WE SHALL never approach Confession properly unless we have the right attitude towards the Divine Confessor. We must not allow Father John or Father Tom to obscure the Great High Priest, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in Whose Name and by Whose power alone he is able to forgive sin. "Who can forgive sins but God only?" The priest is only the instrumental cause of forgiveness; the efficient cause is Jesus. "Christus absolvit," says St. Augustine --- "Christ absolves."

Forgetfulness of this truth is the main cause of most of the worries and scruples of penitents. If they went to Confession to Jesus in person, they would have neither doubts nor fears. "Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?" [1] Do we not always go to Confession to Jesus in person? By whose power do we imagine that we are forgiven?

Penitents must be careful to make their confessions to Jesus of Nazareth and not to a mirage of themselves. The danger of penitents really confessing to themselves is a subtle one which is hardly ever recognized. The first effect of sin is to make us distrustful of God and disgusted with ourselves. When our sin has been particularly heinous or shamefully petty and mean, we cannot disguise from ourselves how entirely unlovable we are. We find it hard to imagine anyone knowing us and loving us; and because we know ourselves, we find it hard to love ourselves. The next step in our thoughts is easy and almost automatic, we begin to imagine that others do not love us, or, at any rate, love us only because they do not know us. God knows us, therefore, concludes the mind unconsciously --- He cannot love us. It we go to Confession in this frame of mind, we shall unwittingly be confessing to a mirage of our disgusted selves. If we could see Jesus of Nazareth as He really is, we should find Him still infinitely patient, infinitely forgiving, infinitely loving. But this consoling and true picture of Him is obscured and hidden from us by the false picture which has been conjured up by our distraught imagination. In consequence, we do not confess to the real Christ but to a fictitious and false Christ who is in reality only a projected mirage of ourselves. This is a very real and subtle danger, which we cannot be too careful to avoid.

We should spare no pains to form a true mental picture of the Divine Confessor, because without it we cannot possibly approach Confession in the right spirit. A true mental picture of Christ, the Confessor, cannot be formed without an attentive study of the Gospels and of the amazing liberality of the Divine forgiveness in Confession.  We must be careful not to take the Sacrament of Penance for granted. It is possible that we should value this Sacrament more if Our Lord had made approach to it more difficult. There is in human nature a fatal tendency to take for granted and fail to appreciate things which are given easily and without stint. "Easy come, easy goes," as the proverb says. If absolution were given rarely or on difficult terms, possibly it would be more appreciated. It will be worth while to consider some of the conditions of which Our Saviour could have exacted fulfillment as the price of absolution. The actual terms could not possibly be easier, but it might be well to remind ourselves that they might reasonably have been very much more difficult.

The power to give absolution might have been reserved to the Pope or to the Bishops, or to a few penitentiaries in each diocese. In any of these cases, we should have had to scheme and plan and make considerable sacrifices in order to get to Confession at all. Confession would then have entailed a considerable expense of time and money, but whatever sacrifices we had to make would be a very small price to pay for absolution from our sins. Perhaps we should realize better what we get, if it cost us more! Must we reproach Our Lord with having, in the excess of His Mercy and Divine Liberality, made His pardon too cheap? A common fallacy outside the Church is that we have to pay for absolution. If we had to pay, no price could possibly be sufficient.

Our Lord might have limited the number of sins we may confess or the number of times we may be forgiven, and such limits might have made us more careful about sin. Instead, He forgives us to seventy times seven times, that is, indefinitely, and lest we should be tempted to despair, assures us in advance of His indefinite forgiveness. He risks His Mercy being taken advantage of, rather than leave us in any doubt about His willingness to forgive. God grant that His amazing goodness may not blind us to the amazing realities of the confessional.

If you have ever been privileged to go to Lourdes, you may have witnessed a miraculous cure; perhaps you saw vacant eyes suddenly light up and flash as sight was restored to them, or the lame fling away their supports and shout praises of God for very joy, or broken wrecks of humanity suddenly restored to health and vigour. If once you have seen such a sight, you will never forget it. Without a doubt that cure will have left an indelible impression on your mind.

