether they are in good faith, they are wrong, and even blameworthy for the first ones.

A truly humble person recognizes himself as he really is, because humility allows us to see the truth. We have the perfect and most beautiful example given by Our Lady when she proclaims her Magnificat. She knows, acknowledges and proclaims that God has regarded her humility and henceforth, has done great things to her. Saint Paul also recognizes his title of apostle. Neither Our Lady nor St. Paul falsely say that they are nothing and are very conscious of their privileges, but they attribute them to God. It seems to be bold, but it is simply truth. Saint Paul says it clearly: “But by the grace of God, I am what I am; and his grace in me has not been void.”

I think we should and we must be more grateful for the graces of God, first by recognizing them and then by using them for His glory. He accomplishes so many marvels in us that we cannot remain mute. The problem is that most of the time we don’t see them. The reason for our blindness is a lack of a spiritual life which prevents us from recognizing God’s work in us. Yet, we are like the deaf and dumb man of the gospel, and one day, Our Lord has opened our ears too, but it was the ears of our soul. We have received the grace of being able to hear God and to proclaim His marvels but for some reasons such laziness or cowardice, we refuse to listen to Him and to proclaim His Gospel.

The day of our Baptism, Jesus told us: “Ephepheta!” Be you opened! Be you opened to my grace and to my voice so that you will be able to recognize me when I visit you. Alas, the ears of our soul, opened by God’s grace can be closed again by our bad will. Then, we don’t recognize the marvels of God and consequently, we consider our religion as a set of rules and laws which soon become a burden. And when we consider this burden too heavy, we finally give up our duties toward God.

Thus, we have been made able to participate in his sacrifice by our Baptism, but instead of uniting ourselves to Jesus on the Cross, we content ourselves with just attending Mass, because it is a duty. Don’t you understand that it should also be, and mainly, an act of love? It happens sometimes that some people complain, because the Mass is too long. They think it is too long, but they are wrong. How long did Jesus remain nailed on the Cross? Probably too long, don’t you think? If only we could understand, as much as we can, and acknowledge what a marvel the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is, such a thought has no place in our minds, and if by chance Satan tempts you in this area, an act of Faith and of Charity can easily reduce the efforts of the tempter to nothing. But in fact, it will not result in nothing but it will instead be a small victory, because a temptation we have overcome allows us to increase our love for God and to strengthen our will.

Sancta sanctis! This old acclamation from eastern liturgy means “ holy things for holy people.” There are different meanings we can find for this sentence, but one is that only holy people are able to recognize holy things. So, if you don’t marvel every day while considering God’s work, it is because you are not holy enough and you cannot recognize His work. God does great things every day, but because you are not opened you cannot see them. And I bet you anything that your life is not so different than the life of pagans and non-believers. Your eternity will probably not be different too.

So, let us turn to Our Lady and pray to her so that she can help us to open our soul to God. Let us learn from her what humility is. Then, God will do great things to us, and first, he will save us!

lundi, août 14, 2006

Sermon for 10th Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Brethren,

Let me ask you a question: is there anything you have that was not given to you by God? Since you all know your catechism, I already hear you saying: “No, of course not!” Now, let me ask you another question: then, why do you act as if it were not given by God?

At this point, you might be not understand what I am saying. Let us be more clear. You have received everything you have from God. Each one of you can draw up a list of your own gifts: your life, your supernatural life, which we call Divine Grace, your natural gifts or talents, your spouse, your family, your home, your car, your daily food etc… In one way or another God is at the origin of whatever you have, even though you don’t necessarily think of it in your day to day lives.

We believe – it is a Catholic truth – that everything comes under God’s government. Consequently, if you have such and such a gift from God, it is because there is a good reason. First, consider your life. You didn’t came to the existence by mere chance, but because God wants this. You don’t have a certain ability or a certain handicap by a kind of whim of fate. You don’t even have a certain material good just because you deserve it or because you worked to obtain it, but also because God allows you to have it. We don’t deny the existence of secondary causes and freedom of will, but we simply recognize that God’s Providence is a reality, as the Church teaches. Once again, everything comes under God’s government or Providence.

