Everyone needs mercy

The ‘real gift’ of confession

Before you place a foot in that confessional, remember this: God loves you, and his mercy is unconditional.

“The reason that’s so important is because love casts out all fear,” said Father Gary Selin, who teaches future priests at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary how to be confessors. “If we begin by looking at our sins, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the darkness. We need to first see (our sins) in the light of who God is, and it’s in the light of God who loves us.”

It’s understandable, he said, for the faithful to feel fear before the sacrament of reconciliation—fear of admitting a sin, fear of what the priest will say. But, he added, the key to a good confession is to begin with a recognition of God’s love, and calling on the Holy Spirit for light to see failures.

“If we start here then our examination of conscience will always be on firm foundation because it’s focused on our life in him that helps to see how to become love,” Father Selin said. “As a person grows in their confessional experience the Holy Spirit will work with them on a deeper and deeper level. It’s actually quite beautiful.”

He said he teaches seminarians about the Sacred Heart of Jesus and how it’s the symbol of God’s love. The light of his heart symbolizes the understanding of sins given by the Holy Spirit, and the flames of his heart signify how his love burns away sins.

There are many ways to examine one’s conscience, he said. Using the 10 Commandments is a traditional method from the Old Testament, and the Beatitudes from the New Testament is a helpful way for penitents to see how their lives may fall short.

Even without these methods, Father Selin suggested a simple examination that involves asking oneself these questions: “Among the sins that I have committed, which one offends God the most?”; “Which is the easiest for me to commit?”; and “What grace do I now ask from God through this confession?”

In the quest for forgiveness, Father Selin said it’s also important to examine why a sin is committed—if the motives are for reasons of fear or damnation or for sorrow for having offended God.

“We want to look at what we did, but also see why,” he explained. “That helps us see where our heart is. Jesus is the healer in confession when we present our wounds to him, but we also want the medicine provided for us.”

Everyone needs mercy, he said, and frequently over a lifetime. The sacrament of penance is not simply a fire extinguisher used to put out the flames of a big mess. It’s a sacrament available for faithful to use as a way to grow in love of God.

“Our whole lives as Catholics are really about falling head-oveTher-heels in love with God,” Father Selin said. “When we see it in that aspect, confession makes sense. When we start to grow in that, the sacrament of penance is a real gift.”


6 ways to examine your conscience

The tradition of the Church has given faithful Catholics many methods to help prepare for those grace-filled moments of absolution. Below is a helpful guide of some of the top ways to examine one’s conscience before entering the confessional.

1 The 10 Commandments
Faithful have used the 10 Commandments as a thorough way to examine their lives and develop their own conscience.Moses-icon
2 The Beatitudes
In Matthew 5:1-13, Christ proposed a set of guidelines that can be used to examine one’s conscience.
3 The Seven Capital Sins
The capital sins, from which all other sins flow, are usually present in each person in some form: Pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony,
envy and sloth.
4 Sins against the Holy Spirit
In Matthew 12: 31-32, Jesus warns about the sins against
the Holy Spirit.Rom,_Vatikan,_Basilika_St._Peter,_Die_Taube_des_Heiligen_Geistes_(Cathedra_Petri,_Bernini)
5 The Theological Virtues
A look into the failures of living the theological virtues—faith, hope and charity—can give light to areas of potential growth.
6 The Precepts of the Church
The faithful of the Church are also bound to follow its precepts, which give direction to help them toward their eternal salvation.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops www.usccb.org;
The Catholic Education Resource Center www.CatholicEducation.org; CatholicCulture.org; The Gregorian Institute www.thegregorian.org/blog; BeginningCatholic.com; GoodConfession.com; www.FocusEquip.org

“How to Make a Good Confession: A Pocket Guide to Reconciliation
with God” by John Kane;
“The Seven Capital Sins” by Fulton J. Sheen;
“A Primer for Confession” by New Hope Publications

“How to Make a Catholic Confession” by the New Saint Thomas Institute

Smartphone apps
“Laudate”; “iPieta”; and “Confession: A Roman Catholic App”