During our Divine Lord's life on earth such happenings occurred wherever He went, for "laying His hands on every one of them, He healed them all." It is not surprising that the people went delirious with joy and recognized a power and goodness such as had never been seen before on this earth.

In our confessionals, still greater marvels are worked, and greater proofs are given of mercy and love. Alas, however, we have but a dim perception of what really takes place there, and the only reason why we are not made delirious with joy by it is because we are so deadly dull and uncomprehending.

One of the greatest miracles of Our Lord's earthly life was the raising from the dead of Lazarus, whose corpse had already begun to corrupt. "Lord," said Martha, "he stinketh." The raising of a soul from the death of sin to the Divine life of grace is a still greater marvel and miracle. No bodily corruption can compare with the spiritual corruption of a soul in the state of mortal sin; a spiritual corpse is far more repulsive than a physical corpse. The spiritual degradation of a soul in mortal sin is indescribable, but even more indescribable is the transcendent beauty of a soul in grace. To transform a sinner from the loathsome corruption of spiritual death to the dazzling beauty of participated Divine life is a work of power and mercy which even the Angels cannot fully understand. Compare the first condition of the sinner (terminus a quo) with the last (terminus ad quem) and you will begin to realize the extent and marvel of that transformation. And such amazing transformations are regular daily events in the confessional!

The regeneration of a sinner is an incomparably greater marvel than the raising of Lazarus; in fact, as St. Thomas points out, it is a greater work than an act of creation. In creation there is no resisting subject-matter, such as there is in regeneration, and the life produced is not Divine.

  If only once we had seen Our Saviour in His goodness and compassion raise the dead to life, we should never forget the event and we should henceforth find it impossible not to trust and love Him. What a tragedy it is that still greater miracles of love, repeated so often in the confessional, leave us cold and unimpressed! The miracles of Our Divine Saviour during His earthly life were not so wonderful or so startling to the Angels, as those which He works daily on human souls in the Sacrament of Penance --- not so wonderful, not such colossal proofs of love or such motives for praising and thanking and loving God. A visible miracle of healing would send us into an ecstasy of love and admiration, and yet millions --- yes, millions --- of far more stupendous miracles in human souls pass almost unnoticed. We can come to only one conclusion, and that is that our spiritual sight is defective and our faith slumbering. How appalling is the contrast between the incessant, tireless, attentive, wonder-working love of God and human indifference and dullness! Jesus is still with us, working greater miracles than ever He worked during His life on earth, "He is daily with us in the temple" --- in the confessional --- "and we do not know Him!" The Sacrament of Penance is a tremendous proof of love too little understood, too little appreciated. If proof were needed, Confession is a standing proof that Jesus is "yesterday, today and the same for ever," still "the friend of publicans and sinners, Who came not to call the just but sinners to repentance."

To approach the Sacrament of Penance with becoming trust, we must understand the spirit of the Divine Confessor Who awaits us on the other side of the grille. It is inevitable that we should frequently go to Confession in anything but a happy and tranquil frame of mind and should tend to see only a mirage of ourselves and not the Master. It is instructive to find that the Apostles made this same mistake, and it is consoling to know what happened when they really did see the Master.
On the day of the Resurrection the Apostles were a very dispirited lot; how dispirited is clearly proved by the fact that the announcement of such an unheard-of event did not enliven them.

One can easily imagine their utter dejection. They had failed the Master; they had abandoned Him in His need; they had been cowards. Despite all their boasts that they would never abandon Him, they had fled at the first signs of danger. They had not done a single thing to save Him; something might have been done if they had made a vigorous protest at the Court of Pilate --- that was left to Pilate's wife. They had not even had the courage to attempt to save His dead Body from desecration --- that was left to Joseph and Nicodemus. Even now, although they had proof of His Resurrection, they had not the courage to go out into the streets, and were gathered together behind closed doors for fear of the Jews. Worse, however, than their feeling of personal vileness was the consciousness of guilt. They had betrayed the Son of God. They had been chosen as the friends and intimates of the greatest of the prophets, One greater than a prophet, and they had done nothing to prevent His destruction.