So for what reason do you have so many gifts from God? Let me answer by asking another question. Why do you exist? Since you still know your catechism I hear you again answering: “ because God has created us in order to worship Him, to serve Him and to love Him.” So, here you have the answer for the previous question. Everything you have is for the glory of God and I would add, not only every thing you have, but also everything you are, your very being. Nothing is for you! All is for God.

At the light of today’s reading, I see two lessons we can learn from this truth. First, we should be humble like the tax collector of the Gospel. Sins are truly ours and the worst is that we use God’s gift to offend Him with our sins. If you do good, like the Pharisee, then consider that the good you do comes from God and this good is for His glory, not ours.
The second lessons is that there is absolutely no reason to be jealous of the others. Their gifts, their talents and their possessions are for God’s glory. If they use them for this purpose, we should rejoice. If they don’t, we should be sorry and pray for them. But be sure that God gives you what you need. If He gives you more, then be prudent and use this surplus for his glory.

Let us turn to Our Lady and ask her to give us wisdom, so that we can make good use of gifts with humility and gratitude.

mercredi, août 09, 2006

The Art of Confession


The following text is a translation of an article by Father Chery, O.P. Father Henri Charles Chery was a French Dominican priest who wrote many books and articles in the 40’s and 50’s. His writings about the “Christian” sects are particularly interesting. His tracts about Jehovah’s Witnesses, Anabaptists, Quakers, Christian Scientists, Rose Cross and so forth give us much information that can help us to deal with the problems of these sects. Another part of his work concerns the Liturgy.

This article was published in the French review of the Fraternity of Saint Peter, Tu es Petrus, in the issue of July 2005. I want to be most faithful to the original French version. May Our Lady, Refuge of sinners, help us to benefit from the reading of this text for the good of our souls.

Father Laurent Demets, FSSP


These lines are neither for the “great sinner” who comes to Christ to relieve his conscience from a heavy burden, nor for the Catholic of the annual Easter confession. But they may offer some usefulness to the person who has the “habit” of weekly, semi-monthly or monthly confession.

“Habit”: an untainted word if it refers to a commendable regularity or a word sadly blackened if it refers to a mindless routine. Unfortunately, every one knows that a commendable regularity can easily degenerate into thoughtless routine. Most of the penitents are upset by the miserable commonality of their confessions and by the little fruits they bear by them and even sometimes by the little interest the confessor shows in giving exhortation when they come to see him. Many take a dislike to this, then confess just by habit or settle for spacing out their recourse to the Sacrament of Penance in a detrimental manner for their spiritual progress.

Does not this dislike and its consequences come because they don’t know how to confess? There is a manner, an “art” that would make this exercise a profitable way of sanctification. By writing these lines, we think especially about the young people, the young Catholic in action, young families, who try to live an authentic Christianity with a generous effort of sincerity. They are not yet formed in the art of confession, and suffer the threat of becoming hardened. They have a horror of routine and they reject formalities. They are right. But they must know that formality comes by the fault of “the customer”, so to speak, and that it depends on them to keep intact their religious vitality or to let it deteriorate for lack of personal effort.

Rites are bearers of life, but only for the living.

The use of confession, if it is well understood, can be a serious support for growth in the spiritual life.

Warning! Confession is not all; contrition and absolution are more important!

But first, because we are speaking about confession, which is our topic, and only about confession, it is to be carefully noted that it is not the whole of the Sacrament of Penance, or even its main element. This Sacrament comprises regret, confession, absolution and reparation. It is essentially constituted by the absolution, which relieves the fault of a repentant heart. So, if a penitent – on his death bed, for example – is unable to express his confession, the Sacrament can work without this confession, but it cannot work without contrition. God, on his part, can dispense with the Sacrament in the absence of any qualified priest being available, but He cannot save a soul in spite of itself and forgive a sin that one refuses obstinately to regret.

People who think their accusation is the main part should remember this. Let the priest exhort them to contrition and to the means to be used for not falling again in their faults, and yet they seem not to pay close attention to him once their confession is made. Rather, they are distracted by their concern to state any sin they have not yet confessed. If it were a grave fault, it would be normal to express it before leaving, but most of the time, their concern is only about venial sins. One worries about being complete; one should rather worry about being contrite.

