Friedrich Wessely on Confession IV (2)

(See: introductory poststatic page)

2. Proximate Preparation

a) Examination of Conscience

General Remarks

For many persons examining their conscience is almost a form of torture. They are possessed by the fear that they will not detect all their faults, or they tie their minds into knots trying to weigh the exact degree of gravity of each sin. They do not think themselves able to make a good Confession unless they have attained perfect clarity about their interior state. But what is the point of all this worry? One ought to keep in mind that God alone knows the number and gravity of our sins. It is certainly true that a certain amount of care and concentration is necessary for an examination of conscience, but not more than is necessary for any serious activity. If we ask for God’s help in prayer before the examination, we confident that he will be with us with the assistance of his grace, that our Lord Jesus is as close to us as he once was to the Samaritan woman, whom he gently lead to the knowledge of her sins. Perhaps He does not wish to show me every single sin that I have committed, perhaps the best of Teachers wishes only to show me this or that sin, just as in the letters to the seven Churches in Revelation he showed the leaders of each Church only one thing that displeased Him.


If you notice that you are filled with fear and anxiety during your examination of conscience, then try first to quiet your heart, recollect, let the merciful eyes of God rest on you, and regard your soul as it were with His eyes. It is sufficient to see that which God helps you to see. Determining the number of your sins is less important than realizing that these sins caused Jesus pain, that Jesus silently and lovingly atoned for them. Being able to weigh the gravity of your sins is less important than to offer Our Lord the consolation of your gratitude for His atonement and your firm resolution to serve Him more faithfully. It is more salutary to repent of sin because one sees that it offends God than because one sees it as proof of one’s own misery and weakness. It is more important to pay a creditor, or make arrangements to pay him as soon as possible, than to make a fuss about the fact that one is in debt.

Other persons are filled with reluctance at the attempt to remember past faults, and so they make their examination of conscience very lightly. They confess whatever happens to enter their minds. I am not speaking here of those who are so overburdened by work (a growing problem in our time) that they do not have much time to prepare for Confession. They too make only a brief examination of conscience, and yet it is enough for they have the right intention. God lets them see in a few moments how they have offended Him, and in a few moments they are able to make strong resolutions to serve God more faithfully, and for love of Him to carry their daily burden or the difficulty of living with others more patiently; or they are able by some other method to separate themselves from some fault, refusing it and making some resolve which combats it.

I am not speaking of such people who cannot prepare themselves thoroughly because of a lack of time—rather I am speaking of those who cut their preparation short out of negligence. They wish to confess only sins that they can easily remember, or sins which they merely assume that they have committed without knowing for certain in order to spare themselves the trouble of examination. These people should realize that they offend God very much. They know not how wretched they are; they know not that they are among the lukewarm, even if they confess regularly out of habit or because they are constrained by a religious rule. They do not know what satisfaction they will have to make in the next life if they do not convert. But God is merciful, and waits patiently for their conversion.  He does not condemn them yet, and so neither shall we condemn, rather we shall endeavor to understand how such a lukewarm attitude toward confession arises. Does it arise because these people make their Confession too frequently? Ought we to advise devout souls that a less frequent Confession suffices? Is the rule of our religious houses that requires weekly Confession in need of reform?

This much is certain: those who do not know what to confess after one week will not know any better after a fortnight or a month. Frequent reception is not the cause of a lukewarm and indifferent reception of this sacrament. No, it is a faulty disposition that leads one to neglect the promptings of grace, which would cause one to make good resolutions and to hasten forward swiftly. A faulty disposition slowly renders the soul blind to the true nature of spiritual progress. But when one no longer sees what progress consists in, then one is unable to see the state of one’s own soul; one no longer sees any opportunity for spiritual growth. But once one no longer sees the opportunity for growth one naturally becomes weary and indifferent.

(to be continued)

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