A sense of utter despair seemed to pulverize them. The Holy Women said that Our Divine Lord had risen from the dead, and had requested the Disciples to go down into Galilee where He would appear to them. They did not go. They seemed to have lost all faith in the Resurrection, though Our Divine Lord had repeatedly foretold it. In any case, even if He had risen from the dead, what could they hope for from Him; what sort of a reception would He give them? If Peter in a moment of realization of His Divinity had exclaimed, "Depart from me for I am a sinful man, O Lord," how could they, vile sinners, face Him now glorious and transcendent?

It is easy to imagine the disciples sitting there in a moody silence, each nursing his own bitter thoughts, helpless, hopeless, the sun gone out of their lives, their hopes blighted.

"And Jesus came and stood in the midst." He seemed in a hurry to institute this Sacrament of Mercy. He could not bear to leave them in such a state of dejection. He would prove to them that He is "Jesus, yesterday, today, and the same for ever," that man's malice had not embittered or changed Him, since it was to repair the effects of that malice that He had died. "And Jesus came and stood in the midst and said: Peace be to you. And when He had said this, He showed them His Hands and His Side." He showed them the price and cause of their peace, recalling the words of Isaiah: "The chastisement of our peace was upon Him and by His bruises are we healed. God hath laid on Him the iniquities of us all."

"The disciples therefore were glad when they saw the Lord. He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent Me, I also send you. When He had said this, He breathed on them, and He said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost." They were to go forth in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, commissioned by the Father and Himself and in the power of the Holy Ghost, to restore unto men the joy of His Salvation for all time and in every place wherever there was need. His Divine Compassion, "reaching from end to end mightily," embraced all those who would ever find themselves in a similar predicament and with the same need for pardon. Not merely did He forgive the Apostles, He gave them power to forgive others. His understanding Compassion extended to all those who would ever need reassurance of His pardon and His enduring love. "When He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them, and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained."

Peace! Pardon! Power to pardon! And to such men! Not a syllable about their cowardice and desertion, not a single word of reproof, not the slightest reference to their fall --- what Divine gentleness and refinement of feeling! what a revelation of the goodness and kindness of Jesus, Our Saviour!

This is the Master to Whom we present ourselves in the confessional. Whatever else we do, let us not dishonour such infinite goodness and mercy by distrust and implicit refusal to believe in it. What a pity it is that the devil succeeds so well in distorting this Sacrament in the eyes of so many of our fellow-men. Let us take good care that we do not allow him to distort it in our eyes.

To the Sacrament of Penance all Catholics owe more than they have ever realized or ever will realize this side of the grave. This statement admits of no exceptions and applies to the comparatively sinless even more than to the sinners.

Perhaps you have never committed a mortal sin, and so have never had absolute need of this Sacrament. For you it has been a Sacrament of prevention rather than of cure. God alone knows, however, how many mortal sins you might nave committed but for its saving influence. God's grace has preserved you, not your strength; and you owe a greater debt of gratitude to God than those who have fallen and been reclaimed.
Perhaps you are not certain of ever having committed a mortal sin but have been sometimes in serious doubt. Recall those periods of doubt and mental torture, and how the Sacrament of Penance restored unto you the joy of His Salvation. How different life would have been if you had never been able to rid yourself of that gnawing uncertainty! You, too, owe the Divine Confessor an immense amount of gratitude.