Consequently, during the few moments we ordinarily take to prepare ourselves for the following confession, we shouldn’t take all this time for the examination of conscience, but rather to implore the grace from God to obtain a sincere regret of our faults and to express our contrition and our intention to not fall again.

Confess to whom?

To whom will I go to confess?
First answer: to a priest! I use these words on purpose to emphasize that we must attach the prime importance, in the use of the Sacrament of Penance, not to the qualities of the man who hears the confession, but to his quality as Christ’s minister. Because we are lacking in faith, we pay excessive attention to the human value of the confessor, which could be a real and objective one or one that our liking and confidence confer to him. We don’t deny that we have to take this into consideration, but on a level standing on the fringe of the Sacrament, so to speak. It will have a role for the advice following the accusation and preceding the absolution, but the Sacrament is not constituted by the advice and can even be absent of it. The matter corresponds to Christ who holds the forgiveness; the living Christ who acts in His Church. Any priest who has received from the Church the power to validly absolve, acts in persona Christi, in the name of Jesus Christ. He opens for your soul the source of forgiveness, which is the blood of Christ the Redeemer, and he cleans it with this blood.

So penitents are wrong because of a lack of faith, when they defer freeing themselves from a grave sin or postpone indefinitely the confession that would free them from a growing uneasiness ( through purifying the sources of infection that spread ) because “their confessor” is away.

If they had the comprehension of what this Sacrament is, especially in its purifying work independently of the quality of the priest who administers it; if they understood that the priest is, first of all “minister of Christ”, that is: the ear of Christ to listen to the confession, wisdom of Christ to judge, mouth of Christ to pronounce the removal; they would give less importance to the human appearances and would not postpone their confession.

Now it is the time to say why I should confess my sins to a priest instead of contenting myself with a confession directly expressed to God in the depths of my heart. It is because I am a member of the Church.

My fault has offended God and injured myself. It is a breach of the love I owe to my Creator and of the virtuous love I should have for the child of God that I am. But my fault also has damaged the Church, the Mystical Body. “Every soul that rises, raises the world.” Every Christian who demeans himself thwarts the Christian community’s perfection. The most obscure sin wounds the tree of which I am a branch. If I totally break away from this tree by a mortal sin, or if only I separate a little bit, the entire tree suffers. I am responsible to the Church in my vitality, because God has entrusted for me his graces to the Church, the body of Christ. So, I must be responsible to Her to overcome my fault. During the first centuries, this responsibility to the Church appeared more manifestly, when the accusation was publicly done in front of the community. Now the discipline has softened, but it is still in front of the Church that I accuse myself, in the person of the priest who hears me, and it is from the Church I receive the reconciliation by the ministry of the priest who absolves me.

So, I confess to a priest because he is a priest. This doesn’t prevent me from choosing a confessor humanly able to understand me and to advise me. We are not speaking now, because it is not our topic, about what we call (maybe a little bit improperly) “spiritual direction”. Even by strictly remaining on the level of the confession, it is surely better for the progress of the soul, that it habitually uses the same confessor. After a while (provided that one follows the advice given about how to confess) the confessor knows who he deals with. He knows your tendencies and your usual weaknesses. Even though you just have a little to say, he knows what point is good to insist on in his exhortation. You have shown little by little the difficulties you struggle with and your own situation and you don’t risk being led astray by an inopportune remark, by a stranger who may misinterpret your situation. At a difficult time of your life, he can stop you on a slippery slope. Anytime, he can suggest to you the right decisions and free you from your spiritual indifference if you fall asleep.

How will you choose him? First, for his straight sense and his reliable judgment. If it is possible, holy – it is clear – but a stable and discerning priest is always preferable to another of a more fervent life but with a less well-balanced judgment. Don’t forget that he is an adviser and as is the wisdom of the adviser such is the advice. But he is a trainer too and you should want him to be demanding. A soft confessor, who would be content with deluding you with lenient words or with sending you away with the absolution and a general exhortation, would take a risk of letting you wallow in your sins or your serious imperfections. And that’s why you must, if necessary, incite the confessor to this beneficial demand and humbly accept his instructions in the effort to change. You will remember that the first condition you must attain before he can be useful is that you trust him.

