How to make a good Confession

June 30, 2021 • 7 min

From Introduction to the Devout Life, page 81
By St. Francis de Sales

Chapter XIX.

On Holy Confession

Our Saviour has left the holy sacrament of penance and confession to his Church, that in it we may cleanse ourselves from all our iniquities, as often as we should be defiled by them. Never suffer your heart, then, Philothea, to remain long affected with sin, since you have so easy a remedy at hand. A soul which has consented to sin ought to conceive a horror of herself, and cleanse herself as quickly as possible, out of the respect she ought to bear to the Divine Majesty, who incessantly beholds her. Alas! why should we die a spiritual death, when we have so sovereign a remedy at hand?

Confess yourself humbly and devoutly once every week, and always, if possible, before you communicate, even though your conscience should not reproach you with the guilt of mortal sin: for by confession you not only receive absolution from the venial sins you confess, but likewise strength to avoid them, light to discern them well, and grace to repair all the damage you may have sustained by them. You will also practise the virtues of humility, obedience, sincerity, charity; nay, in a word, in this one act of confession you can exercise more virtues than in any other whatsoever.

Conceive always a sincere sorrow for the sins you confess, be they ever so small, with a firm resolution never to commit them for the time to come. Many who confess their venial sins merely out of custom, and for the sake of order, without any thought of amendment, continue, on that account, during their whole lifetime under the guilt of them, and thus lose several spiritual advantages. If, then, you confess that you have told a small falsehood, spoken some disorderly words, or have played excessively, repent, and form a determined resolution to amend; for it is an abuse to confess any kind of sin, whether mortal or venial, without a will to be delivered therefrom, since confession was instituted for no other end.

Make none of those superfluous accusations, viz., I have not loved God so much as I ought; I have not prayed with as much devotion as I ought; I have not cherished my neighbour as I ought; I have not received the sacraments with as great reverence as I ought, &c. &c.; for in speaking thus you will say nothing that can make your confessor understand the state of your conscience; since all the saints in heaven and on earth might say the same thing if they came to confession.

Examine, then, what particular reason you may have to make these accusations; and when you have discovered it, accuse yourself sincerely and distinctly.

For example, you accuse yourself that you have not loved your neighbour so much as you ought; perhaps, because having seen some poor person in distress, whom you might easily have assisted, you took no notice of him. In such a case you should have said, “Having seen a poor man in necessity, I did not assist him as I ought to have done;” through negligence, hard-heartedness, contempt, or whatever you may discover to have been the cause of this fault.

In like manner, do not accuse yourself of not having prayed to God with as much devotion as you ought; but if you have admitted any voluntary distraction, or neglected to choose a proper place, time, or posture necessary for proper attention in prayer, accuse yourself thereof with simplicity, without those generalities which have no signification in confession.

Do not rest content with confessing your venial sins, merely as to the fact; but assure yourself also of the motive which induced you to commit them.

For example, be not content to say you have told a lie, without prejudice to any person; but also declare whether it was for vain-glory, to praise or excuse yourself, or in jest, or through obstinacy. If you have sinned in play, express whether it was for the desire of gain, or for the pleasure of conversation; and so of the rest.

Tell also how long a time you continued in your sin; for the length of time is an aggravation of the evil, there being great difference between a vain thought that has slipped into the soul for a quarter of an hour, and one that she has entertained for the space of two or three days.

We must, then, tell the facts, the motives, and the continuance of our sins. For though we are not bound to declare venial sins, nor absolutely obliged to confess them, yet such as desire to cleanse their souls perfectly, and attain to holy devotion, must be careful to make their spiritual physician acquainted with the disease, be it ever so trivial, of which they desire to be cured.

Do not, then, fail to tell what is requisite, that he may perfectly understand the nature of your offence.

For example, a man, with whom I am displeased, speaks a light word to me in jest, and I put myself in a passion; whereas, if another more agreeable to me had said something much more harsh, I should have taken it in good part; in such case I would not fail to say, I have spoken angry words against a certain person, and have been affronted at some things he said to me, not so much on account of the words as of my dislike to him.

Moreover, if, to make the matter more clear, it be necessary to mention what the words were, I think it advisable to declare them, as by so doing you not only discover the sin, but also your evil inclinations, customs, habits, and the other roots of the sin; by means of which your spiritual father acquires a more perfect knowledge of the heart he has to do with, and of the proper remedies to be applied. But you must always conceal the third person who has had any part in your sin, as much as lies in your power.

Beware of a number of sins that are apt to conceal themselves, and reign insensibly in the soul. Now, in order that you may confess them, and be able to purge yourself of them, read attentively the 6th, 27th, 28th, 29th, 35th, and 36th chapters of the third part, and the 7th chapter of the fourth part.

Do not change your confessor for slight cause; but having made choice of one, continue from time to time to give him an account of the state of your conscience, with candour and sincerity, at least once every month or two months. Let him also know the state of your inclinations, though you may not have sinned by them; for instance, if you should be tormented with sadness or with melancholy, or if you should be inclined to inordinate mirth, or to too great a desire of acquiring worldly goods, and such like inclinations.

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