Theory and practice of the confessional by Caspar Erich Schieler, Richard Frederick Clarke
17. Properties of the Purpose of Amendment.
The purpose of amendment must have the three following properties: it must be absolute or firm, efficacious, and universal. We shall consider these properties in detail.
The purpose of amendment must, first of all, be firm, answering to the contrition which detests sin above all other evils; so that a man under no circumstances, neither through fear of any evil or love of any good will think of swerving from his resolve. Thus the purpose of amendment is not a velleity, not a mere wish or a vague desire; it must be an absolute, fixed determination never to sin again; otherwise the penitent would not really detest sin nor really and thoroughly turn to God.
The resolution must then be so fixed that the penitent is resolved to overcome all the difficulties which may oppose its execution. The confessor will prudently refrain from placing before the penitent all the difficulties which will have to be faced in keeping the resolution or from revealing to the penitent all his obligations, if the latter be bonafide ignorant of them; " for," says Suarez, " he might expose the penitent to the obvious danger of making no resolution, but rather of sinning again." It is enough, continues the great theologian, if the confessor pictures to the penitent in general terms the hatefulness of sin, the goodness of God, the danger of eternal damnation, etc., and that the penitent in consequence of the exhortation forms a general resolution never to fall again into mortal sin. The advice which Cardinal Cajetan gives to confessors is in much the same strain: They should not, he says, lead their penitents into temptation by their excessive and imprudent zeal in asking whether they are resolved to avoid sin even at the risk of suffering the greatest misfortunes, loss of goods, of health, or even of life itself; for questions of this kind would prove a snare to many penitents. His office should be rather to persuade them, to love God above all things, and in consequence of this love to repent of their sins and avoid them for the future. In this way he will inflame the hearts of his penitents, without leading them into danger.
The celebrated Lugo reminds us of the weakness of the human heart; the confessor is to take this weakness into account in dealing with the penitent, and not put before him singly and explicitly enormous difficulties which he should be ready to overcome rather than commit sin. In another place, treating of penitents given to ambition and sensuality, who have renounced their sins in confession though without great sorrow, but, conquered by the strength of their passion which they have only resisted feebly, have relapsed easily when occasion offered, he says: "Indeed we do not dare to represent clearly in detail the temptations or occasions of sinning which may occur, in order that the penitent may make his resolutions on each point, for there is good reason to fear that he will fail to retract his former sins even in confuso"
It is then sufficient per se that the penitent resolve in confuso to sin no more; a resolution of this kind, however, may be easily defeated by the contemplation of a peculiar difficulty. For this reason the penitent should renew frequently and earnestly his resolution never to sin again; if he do this and also pray, there is reason to hope that he will be victorious in the actual moment of trial. Men of strong will and steadfast heart may put before themselves and contemplate with their eyes open the difficulties in the way of avoiding sin and reforming their lives, and such conduct is helpful in the spiritual struggle, unless the subject be one in which the heart is vehemently carried away or where victory consists in flight. To conjure up difficulties and to review temptations which might disturb weak minds and lead them into danger serves no good purpose and is not to be recommended.