Necessary Conditions For Penance

11 Nov

“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.”  ~ Thomas Aquinas

One would like to think that there would not have to be a lot of hoops to jump in order to be forgiven.  However, Thomas Aquinas spelled out for us, quite clearly as a matter of fact, that there are certain conditions that need to be met in order for someone to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation worthily:

  1. We have to be sorry for our sins with a firm purpose of amendment
  2. We have to confess all of our sins
  3. We must do our penance

There are times that I sit in the confessional and wonder if all three conditions are being met.  There are definitely times, any priest can tell you, when it feels as if the person is not truly penitent.  The person is stating his or her sin(s) but you get the feeling that (a) they are not really sorry or (b) they are close to bragging.

Sometimes, the person confessing might be truly sorry for his or her sins; but, there is a feeling that the penitent is withholding.  I think it is probably safe to say that we have all done that at one point or another in our lives.  Maybe we did not make a complete confession because we were embarrassed.  Maybe we were frightened.  Maybe we were confused.  Maybe we rushed through it and did not have our mind or heart in it.  Any of those ways, we may have made a less than complete confession.

Finally, we have to make an atonement for our sins.  Aquinas said by good works.  Any kind of penance, done completely, is the same.  Many priests ask the penitent to say prayers for a penance.  That is just as fine.  We just need to want to do our penance because that is final proof, if you will, of our true contrition.

So, going to confession is not quite as simple as popping into the box, saying a few things, and leaving until next time.  Our mind, our heart, and our soul need to be fully engaged in the sacrament in order for it to have any real effect.

FAITH ACTION:  Are there sins burdening your soul?  Resolve to go to confession.  Most parishes hear confessions on Saturdays.