Tuesday, 29 November 2016

The Confessional. Part 33.

Theory and practice of the confessional by Caspar Erich Schieler, Richard Frederick Clarke

The question now arises whether on other grounds there is a strict obligation of making an act of perfect contrition, for instance, from the consideration of God who has been offended, or for our own interests, since we may die at any moment, and because one who is in a state of mortal sin is but little capable of avoiding other mortal sins.

The following answer may be given: —

1. God might have insisted that the sinner should make good at once after his sin the evil committed, and the injury done to God by mortal sin would be quite motive enough for such legislation. As a matter of fact God does not make any such demand; instead of insisting on His rights, He is long-suffering and permits the sinner to heap offense on offense.

On the other hand, a man cannot remain long in mortal sin without offending God again and once more incurring sin; for it is an insult to the love we owe to God to remain long a slave of the devil and an enemy of God, and such behavior on the part of the sinner makes him guilty of contempt of God's friendship and rights. To incur, however, grievous sin in this way, the neglect to make an act of perfect contrition must have extended over a considerable time. As to what constitutes a considerable time, it is not easy to define a hard-and-fast limit; a period of several years would certainly be considerable, and it would be a grave sin to remain so long a time in the state of mortal sin; but a man who reconciles himself to God within the limits of the time prescribed by the Church for confession would certainly not incur a new sin per se, special circumstances, of course, being excluded which might demand that an act of perfect contrition be made at once.

The possibility of dying before being reconciled to God is certainly a very strong motive to induce a man to consult the safety of his soul and to free it as soon as possible from the state of mortal sin; for at any moment death may surprise a man without warning. If, however, there be no pressing danger of death, that possibility is not sufficient to make delay of reconciliation a new sin; hence one who dies a sudden death may be plunged into hell by sins for which he had not atoned, but he would not be guilty of a new sin by having put off his repentance.

But there is an obligation to avoid putting off for a long time one's conversion, and hence an act of perfect contrition after mortal sin, because a man in the state of mortal sin is in the greatest danger of falling into other mortal sins, since he has not strength enough to vanquish severe temptations and to withstand the violence of his passions, and since, as St. Gregory the Great says, the unrepented mortal sins which burden his soul draw him by their weight into other worse sins. "Without sanctifying grace it is not possible to refrain long from mortal sin," says St. Thomas; the sinner might, if he wished, have the necessary moral strength to overcome temptation and to resist his passions; he might curb them by the divine power of grace; but there is the law of the distribution of God's graces, that God gives only to those who love Him efficacious grace, and while a man persists of his own free will in the state of sin and enmity with God, he equivalently expresses his contempt of grace and so makes himself unworthy of it. As God is ever pouring richer and richer graces on those who make good use of them and cooperate with them, so He withdraws them from those who neglect and resist them. Hence we may adopt the well-founded teaching of St. Alphonsus,  who states that the sinner ought not to put off for longer than a month his reconciliation with God; in other words, that the act of perfect contrition should not be delayed beyond that time. By such delay he would incur a new sin. This subject, moreover, is intimately connected with the duty of eliciting the act of love; for according to a very probable opinion of many theologians, of whom the authority is recognized and approved by St. Alphonsus, we are bound to elicit at least once a month an act of love, because we should keep God's commands either not at all or at least with great difficulty if we failed for so long a time to elicit such an act, and if we were so little solicitous about our duty of loving God. It is impossible to make an act of perfect love without bewailing one's sins by which a God so infinitely worthy of love has been offended. Hence St. Alphonsus in his practical directions to confessors says:  "The duty of making an act of contrition is urgent when one is obliged to make an act of love."

Since the faithful for the most part are ignorant of any obligation of making an act of perfect contrition within a given time after falling into mortal sin, and, therefore, incur no sin by the non-fulfillment of it, the confessor need not trouble himself to make inquiries about it in the past life of his penitents; indeed he may abstain from instructing them on the existence of such obligation. But he should not fail — without, however, mentioning that neglect means a new sin — to urge his penitents by other motives to return to a state of grace, for the future, as quickly as possible after falling into mortal sin, at least by an act of perfect contrition, and, if occasion offer, by going to confession. Sad experience shows that one fall into mortal sin is very soon followed by others.