You may have the best confessor of your town, but if you don’t frankly confide in him, he can’t do anything for you. So, you will choose one with whom you don’t feel paralyzed by his presence and that you can readily consider as an understanding Father, interested in your case and able to deal with it, open to the realities of life, sure in his diagnosis and with a firm goodness in his advice.

If you don’t find him, don’t be distressed; go to any priest: he has the grace of his state and the Holy Ghost will even use him for your good, provided that you will listen to him.
If you find him, don’t change easily. Even though you remain fully free for another choice, don’t be disconcerted by any impressions, any blows to your pride or any demands. Persevere until there is evident proof that you are making no progress with him, in spite of an honest and constant effort on your part.

Which sins to confess?

I am now near the confessional, starting my examination of conscience. Which sins will I confess?
The question comes up, it is clear, for I would not pretend to accuse all my faults. “For a just man shall fall seven times a day” the Scriptures say. What about me, who is not just? How many sins do I commit every day? To be complete and to totally exact all my sins is an unrealistic dream and besides, useless. I must choose. But what shall I choose?

First, you must say all your mortal sins, of course. Refusing deliberately to accuse one mortal sin, even though you confess some others of the same gravity, would make the confession null and sacrilegious. A mortal sin is an act by which you turn away from God, your ultimate end, by willingly telling Him that it is all the same for you to disobey Him in a serious matter, so that you can satisfy your disorderly tendencies. So, how can you obtain the grace of God if you don’t repudiate a mortal sin, and then if you don’t confess it? You cannot be both in friendship and in hostility with God.
The difficulty, in certain cases, is to know when there is a mortal sin. In theory, everybody knows: grave matter, mindful of the serious wrong and full consent. In practice, we often wonder: was the matter grave? And more often: did I really consent? It is easy to ask your confessor about the first question. For the second one, the fact that this question comes to your mind and you honestly wonder in conscience and the fact that you are not absolutely sure bring the answer: there was not full consent. Does that mean you don’t have to confess this “doubtful” sin, or rather this sin “doubtfully committed?” Certainly not! You can legitimately permit yourself on the basis of doubt to come to the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Strictly speaking, there is no necessity to confess this sin. But if you want to make progress in the spiritual life, you would be wrong to take refuge behind this non-obligation when the doubt is a question in your conscience. Practically, the rule is very simple. You are not required to accuse yourself for having committed a mortal sin, but for having committed such sin or such act.

You can add, if need be: “I don’t know if I have fully consented” and that will be all right. There still will be a time for answering in conscience if the confessor asks you: “Do you think you committed a mortal sin by doing this?”

What about this phrase constantly used by certain people: “I accuse myself as God recognizes me as guilty[1]?” It can be used with good reason when you hesitate over the nature of your guilt, but it seems to be too easy and a little bit hypocritical when you know well, what it is about.
On the other hand, let us say to certain souls, that you don’t have to consider any sin as mortal. A sin that deserves separation from God for eternity and the pains of hell cannot be committed without a clear conscience of it. If your conscience has to be developed, you will ask your confessor for some explanations and you will firmly keep his advice. The development of the conscience should be made during childhood. Hearing children’s confessions, we are stunned by their aptitude for believing that some slight faults are mortal sins. By the way, is there not here a certain responsibility of the educators who should know how to proportion their scolding to the real value of the child’s fault? Anyway, the problem of the development of a child’s conscience should be well examined by parents and usual confessors, because it is dangerous to let children believe in the gravity of a slight fault as well as to let them consider as unimportant an act that is seriously reprehensible. A scrupulous and anxious conscience during childhood later makes an adult weak, apt to fail and without strength of character; or sometimes, as an aftereffect, a teenager who suddenly frees himself from an unbearable constraint.

Mortal or not, it would be better to confess the sins that lay the most heavily on your conscience, rather than slipping them in the middle of a long list of sins of less importance. Doing this you are sure to be freed from faults that otherwise you could fail to say because of a silly fear.

But I would like now to focus particularly on the examination and the accusation of venial sins. Is it not on this matter that most of the penitents accustomed to a frequent confession are the most deficient?
What kind of complaints do we often hear from these penitents? – “Confession bothers me because I always have the same things to say.” Or this, about the confessor: “He doesn’t tell me anything!” Understand: anything out of the ordinary that pushes you to shake yourself.
Well, the cause of these two defects that make confession psychologically tedious is the same: You don’t know how to confess!

