But God loves me anyway, right?
By Fr. Philip Neri Powell, O.P., Ph.D.
MAY 25, 2012 (http://hancaquam.blogspot.com) - Recently the "Vatican" lamented the decline in the use of confession among Catholics. It should be noted that this decline is directly tied to the lack of preaching against sin from Catholic pulpits. I don't mean screaming tirades bellowed from the ambo, but simple, straightforward declarations that sin is real and deadly to one's growth in holiness.
Some theologians and clergy don't see a problem with Catholics letting the Confession Muscle atrophy. They exclaim, "But God loves us where we're at! God accepts us as we are!" Yes, this is true. But confession is not about God loving you more or less. God will love you straight to hell if that's what you want. That's what free-will is all about.
Confession is not about how much God loves you but about how much you love God. Confession is our chance to apologize for those sins that have damaged our relationship with God, for those crimes against His love that prevent us from being fully in love with God. God does not need our apologies, our repentance, or our penance. We do.
Does God love you despite your sin? Yes, always. Can you love God despite your sin? No. Your sin is evidence enough of this simple truth. And because God loves and respects you, He will honor your decision to spend eternity without Him. That, brothers and sisters, is what we call Hell.
Update: Father, when should I go to confession? The minimum is once a year. Ideally, you would go to confession for any mortal sin. What's a mortal sin? A mortal sin is any disobedience that "kills charity in the heart." In the ancient Church, the Big Three were: adultery/fornication, murder, and apostasy. Good start. You want to be aware of two extreme tendencies: making every sin into a mortal sin "just in case" and making mortal sin into "no big deal" b/c you don't want to stop committing the sin.
Every sin disrupts your relationship with God. Some sins kill that relationship from your end. The question to ask is: did that sin kill my ability/desire to love God? There is a subjective element here that only you can answer. There is an objective element that does not depend on your perception of the sin. You cannot murder someone and then claim that you don't feel that your relationship with God has been damaged. It has. . .whether you "feel" it or not.
Use the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes to examine your conscience. If you have serious doubt, ask your pastor. Circumstances and intent do make a difference in most cases. If you have access to a priest, regular/frequent confession is not a problem. Just be careful that you are not becoming scrupulous. Ultimately, scrupulosity is the denial of the reality of God's mercy and can quickly become the sin of pride--"Not even God can forgive MY terrible sins." Wanna bet? Notes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church
Confessing venial sins is perfectly fine. But be aware that participating in Mass with a confessing-repentant heart takes care of venial sin. Also, be sure that you are confessing actual sins. "I forgot my morning prayers" is not sin. Sexually explicit dreams are not sinful. For an act to be sinful it must be a deliberate act against God's law and love; meaning, you have to know you are doing it. You cannot sin in ignorance or by accident.
(1) CCC 1849: "Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as 'an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.'"
(2) CCC 1861: "Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace [...]"
(3) CCC 1855.1: "Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God's law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him."
(4) CCC 1855.2: "Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it."
(5) CCC 1857: "For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: 'Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.'" See CCC 1858-18690 for defintions of grave matter, full knowledge, and deliberate consent. So, if I commit Act X it must be gravely serious (not trivial); and I must know that Act X is sinful; and I must knowingly consent to committing Act X (personally choosing to act). If any of these three conditions is missing, I have not committed a mortal sin. You cannot sin mortally in ignorance, trivially, accidently, or against your will.