“Tell souls where they are to look for solace; that is, in the Tribunal of Mercy. There the greatest miracles take place [and] are incessantly repeated. To avail oneself of this miracle, it is not necessary to go on a great pilgrimage or to carry out some external ceremony; it suffices to come with faith to the feet of My representative and to reveal to him one’s misery, and the miracle of Divine Mercy will be fully demonstrated. Were a soul like a decaying corpse so that from a human standpoint, there would be no [hope of] restoration and everything would already be lost, it is not so with God. The miracle of Divine Mercy restores that soul in full.”[i]
These are the words of Jesus Christ, who appeared to a great saint of our times, Sister Mary Faustina Kowalska. Saint Faustina was born in Poland, in 1905. It was her mission to tell you and me the most intimate and heartfelt words of Christ as given to her. She is responsible for spreading devotion to the Divine Mercy of Christ throughout the world. Where do we find a good example of Divine Mercy? The essence of Divine Mercy can be found in the cross.
The time of the crucifixion was the time in history when the most Divine Heart of Jesus most gloriously showed His mercy and love for us. Saint Teresa of the Andes, another 20th century saint, said these words in respect to Christ’s death for us. “How is it that we do not die of love in seeing that God Himself could do no more than shed His divine blood for us, drop by drop?”
But the miracle of Divine Mercy did not stop there. While on the Cross, Jesus Christ gave us His mother. He gave us the Virgin Mary, Queen of the Angels and Saints. She is the only Human being in History who was conceived, lived, and died in perfect union with the Most Holy will of God, neither sinning nor possessing original sin. This is why she is the Queen of Heaven and Earth, and this is why she is such a powerful means of growing closer to God. Saint Thomas Aquinas says of the Mother of God, “As mariners are guided into port by the shining of a star, so Christians are guided to heaven by Mary”[ii]. Christ gave Himself to us on the Cross, and He gave us His most Holy Mother to intercede for us at the throne of God. But this is not all! After He rose from the dead and conquered death, Jesus Christ gave Himself to us in the Catholic Church! The Church guides us in what to believe in faith and morals, and also in proper interpretations of Scripture. Christ also left us with the sacraments: Baptism to make us worthy of entering heaven, Confession to forgive our sins, the Holy Eucharist to nourish us and give us graces; Confirmation to strengthen us to fight for the rights of God and defend them; the Sacrament of Holy Orders and Matrimony to strengthen a God given vocation; and finally the sacrament of Extreme Unction to deliver us through the valley of darkness and into Eternal Life. This is what the Love of God is! The Cross, Mary, the most holy mother of God, The Church and her sacraments! They are all for one purpose, all for one end: the salvation of our souls. God loves you with such intensity that He wants you for Himself. And this wonderful, loving, Almighty God, who has given us so much, is who we reject when we sin.
Saint Teresa of the Andes wrote this startling passage in her diary. “Last night Jesus told me that He was suffering greatly. He reclined on my heart, and there he cried. And I together with Him. ‘A new persecution was beginning against Him,’ He told me, and He said He loved us so much He was unable to live without us.” Jesus, the Son of God, wept again. And so he weeps for you and me every time that we sin against Him. We are all prodigal children who have abandoned our loving Father, and are living for ourselves. Let this be an opportunity for you to turn back towards Christ. He is waiting to run to us as soon as we turn back to Him, and the only way back to Him, after the sacrament of baptism, is in the sacrament of Confession.
What is the Sacrament of Confession? Saint Thomas puts it simply: “In the life of the body a man is sometimes sick, and unless he takes medicine, he will die. Even so in the spiritual life a man is sick on account of sin. For that reason he needs medicine so that he may be restored to health; and this grace is bestowed in the Sacrament of Penance.” Sin is sickness, and the sacrament of penance is the medicine. It is a wonderful analogy. Every person is infected with this sickness of sin. Therefore, we all need to go to confession.
Besides being medicine for our personal remedies, the second reason we need confession is because when we sin, we hurt God, and His life within us. God’s life in the soul is called Sanctifying grace, and we receive this grace at baptism. With sanctifying grace at death, we can enter heaven. But without it, we are eternally damned. In order to confess your sins, we must first understand what sin is. Sin is any offense against the laws of God. As most of you know, there are two types of sin that we can commit: venial sin and mortal sin. Venial sin is a lesser offense against the law of God. Venial sin is offensive against Almighty God, but we do not lose sanctifying grace. Mortal sin on the other hand is a grievous offense against the law of God. When you commit a mortal sin, it mortally wounds your relationship with God, and it extinguishes sanctifying grace from your soul. You lose the life of God, and you are subject to the eternal pains and tortures of hell if you die in this pitiable state.