How do most of the penitents confess?

Some penitents (only a few) forget that sin is an act and not a state, so they show (or they believe to show) the color of their souls by saying: “I am a liar; I am impatient; etc…” This way of expressing is improper. Saying it like this you indicate a tendency of your soul. But confession is not a statement of your tendencies: It is the accusation of precise actions, which are certainly the results of your tendencies, but different from them as the fruits differ from the tree. You can have a tendency to lie ( be a liar ) and have not told lies for the last two weeks since your last confession. If you have lied, you must say: “I have lied” and not: “I am a liar.”

Now, most of the penitents confess like this: “I have lied, I have lacked charity, I have been lazy, I have been vain, etc…” This form is more correct, but the accusation is hardly better. I mean, hardly profitable for your soul and hardly susceptible of obtaining useful advice from your confessor. Why? Because your confession is neutral. You didn’t need any particular thought and any efforts of resolution to do it. It doesn’t give to your confessor any particular description that permits him to see how your soul is different than the one he has just judged and advised before you. On ten penitents who follow each other, at least nine could show the same list – as a matter of fact, alas, they do!

So, why do you expect your confessor to give you the precise advice you need, advice for you and not for another? Your particular case is not revealed by your confession which gives him no means to grasp an understanding of you. He would need to be a wonderful and intuitive psychologist in order to guess, through this fast series of standard faults and through the screen of the confessional where he cannot see your face, to know what words he should tell you that could reach and encourage you to make the efforts you personally must make. We cannot expect all confessors to be a Curé d’Ars! Normally, a confessor will give you back what you have brought to him.

In addition, if the penitent begins a long listing, in which he wants to be exhaustive, and if he means to tell almost all the venial sins that one can commit – in fact that he has probably committed – so that the listing is said fast and lasts many minutes, then the confessor is totally bogged down and wonders: “Is there anything characteristic in this confession?” Thus, finding nothing particular, he just gives a general exhortation, which is hardly useful. Who’s to blame?

So, how do I confess well?

Let us first emphasize that venial sins are free matter concerning confession. You are not obliged to confess them. An act of contrition well done, a true act of love of God or the use of a sacramental with faith and humility qualify for obtaining forgiveness of them. Therefore, a confession which comprises only venial sins is not necessary for salvation. It is rather a way of sanctification. It is recourse to a Sacrament, by which we are cured and strengthened through the purifying blood of Jesus. It is also, secondarily, an exercise of humility based on the knowledge of yourself and the accusation of what holds up your spiritual progress. So, you are free to choose the venial sins you want to confess among all those you have committed.

Does that mean you will choose the slightest and push into the background the most embarrassing? No! It would be the opposite. A good examination of conscience should cause to emerge from the multitude of your daily sins, those which are the most dangerous for the vitality of your soul, because of their frequency or of their malice. The personal characteristic features of your own sinful soul are not similar to another soul’s, like your face is not similar to another. We all roughly commit the same sins, as we all have a nose, a mouth and ears. So the importance, for you, of such a fault, and the place it takes in your spiritual life and also its nearness to other faults of the same kind, is what compose your face as a sinner. This is what a skillful examination of conscience brings out. It is useless to accumulate a long list of sins in confession: five or six, well chosen, would be enough to see yourself and to show you as you truly are in front of God.

Now comes maybe the most practical remark. You still have to tell your sins with their own reasons and circumstances. “I have lied!” This signifies nothing. Psalm 115 says: Omnis homo mendax – every man is a liar. In what way did you lie? To whom? In what circumstances? Why?
“I have lied to a sick friend who expected my visit, because it annoyed me to do it.” This is a lie with a particular quality. “ I have lied in a salon by claiming that I have some relations which actually I don’t have; I have lied to my superiors in order to obtain a day off which I was not entitled to; I deceived a customer about the quality of my work in order to be paid more...” The simple confession “I have lied” would not give a precise idea of the quality of your sin.
“I have lacked charity” – the most common sin! Why do you use this neutral expression? Say rather: “I have said to someone I don’t like hurtful words, knowing that it would distress him” or “I have despised a classmate not very intelligent” or “I have refused to help a friend who was in need” or “I have made fun of a disabled person.”

