Advice from confessors

The confessional is the tool that Christ gave us to obtain forgiveness of our sins.  It is not a miracle clinic.  Going to confession gives us a new beginning and a clean slate, but it doesn’t remove all of our inclination toward sin.  We didn’t become addicts in a day, so don’t expect to recover in a day.

That being said, I would like to share the good advice I’ve received from confessors over the years:

When preparing for confession

  • Begin with a prayer that God will enlighten your heart and mind.  These can be found in most general prayer books, missals, and misalettes.
  • Examine your conscience.  There are many good ones online, but if these are not available, run through the Ten Commandments in your head.
  • Be on time or early.  If the scheduled confessional time is 5:00 – 6:00, don’t show up at 5:45, or even 5:15.  Show up at 5:00 or 4:45.  If there’s a long line, you may not have your confession heard before father has to vest for Mass.  If there is no line, and father has been waiting alone for 15 minutes or more, he may assume that no one is coming and take care of other duties.  Emergencies also arise.  Be respectful of the priest’s schedule and needs.

When in confession

  • List all your mortal sins, in kind and number (it makes a difference if you did something once over a month versus daily)
  • Don’t list your tendencies, just your sins.
  • Don’t explain why you did it, just say what you did.  You can’t shock the priest.  Don’t try to rationalize your sins.
  • Keep your voice down.  People outside the confessional are not bound by the seal.
  • Have an act of contrition in front of you, or have one memorized.
  • Do the penance that’s assigned.  If the penance is vague (“think happy thoughts”) or indefinite (“pray the rosary daily for the rest of your life”) or time constrained (“Mass starts in 5 minutes. Pray 100 Hail Marys before then.”), ask for a difference penance.

To avoid sin in the future (particularly sexual sins)

  • Pray the Rosary daily
  • Pray three Hail Marys for purity when you wake up in the morning
  • Devote at least 15 minutes a day for prayerful reading of scripture.  Start with the daily Mass readings (Extraordinary FormOrdinary Form)
  • Fast.  All Fridays of Lent and Ash Wednesday are days of abstinence from meat.  In most countries, Fridays outside of Lent are optional abstinence days, but you are supposed to replace it with some other penance.
  • For sexual sins, it is good to deny some physical pleasure.  This makes fasting from meat on Fridays (and other days) a good option.
  • From time-to-time, deny your body some other physical pleasure.  It can be small things like foregoing dessert or taking a cold shower.
  • End your day by reflecting on the good and the bad you’ve done.  Ask God for forgiveness, thank God for any blessings, and petition God for grace for the next day.
  • Go to confession whenever you need to, but the “best practice” is to go at least once a month.

Go to confession!

 

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St. Paul’s List of Character Defects to the Galatians

If you need a starting place with recognizing your character defects (vices), or if you are having a hard time with your list, take a look at Galatians 5:16-25.  This was the epistle reading from the extra-ordinary form of the Mass (Traditional Latin Mass), today, the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost.

[16] I say then, walk in the spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. [17] For the flesh lusteth against the spirit: and the spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary one to another: so that you do not the things that you would. [18] But if you are led by the spirit, you are not under the law. [19] Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury, [20] Idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects,

[21] Envies, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like. Of the which I foretell you, as I have foretold to you, that they who do such things shall not obtain the kingdom of God. [22] But the fruit of the Spirit is, charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, [23] Mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity. Against such there is no law. [24] And they that are Christ’s, have crucified their flesh, with the vices and concupiscences. [25] If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

Some of the things here may sound foreign to you, but I bet most hit close to home: fornication? Check. Uncleanness (impurity)? Check. Luxury (also translated as “lustfulness” or “debauchery” or “sensuality”)? Check. Quarrels? Check Dissensions? Check. Envies? Check. Drunkeness? Check.  I can put a check aside most of those things.

These are things I can add to my list of defects, and help me with Step 8 and 9.  Whom did I envy?  Who did I hurt through my wrath and quarrels?

In contrast with these vices, St. Paul gives us the fruits of the spirit: charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity (kindness), goodness, longanimity (long-suffering, forbearance, generosity), mildness (gentleness), faith, modesty, continency (self-control), chastity.

In asking God to remove our character defects, we out to ask for the fruits of the Holy Spirit as well.  When we fill our hearts with these virtues, there will be less and less room for the vices.

 

Garden

All is settled, and
All shall settle.
A cool drip of water
A breeze, breeze wet and cool.
And the dirt rubs off
The dirt from breaking the land.
It is scarred in my small world
In my universe
From my actions
For my ends
The fruits of which whither,
And fester, and rot
Into compost.
A garden of life and vegetables, Amen.

Three days before birth,
His anniversary thereof,
He contemplates the lives
Of the women
And the children he’s hurt.

Needing acceptance not rejection,
Wantedness not wantonness,
He poisons their souls
With hemlock, cyanide,
And tins of Zyklon-B.

Amazed at the way
Violation manifests itself
Without the slightest touch.
Just a stare, but a feather on the waist
Is the tearing of the hymen.

Wanted, accepted, loved,
These three he must feel
To end it all
And restore, recover.
Repent!