COMING UP: Collegiality and eucharistic integrity

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

The concept of the “collegiality” of bishops has been sharply contested since the Second Vatican Council debated it in 1962, 1963, and 1964. That discussion was sufficiently contentious that a personal intervention from Pope Paul VI was required to incorporate the concept of episcopal collegiality within the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church in such a way that the pope’s primacy and universal jurisdiction were safeguarded. The debate about collegiality has continued ever since. Now, however, it’s focused more on what kind of collegiality exists within national conferences of bishops. Is it an “affective collegiality” of mutual support and encouragement? Or is episcopal collegiality within bishops’ conferences “effective,” such that a conference has real teaching and legislative authority?  

Whether collegiality is “affective,” “effective,” or some combination of the two, it ought to be clear what truly “collegial” behavior isn’t.   

It isn’t individual bishops attempting end-runs around their national conference, appealing for Roman interventions that would forestall debates that their brother bishops wish to engage. It isn’t bishops trying to browbeat the conference chairman into changing an agenda to suit the tastes of a distinct minority — and misleading their brother bishops as to what they’re about when soliciting support for such a gambit. And it isn’t trying to filibuster a conference meeting so that no action is possible on an agenda item that the great majority of bishops wish to consider and act upon. 

If any of those three maneuvers qualifies as collegial, then “collegiality” has no more meaning than the claim that my poor Baltimore Orioles have a great starting rotation. 

For years now — and by “years,” I mean long before the idea of a “President Biden” entered the stream of national consciousness — the bishops of the United States have been concerned that ours is becoming less of a eucharistic Church than Vatican II called us to be when it taught that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Church’s life. Pope St. John Paul II reaffirmed that conciliar summons when, in his final encyclical, he taught that “the Church draws her life from the Eucharist,” which “recapitulates the heart and mystery of the Church.” Yet all around us we see declining Sunday Mass attendance: a sadness that preceded the pandemic but has been further exacerbated by it.  Moreover, surveys suggest that too many Catholics think of Sunday Mass as essentially a social occasion, rather than an encounter with the living God in which Christ is offered to the Father and is given back to his people in holy communion — a communion in and through the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ, received under the forms of bread and wine.

If the Church lives from the Eucharist and yet the people of the Church don’t participate in the Eucharist as often as they should, or don’t understand what they’re celebrating and receiving when they do, then the Church suffers from a serious eucharistic deficit. Those ordained to leadership in the Church are obliged to do something about that. 

That is why the U.S. bishops have been determined for some time to undertake a comprehensive program of eucharistic education throughout the Church. For the great majority of bishops, that determination has been intensified by the fact that our eucharistic deficit is being compounded by the eucharistic incoherence of public officials who, rejecting authoritative Catholic teaching based on both revelation and reason, nonetheless present themselves for holy communion as if they were in full communion with the Church. The longstanding episcopal failure to address this incoherence exacerbates the eucharistic deficit in American Catholicism by implying that the Church really doesn’t mean what it teaches about the sacred nature of the Eucharist. 

Those suggesting that this is all about “politics” are either ill-informed or deliberately misleading the Church and the gullible parts of the media. Concern for the eucharistic integrity of the Church includes, but goes much deeper than, concerns about the eucharistic incoherence of Catholic public officials who act as if the Church’s settled convictions on the life issues and on worthiness to receive holy communion don’t exist. That is why the U.S. bishops are forging ahead with developing a teaching document that will clarify for the whole Church why we are a Eucharistic community, what the Eucharist truly is, what reception of the Eucharist means, and why everyone in the Church should examine conscience before receiving Christ in the sacrament. 

The wheels of collegiality may grind slowly. In this case, however, they are grinding truly, and for the sake of the Gospel.

George Weigel is an independent columnist whose weekly column is syndicated by the Archdiocese of Denver. The opinions and viewpoints expressed by Mr. Weigel therein are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Archdiocese of Denver or the bishops of Denver.