Dear Brothers and Sisters,
One of the traditional themes of Advent is the Last Things, the contemplation of death, judgement, heaven and hell. The Church teaches that immediately after death, the soul of every individual faces its own particular judgment at which instant its eternal destination will be revealed and established: “each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven— through a purification or immediately,—or immediate and everlasting damnation” (Catechism, 1022, 368).
In order to be ready to face with hope one’s own particular judgment at the hour of death, it is essential to prepare for that eventuality by having frequent recourse to the Sacrament of Confession.
Because of the frailty and flaws of human nature, this Sacrament, also known as Penance or the Sacrament of Reconciliation, was given by our Lord to the Church in order that serious sins committed after baptism could be forgiven and sinners reconciled with God and his Church. Jesus said [to his apostles], “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (John 20:21). And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:21–23). Through apostolic succession, the apostles passed down this power to forgive sins to the bishops and priests of the Church who exercise it in the name and stead of Christ.
All mortal sins must be confessed in number and kind. For example, “I sinned against the Third Commandment by deliberately skipping Sunday Mass three times.” What is a mortal sin? It is a grave violation of God’s law, thus it must have serious matter, and the sin must be committed with the full knowledge and consent of the sinner. Mortal sin kills the life of grace in the soul.
All Catholics who have reached the age of reason are required by the law of the Church to confess at least once per year all the grave sins they may have committed since their last confession. This is, of course, a minimal requirement, and the Church strongly recommends frequent use of this Sacrament. In particular, those who are serious about growing in holiness and preparing themselves to enter heaven will go to Confession regularly.
The most fruitful use of the Sacrament will include beforehand a careful examination of one’s conscience in order to honestly and truthfully assess the state of one’s soul in relation to God. One of the best ways to do this is to think about the quality of one’s life, and the sins one may have committed, in light of the Ten Commandments. Also, piously and prayerfully meditating upon the Word of God in Sacred Scripture is an invaluable source of spiritual nourishment and enlightenment, revealing to us God’s will as well as the condition of our relationship with him: “thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105).
Advent calls us to repentance. Those who approach Confession with sincere sorrow for their sins and with a firm purpose of amending their life and doing acts of penance and reparation toward repairing the damage done by their sin, receive not only the grace of forgiveness and reconciliation with God and the Church, but many other salutary spiritual benefits as well. The absolved penitent obtains peace and consolation of mind and heart, as well as the grace needed to avoid sin in the future, and increased holiness and sanctification of life. This Advent, make it a priority to go to Confession!
Fr. Richard Ballard