From a reader:
In confessing a sin is it necessary to describe (giving some details of) the sin rather than merely indicating the name (species) of the sin?
You don’t have to go into great detail, but you ought to provide enough information to make sure that your confessor – and you – know the gravity of the circumstances or how the circumstances attenuate your guilt for the objectively sinful act.
What do I mean?
The first detail you need to provide is how many times you performed the sinful act (which includes thoughts). We must confess all mortal sins in both kind (species) and number. Doing X once is one thing. Doing X 93 times means there is a deeper problem. That’s important to know both for you and the confessor.
Another sort of detail involves the surrounding circumstances.
In a pinch, especially when there might be a serious time constraint or when there is a language problem, you can be telegraphic, even using the number of the commandment or just a generic label for a sin, the broader category. But in most circumstances, such as when you are not about to launch an uphill frontal assault on a well-entrenched enemy position or you are not face to face with the lone available confessor before your upcoming heart surgery and he speaks only Chamicuro, but he can just manage to count in English numbers, I recommend that you be a little more specific without doing a complete post-mortem on yourself, without rehearsing every niggling detail.
So, some details may be necessary. You have to think this through when examining your conscience before getting into the box.
What sort of details might be important and why? The circumstances can alter the gravity or or guilt for the sin. Remember, we have to have our wills engaged to be guilty of sinful actions.
Here are a few examples:
Say you stole $50. It is one thing to steal $50 from Bill Gates and another to steal from the 80 year old widow Mrs. Enid MacGillycuddy who is on a fixed income and food stamps. It is yet another thing to steal the $50 if the local hoodlum Mr. Spike said he’d slit you from guggle to zatch if you didn’t pay him the money by noon. However, maybe you stole $50 because your daughter needed – urgently – that little spray thing for her asthma, rather than because you wanted to buy bubblegum. Say you belt someone in the chops for speaking disrespectfully to you. It is one thing to belt Hulk Hogan and another to belt little 5 year old Cindy Loo Hoo, and yet another to belt Fr. Lovebeads at Our Lady Queen of Hugs. Belting Father is additionally the sin of sacrilege, by the way. Say that in a fit of pique and ideological fervor you haul out your bag of spray-paint cans to write nocturnal graffiti around the city in protest. It is one thing to vandalize a corner bar and another thing to vandalize a sacred building or consecrated cemetery. Again, the latter is sacrilege. Say you have sex in a way that is wrong. It is one thing to do this with your husband, but it also the sin of fornication if the man isn’t your husband. Moreover, if the man is someone else’s husband you committed adultery. And if the man is actually a child… or not a man at all but of the same sex… or not actually human… or alive…. Those details matter, not all the lurid detailed details. Say someone says he is weak from hunger and begs for something to eat and you ignore the plea and keep walking. It is one thing if this is a beggar wearing Dolce and Gabanna seconds and you are in Beverley Hills and another if it is your own 7 year old son. But wait! You might be ignoring little Elmer in your plush suburban home in time of plenty and, then again, you might be trying to escape the urban warfare that has erupted in the wake of TEOTWAWKI caused by a globe-killing EMP event from the recent massive CME that struck your Earth several days ago. Say you are angry and you cuss a blue streak. It is one thing to use words that are vulgar or obscene and another to take the Name of the Lord in vain or blaspheme. Get my drift?
As you can see, saying “I stole, I hit someone, I mistreated someone else’s property, I had sex, I ignored someone who was hungry, I used bad language” really aren’t enough, even with the addition of the number of times you did those things.
How often must priests endure “I ate too much, I stole, I kicked my dog…”, when the penitent ought to be saying, “Since my last confession one week ago, I ate too much once, I stole $100 from the pension fund for elderly orphanage workers, I kicked my dog 93 times… but, Father, it was because it refused to fight that other dog and I lost that $100!”
The devil can be in the details.
Reflect on these points (and read more tips HERE):
- Examine your conscience carefully and regularly.
- Confess your sins in kind and number.
- You can commit mortal sins by not doing somethings that you should do.
- Add only those details that might change the gravity of the sin one way or another.
- God’s justice we are going to get whether we want it or not. His mercy, however, is always there for the asking.
- There is no sin we can commit that is so bad that God cannot or will not forgive, if we but ask for forgiveness and mean it.
GO TO CONFESSION!