Perhaps you have committed mortal sin; and possibly not once, but many times, you have had to call on Jesus for mercy and pardon. "To whom much is forgiven, he loveth much." You owe the Divine Confessor an immense debt of gratitude and love for His persevering mercy, and for the amazing transformations which He has caused in your soul. If you had been the recipient of a first-class miracle at Lourdes, if sight had suddenly been restored to you, or you had been raised from death to life, you would not fail to recognize your indebtedness to the goodness of God and your duty of unending thanksgiving. God has done more than that for you, since time and time again He has raised you from the death of sin to the life of grace; and it is impossible to state or exaggerate the degree of gratitude which you owe to Him.

Let us all thank God for this great Sacrament! How much poorer our lives would have been without it! How much of our lightness of heart we owe to it!

Throughout this book great insistence has been placed on the ease with which the validity of the Sacrament of Penance can be guaranteed. There is just a danger that this information may have a bad effect on penitents, because human nature tends to stop short at the minimum effort which is strictly necessary. Many spend a considerable time in anxious preparation for Confession because they fancy that such an effort is rigidly necessary. When they find out their mistake, there is a danger that they may relax their efforts and go to Confession in a careless, slipshod manner, giving to it the minimum of time and attention.

The ease of Confession has been emphasized so that we may dispense with worry and distrust, not that we may dispense with effort. The more time we give to preparation and thanksgiving for Confession the better, provided our devotion is prompted by love and not by Jansenistic fear. We should approach Confession with care and reverence but without a trace of nerves or uneasiness. Panic is a sure sign that we do not realize Who is waiting for us on the other side of the grille. If we knew Him, we could not distrust Him.
Do not be content to receive the Sacrament of Penance validly, but try to receive it perfectly. It is designed to do far more than take away sin; it is designed to increase the beauty of your soul, ,to fill it with grace and to bring it nearer and make it dearer to Jesus. The fervent use Confession frequently to reassure themselves that there is nothing in their souls displeasing to the Master's gaze.

The Holy Father desires that we should go to Confession frequently. Of course, there is no obligation, but why should we always wait for commands and, if we find there is no obligation, relax our efforts? Let us not be craven and mercenary. Let us approach this sacrament out of love and primarily to give pleasure to Jesus, not solely to feel safer and more at peace.

Fix a definite plan --- once a week, once a fortnight, or once a month. Fortnightly confession will suffice to enable you to gain all the plenary indulgences for which confession is a condition.

Life is given to us that we may prepare ourselves to stand in the blinding Presence of God, "in Whose sight the angels themselves are not pure." The Sacrament of Penance, perfectly received, has power to prepare us for the immediate embrace of God, and to enable us to stand without blinking in the blinding Presence of God. Let us use Confession as a preparation for death. We should strive to preserve such habitual purity of soul that we may be ready to die at any time. Prepare for each Confession as though it were to be your last, your final preparation for Eternity. Each night before retiring put yourself in the dispositions in which you desire to be found at the hour of death, and renew those dispositions at each Confession. The person who is not afraid to die is able to live fully and courageously. In this life we are not likely to avoid all semi-deliberate venial sin; but we have the means at hand to obliterate all traces of sin, renew our strength and refresh our souls, so let us use this Divine assistance to the full.
Approach this Sacrament in a spirit of tranquillity and boundless trust. You are not going to an Ogpu or Gestapo inquisitor, but to your Divine Friend of Friends, Who only asks you to lay bare your wounds that He may heal them. A drop of the Precious Blood is, as it were, about to fall on your soul and "though your sins be as scarlet, they shall become white as snow." He is overjoyed that you are coming to Him --- you must believe that. "There is joy before the Angels of God upon one sinner that doth penance, more than upon the ninety-nine just who need not penance." "Let us eat and make merry," says the father of the prodigal, "because this my son was dead, and is come to life again; was lost and is found." Forget your shame in contemplating His joy, and the peace of Christ, which surpasses all understanding, will possess your heart and you will call His Name Jesus because He has saved you --- His child --- from your sins.

1. Matt. 8:26.