There are so many ways to be vain. What about yours? Do you spend too much time for your grooming and dressing? Do you look at yourself in the mirror at every turn? Do you display your talent every time you are in company and try to attract attention by your brilliant conversation?
What about your laziness? How does it show up? By your obstinacy to stay in your bed when it is time to get up? By neglecting your duties and failing to accomplish what you are supposed to do? By your nonchalance in your behavior or an exaggerated love for comfort?

These few examples – we could find more – help us to understand what we mean when we say that you have to confess precise acts with the circumstances in which you have done them. Find the keywords which are the most capable of expressing your fault as it has really been committed by you and not by just anyone. It is for your own benefit. First, because it compels you to see yourself as you truly are; then because it is a salutary humiliation (it is more humiliating to say: “I have spent half an hour a day to make up my face” rather than: “I have been vain.”); and finally because your confessor can see the state of your soul from what you say and can give you suitable advice.

Having said this, you are not invited to chatter. Confessing with precision is not “telling stories.” Confession is not supposed to be drowned in a flow of accounts, explanations and digressions in which the penitent forgets that he confesses his sins and the confessor doesn’t understand what your sins are. Sometimes priests hear a so called confession as a justification or defense; sometimes as an evaluation about someone else; sometimes as a complaining about the hardness of the present time. It is quite legitimate to need to unburden your heart and to receive consolations, or to ask for explanations for your life. But in this case, separate the two matters: do your confession first by just telling your faults; then tell the priest that you have something else to say.

In what manner should I confess?

As we have already said several times, the priority to be valued in the Sacrament of penance is the purification by the blood of Jesus Christ, not the exhortation of the confessor. This purification is obtained by contrition. This truth involves a consequence regarding the manner in which you bring your faults to the tribunal of penance: you don’t have to enumerate your sins, but to confess them.
Every priest who hears confessions is struck every day by a kind of indifference, at least seemingly apparent, displayed by many penitents who state their faults. They enumerate their sins and draw up a list. If it is well done, it seems that they have accomplished what the Church expects from them. Then they just have to receive the absolution and leave freed. The formality is done.
But it is not the case. Nothing is “formality” in the field of religious acts. You don’t have to fulfill the obligation to attend Mass, but to participate in it. Confession is not about a duty you must do, but is essentially a matter of retraction and disavowal of the evil you have done, so that you can be forgiven. It is a matter of love, a matter of heart (i.e. of will). You come to acknowledge you did evil, you lacked the love due to God by refusing to do one of his wills (the will that we must be honest, just, pure, loving etc…) It has to be manifested by the way you tell your sins. Confiteor! (It is recommended to recite “Confiteor” (I confess) before you start your accusation.) “I confess; I recognize; I admit; It is my fault; I am guilty; I beat my chest.” So your accusation has to be along this line. It is not about noting that you have been evil and bringing this fact to the knowledge of the priest. You have to express the regret for having been evil.

Therefore, it would be good to repeat for each fault: “I accuse myself of…” It would be much easier if you accuse only a few sins.[2] It helps to avoid falling into a kind of indifferent coldness through contenting yourself in just relating your sins instead of confessing them.

Is it appropriate to accuse some sins of your past life already forgiven in previous confessions?

As an exercise of humility, this could be good to recognize yourself once again, as guilty of an old sin already forgiven, if this doesn’t bring any trouble to your conscience. A second good reason is that the Sacrament will bring its purifying grace in a special manner to the source of infection from where this sin formerly came, which may not be totally cleansed.

It can also be good, in certain serious occasions of your life (before marriage, before taking vows, during a retreat etc…), to make a general confession regarding the last past year or a longer period. But there is a condition: it should not be done because of a conventional custom, but because you really need it. You must be pushed by an interior necessity, not by the fact that it is a custom, especially during retreats.

Nevertheless, some people may abstain from looking at their past life. These are the scrupulous. The scrupulous persons are sick and their sickness precisely consists of an anxiety which makes them unable to know if they have done something or not, or if they have done something right or wrong in such an action. They want to be sure, and the more they look for certitude, the less they are sure. In the confessional, they want to be sure that they have completely said all or that they honestly have true contrition, but for never being sure, they indefinitely repeat. Indeed, it is an exhausting search which increases their sickness while pretending to soothe it. There is still one way to be cured: obeying the confessor with no discussion. He will give the order to close one’s eyes on the past in an absolute manner.