However, Christ, in His merciful Love, gave to you and me, the sacrament of Confession to heal us, even of the greatest offense against God. There are three conditions that we must meet to make a valid confession. “Three conditions are necessary for Penance: contrition, which is sorrow for sin, together with a purpose of amendment; Confession of sins without any omission; and satisfaction by means of good works.”[iii]
Let us go through the proper steps it takes to make a good Confession. The first step in making a good Confession is examining your conscience; you must recall all of the mortal sins you have committed and the number of times you have committed them since your last confession. Go through each of the 10 commandments, and the 6 precepts of the church, and recall how you have offended against these commandments. If it has been a long time since your last confession, perhaps you should write down your sins so you don’t forget them. If you do not know whether a certain sin is mortal or not, a good resource is https://www.ewtn.com/expert/answers/mortal_versus_venial.htm
Next, you must have sorrow for the sins that you have committed. This is very important, and most people have never been taught that having sorrow for your sins is an absolutely necessary requirement for absolution. If you are not sorry for what you have done, how can you be forgiven? You may ask, how do you stir up true sorrow within yourself? Look at the cross! Reflect on what Christ suffered to win you grace, and to win you Heaven. Again we hear the words of Saint Teresa de Andes, “How is it that we do not die of love in seeing that God Himself could do no more than shed His divine blood for us, drop by drop?” But now you must realize that it is your sins that caused Christ to die upon the Cross. Another effective way to stir up sorrow within yourself is to meditate upon the loss of heaven and the horror of hell that your sins have merited. If you are ever in want of the grace of true sorrow before Confession, first ask the intercession of the Blessed Mother Mary, and then reflect upon the passion of Christ, the pains of hell and the hurt you have caused God by your sins. I have never known a soul who, first asking the intercession of Mary and then reflecting upon these subjects, has not received the grace of true repentance.
The next thing you must do to make a good Confession is having a firm purpose of amendment to never perpetrate the sins that you have committed again. One very important aspect of having a firm purpose of amendment is ridding yourself of the occasions of sin. If you are in a near occasion of sin you must remove that near occasion in order for absolution to take its effect on the soul. If you begin to fall habitually into a certain sin, you must get rid of that occasion in order for your sins to be forgiven. This can get very tricky at times, and it is best to seek the advice of your confessor in these matters.
Next, you must confess all of your mortal sins to a priest without holding anything back, including the sin, the number of times it has been committed and any circumstances that would make the sin more serious. Saint Augustine tells us, “If you excuse yourself in confession, you shut up sin within your soul, and shut out pardon.” Do not fall for this evil and terrible temptation of the devil! Satan will have you hold a certain sin back out of shame. Do not consider it! Open your heart to the priest, the physician, and tell him everything. One aspect of confession that many people find comforting is that confession has a sacred seal, and what is said in the confessional by the sinner stays in the confessional. The best way to describe it is to tell you a story that a priest told me. A priest received a phone call in the middle of the night that someone was seriously ill and needed the last rites. The priest was picked up and escorted into a car by four large Italian men and blindfolded. On the way to where the sick man was the men explained that they were members of a mafia family, and their brother was dying of undisclosed injuries. The priest was escorted into the room of the sick man, his blindfold was removed, and the priest proceeded to hear the man’s confession, anoint him and give him viaticum. When the priest was done, he was escorting out into the hall. Suddenly one of the men took out a gun and put it to the priest’s head. “Tell me what my brother told you in confession,” the man commanded violently. The priest said quietly, “You know I cannot do that.” The man proceeded to put away his gun, thanked the priest for his cooperation, and the priest was dropped off at the rectory without further incident. You see, these hit men knew of the seal of confession. They wanted to know however whether the priest would keep it. Even if threatened by death, the priest cannot divulge what the penitent confessed. If the priest in this story had broken the seal of Confession, and told them what their brother had divulged, the priest would have been immediately shot and thus damned to hell. The seal of Confession exists because when you cross the threshold of the confessional you are no longer abiding by the mercy and justice of man, but the mercy and justice of God. The Mercy of the Lord knows no bounds. “After confession,” says St. Chrysostom, “A crown is given to penitents.”
Finally, we must perform the penance that the priest gives us after we confess our sins, and make reparation for our sins if the course of action so calls for it.
Let us review what we have learned. First, we discussed everything that Christ has given to us. He has given us Himself, through the Cross. He has given us Mary His mother, the Catholic Church, and the Sacraments. He has given us these things to guide us to Heaven. When we sin, we turn our back upon God and everything that He has given to us. However, there is a remedy for our sin which is the sacrament of Confession. In the sacrament of Confession three things are needed in order for it to be valid: confession of sins without holding anything back, true sorrow and a firm purpose of amendment, and finally reparation must be made for the wrong that we have done. If you are in a state of mortal sin, go to confession, and receive the sacrament of penance! Is anything worth risking eternal damnation? For the glory of God and the salvation of souls, Amen.
[i] Diary of Saint Faustina 1448
[ii] Saint Thomas Aquinas, commentary on the Hail Mary
[iii] Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica Tertia Pars