Tuesday, 10 January 2017

The Confessional. Part 54.

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

From the foregoing it is abundantly evident: —

1. That the Jansenists and rigorists are wrong in maintaining that relapse into sin is a sign of a want of purpose. The resolution depends on the present frame of mind which, however strong it is, may easily waver. "The fact of a man sinning again does not prevent his former sorrow from having been real; as a man may be now seated who has been running, so a man may fall into sin who has been truly repentant; the nature of a former act is not changed by a subsequent act." And the Rituale Romanum directs, as of great utility, to advise those who easily relapse into sin to confess often, once a month, or on certain feasts, and also to communicate; it presumes that such people in spite of their relapses have made good confessions; otherwise the penitent would be obliged to repeat his confessions as being invalid every time that he relapsed, which would certainly be opposed to the practice and universal belief of the faithful. If, however, a penitent relapse without any effort to overcome himself, it may be taken as a sign that he had no fixed determination, or there is ground for a suspicion, at least, of its absence; any one who is really determined to avoid sin will not easily forget his purpose; he will resist for some time at least, and will fall less easily and less often.

2. Even if a penitent is conscious of his own weakness and knows that he will relapse in spite of his resolution and in spite of earnest effort, he cannot be considered as giving undoubted signs of weakness of purpose. It is only the rigorists who demand a firm conviction of not falling again.

If, however, a penitent is so afraid that he will fall again, or so convinced that he will repeat his sin as to despair of reforming, he cannot be absolved; not only does he fail in resolution — there is a fair suspicion at least that he has no fixed determination — but he distrusts God's grace which is ever at hand, and, as experience proves, is always efficacious in helping men of good will to overcome difficulties and obstacles. Before giving such a penitent absolution he must be taught the fatal error of his ways, moved to sorrow for his despair, for such despair is sinful, and exhorted to great confidence in God's grace. This is the doctrine of St. Alphonsus, in which, as he himself confesses, he follows Busenbaum, Concina, and Lacroix.

If, finally, the penitent has misgivings from his previous experience of relapses, but not so strong as to deprive him of all confidence, he is not to be classed at once as indisposed; the confessor must persuade him to make a firm resolution against sin and encourage him to have confidence in God's grace. If he succeed in arousing hope in him, and the penitent promise to have recourse to prayer in temptation, it is better to give absolution at once than to put it off. This class of penitents should be encouraged to confess frequently, for there is reason to hope that they have a fixed determination to improve; there is no presumption for the opposite view, since a strong resolution to avoid sin is quite compatible with the fear of a possible relapse.