The firm intention

There is a kind of concern which is not only peculiar to scrupulous people and that even sincere people know. This concern expresses itself as such: “Why do I have to tell this sin? I probably don’t regret it because I know I will commit it again.”
This matter is about the firm intention.

First, let us clearly distinguish: “foreseeing that I will fall again” and “wanting to fall again”.

For sure, a penitent who wants to fall again and who is decided to repeat his fault at the first occasion is not a penitent. He has no contrition. He misuses the Sacrament and deludes himself about the effectiveness of the absolution which cannot clean a sin if its author doesn’t disown it. Thanks be to God, this is not the usual case.
Most of the penitents have a keen feeling of their weakness which is justified by the unfortunate experience of their relapses. They think that their good intention, severely tested once again, will not be more effective than it was previously. And they conclude: “I don’t have contrition!” This is a mistake. They basically call “evil” the evil they have done; they wish they had never done it and would like to be able to avoid it now. So, this is contrition.
In order to forgive us, God does not require that we are sure to not sin again. This certitude would be very similar to presumption. He simply asks us to have the intention to do what we can with the help of His grace to avoid sinning again. Is this our intention? Then we don’t have to fear hypocrisy and insincerity. Our gloomy forecasts should not change our intention. In reality, a gloomy forecast in itself is a sinful mistrust of the grace available in the Sacrament. The sacrament of Penance is really a means to progress, not mainly because of the psychological effort it imposes on us, but rather it applies to our sick soul the expiatory blood of Jesus Christ which is its remedy. Jesus doesn’t only grant his forgiveness by the merits of His Passion, but He also gives us some purifying graces and strength for the struggles we still have to pursue, especially graces regarding the sins we have confessed. We should have confidence in those graces, not in the problematic capacities of resistance of our good will.

So, don’t worry about “tomorrow”. Tomorrow’s grace will be sufficient for tomorrow as long as you keep confidence and continue to pray. Today, you have the grace of today, which is a grace of contrition. Bearing now in your imagination the temptation of tomorrow is bearing a burden for which you do not have help. It is no wonder if it seems to you too heavy and crushing.

This is not the sense of being unconcerned, because the accusation involves a resolution. You will entrust the execution of this resolution to the help of God and you will have to work to keep it. In order to be effective, a resolution must be precise, about such or such sin to avoid, not about all the sins you have confessed. You can even do better by considering, from the experience of the past, the circumstances that may lead to a fall and the occasions which can push you to sin. Then you can focus your resolutions on occasions which you must avoid.

For example, if you know that certain company pushes you to gossip, particular reading lead you to impurity[3], such opening a drawer in your mind revives bitterness or such conversation rouses your anger, then your resolution will be to shun this company, to give up this reading[4], to leave this memory as a closed drawer or to avoid this subject of conversation. Acting this way is considering yourself as you really are. You can succumb in such an occasion while someone else would remain strong. Acting this way, you are not tempting God by putting yourself in danger. Finally, acting this way is being logical with your contrition.

After your accusation of sin, why not guarantee your resolution by submitting it to your confessor? This would help you to keep it better.


If you follow this advice, your confession will no longer be a tedious repetition of “standard” sins and a chore as it too often is. It would rather be one of the most powerful means of sanctification that the Church offers to you. When you go to the tribunal of penance, you will be aware that you go to Christ on the Cross who holds in His crucified hands the forgiveness He obtained for you with His blood. Aware of your misery, particularly since you will more easily understand your daily weaknesses and be confident in God’s mercy, especially since you will beg Him for obtaining the hatred for your sins, you will step into the confessional with the humble disposition of the prodigal son: “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, I am not now worthy to be called thy son.”

This is why you can leave with a new strength, based on a liberating assurance: “ Go in peace my son; thy faith has made thee whole.”
* * *

[1] In French: Je m’en accuse comme Dieu m’en reconnaît coupable.
[2] Remember this advice is for people who confess regularly.
[3] The same remark applies to television which can be a frequent occasion of sin.
[4] Or this TV programme.