“The assembly believed them” Susanna Part 4

The assembly believed them, because they were elders of the people and judges; and they condemned her to death. – Daniel 13:41

Earlier in the story of Susanna, the elders conspired together to gang rape her.  They sneaked into her garden and threatened her.  If she didn’t submit to them, they would say that she was fooling around with a young man.  “Who will the people believe?” they might have asked.  “The respected elders and judges of the community, or a worthless woman?”

Indeed, when they tell the story of what didn’t happen, the people believe them, even though such things were unheard of with Susanna.  These men were in positions of authority.  They were civil as well as religious leaders.

One injustice begats another.  How often in your acting out have you also lied and caused calamity to come upon the innocent?  Has your acting out damaged relationships with your spouse?  Your parents, brothers, sisters, or extended family?  What about your children?  Very likely, some of your relationships have been harmed.

Many sex addicts are tempted to immediately go into Step Nine, making amends.  That is natural.  When we realize that we’ve done wrong, if we are truly sorry, then we should want to make amends.  That’s an important part of penance in the sacrament of confession, too.

However, we must not rush into our amends.  This can make problems worse.  Remember, we may be ready for amends, but the people we hurt may not be ready.  A sponsor can help you know when to make amends, if ever.  Sometimes amends must be spiritual only.

Small amends can be made at any time.  If you are on decent terms with another person, start doing small things for them.  They don’t need to know why.  Just be kind, courteous, and helpful.  If you are not on good terms with someone, make time to pray for that person.  Have a Mass offered for them.  I have had Masses offered for people that I will never be able to make amends for, because they are dead, or doing so will cause more problems than it’ll solve.

Find a sponsor, work with your sponsor, and go to confession!

“they were watching” Susanna Part 3

Once, while they were watching for an opportune day, she went in as before with only two maids, and wished to bathe in the garden, for it was very hot. And no one was there except the two elders, who had hid themselves and were watching her. She said to her maids, “Bring me oil and ointments, and shut the garden doors so that I may bathe.” They did as she said, shut the garden doors, and went out by the side doors to bring what they had been commanded; and they did not see the elders, because they were hidden. – Daniel 13:15-18

One inner circle behavior wasn’t evident until a therapist helped me see it.

It’s easy to read this story and see the judges’ faults of lust, plans to gang rape Susanna, and lies under oath.

Do not miss their voyeurism. It is easy not to spot it in the story or in your own life.  I spied not how I spied others.

At the beginning of this story, the elders are watching Susanna come and go.  Here, they’re watching her as she goes to bathe.

One behavior led to another. Had the elders practiced custody of the eyes, they would not have lusted to the extent they did.  They would not have turned their eyes from Heaven. They would not have conspired together to sin more gravely.

In my life, I called voyeurism by innocuous names like “people watching” and “curiosity.”  It started as a glance, then a stare, then a peep through closed window blinds.  Next I bought binoculars and a camera.  I took the pictures with me when I was alone, and pleasured myself to them.

I never committed a rape, but neither did the judges.  Why?  The circumstances were not right.  Had things been different, could I have attempted it like them?  Could I have lied in court like them?  Could I have gone through with it?  Could they have?  The answer to all those questions is yes.

God’s grace has pulled me away from this darkness.  I repent and choose to follow Him.

And they turned their eyes from Heaven: Susanna Part 1

Earlier I posted the story of Susanna from the book of Daniel, usually listed as Daniel 13.  This story is considered canonical by Catholic, Orthodox, and other Christians, but not by Protestants or Jews.  Nevertheless, it is a beautiful story about justice and purity.

I would like to post a few short reflections on some salient verses.  Today, verses 9-11:

And they perverted their minds and turned away their eyes from looking to Heaven or remembering righteous judgments. Both were overwhelmed with passion for her, but they did not tell each other of their distress, for they were ashamed to disclose their lustful desire to possess her. And they watched eagerly, day after day, to see her.

At the beginning of the story we see that the two judges, who were pillars of the community both in legal and religious settings, were gradually becoming infatuated with the daughter of a wealthy and powerful man.  Neither one acted immediately on his lust.

First, they neglected their prayers.  Rather than occupy their minds with prayer, they “perverted” (which means turned, changed, or distorted) their minds.  Once in confession, I mentioned that I committed X and Y sins, and then I stopped praying.  The priest asked me if I was sure it was in that order.  Of course, it wasn’t.  We are much more likely to act out when we stop communicating with God, our Higher Power, than the other way around.

Second, their work suffered.  The judges put their law work aside in favor of their lustful desires.  How many of us sex addicts have acted out at work?  How many hours of productivity have been lost?  How many of us were caught and perhaps even lost our jobs?  We lose sight of our relationship with God, then we lose sight of the important matters of the world.

Third, they turned inward. One of the greatest virtues of the twelve-step programs is accountability.  We share at the meetings.  We call on our sponsors.  We examine our consciences regularly.  Here the two judges became silent.  Their shame drove them inward to themselves.  They didn’t talk or admit their problems.  Instead, they spent the day fantasizing rather than judging, ogling rather than praying.  It drove them to obsession.

Next, as we shall see, the consequences are all-too-familiar.