Recently, I think, an ex-satanist told the sordid, frightening, and even gruesome story of his former life as high priest of iniquity. The once reprobate man is, marvelous to tell, now a believing, practicing Catholic. His is a tale so horrible I can’t countenance telling it, nor even think about it. One revealing aspect about his confession, however, was making known the activity of satanists inside abortion clinics. This was a confirmation of what many had suspected: there’s even more evil inside abortion chambers than we dared to admit.
Leaving aside the rest of the man’s story – it’s gory details are unnecessary to know–I was surprised to find myself a bit annoyed at the disclosure of his former perversities, not so much because of the shocking specifics told but rather because of the overall public manner of his recital, a forum that has now become popular. This practice of being outspoken, telling-it-all about one’s evil past, is not always inappropriate, nor always without benefit. The lives of the saints, for example, often edify and inspire, when after a great conversion, a sinful life turns into a holy one. With that kind of story everyone can identify to some degree and profit by it in a more resolute pursuit of righteousness and holiness. But the modern manner of public disclosure is different. It panders to sensational and lurid tastes, satisfying morbid curiosity rather than the thirst for goodness and wisdom. This practice is prevalent in a lot of modern writing, TV talk shows, radio interviews and films. There the objective is not honorable, aiming to satisfy sinful appetites by hearing about the odd, macabre, bizarre and, most often, lecherous and prurient. Tellers of these misdeeds typically have no or little remorse, either before God or before humanity, but evince instead a braggart spirit that masks guilt in an supposedly honest admission.
There’s irony in this modern openness, this “transparency” (now a favorite jargon in some quarters), and it is this: while many today are bold and brash in telling their shameful deeds publicly, there’s so little humble and honest divulgence of sins in our confessionals which remain–in most parishes at least – grossly neglected. The reason for both the loud-mouthed exposés and for the concealing of sins is the same: guilt. The arrogant boaster and the cowardly evader of truth suffer alike from guilt and try to alleviate their accusing consciences by inappropriate and utterly ineffective means. The only way to be free from the sting of guilt for sin is the way invented by God in a three-fold act: contrition, confession and absolution. The happy result of this is relief for the throbbing soul. It requires, on the part of the offender, humility and integrity and–on the Other side–divine forgiveness. Because sincere openness and use of the confessional are little in evidence, we’re becoming an ever sicker people, unavailing of the proffered divine mercy that maintains good spiritual and mental health. The Church in Confession holds the remedy for wounded souls in her priests’ hands in such a way that the dignity and privacy of the disclosing penitent is respected. But many would rather deny their guilt and keep it locked inside them where it corrodes, rots and torments their consciences; or else they would rather boast about their sins and ridicule moral norms. A psalm expresses well the mind of a truly repentant sinner: “Blessed is he whose sins are forgiven...in whose spirit there is no deceit. For when I was silent about my sin, my body wasted away through groaning all day long. But then I acknowledged my sin to You and I did not hide my iniquity. I said: ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’ and then You forgave the guilt of my sin” (Ps. 31).
People who do not admit their guilt with humility and complete honesty in Confession (and with sincere amendment) must suffer the burden of guilt throughout their lives and afterward must face the dread judgment of God. Confession, however, is the removal of guilt such that a sinner emerges from a good Confession free of blame before God (though before mankind he may yet have to face other consequences for his misdeeds), his conscience now being at peace. For the repentant and restored man, his confessed and absolved sins will not be charged against him at the Judgment.
With such a marvel of divine clemency as is found in the Sacrament of Confession dare anyone deny himself access to this unspeakably great benefit? The aforementioned Psalm ends this way: “Rejoice in the Lord and exult, O you just ones, and be glorified, all you upright in heart.”
Boast, then, O Christian, not of your shameful sins, but of the goodness of Christ whose mercies are without end.