“Do you have anything else to confess?” Said Padre Pio.
This back and forth continued twice more.
“Go away! Go away! Because you are not reformed of your sins!”
“Keep silent, gossiper, you have spoken enough!”
St. Padre Pio was famous for knowing when people held back a sin in confession. And, while you may have never intentionally done that, St. Francis advises that you “be on guard against a number of sins that frequently live and rule undetected in your conscience.”
The purpose of this article is to remind you of how powerful a good confession can be and to let St. Francis show you some “undetected” sins.
We will proceed as follows:
- Why this guide is necessary (even for people who go to confession frequently)
- If you knew the gift of God that is confession
- Everyone can use a refresher on confession basics
- St. Francis’s seven “undetected” sins
Why this guide is necessary (even for people who go to confession frequently)
You may be thinking, “I’ve been going to confession regularly for X number of years. Are you saying that I’ve been doing it wrong?”
Not wrong, no. But, we all need reminders for two reasons:
- You may not have been seriously resolved not to commit the sins that you confessed. Being “seriously resolved” is called a purpose of amendment. Without a true purpose of amendment, your confessions will not be very efficacious and may not even be valid. St. Francis writes, “Many who confess their venial sins out of custom and concern for order but without thought of amendment remain burdened with them for their whole life and thus lose many spiritual benefits.”
- There may be sins that you’re forgetting or not taking seriously enough.
This is not a cause for scrupulosity about your past confessions. You were doing your best given what you knew. Let Padre Pio’s words calm your mind, “If we put into [our confession] all our good will and we have the intention to confess everything — all that we can know or remember — the mercy of God is so great that He will include and erase even what we cannot remember or know.”
If you knew the gift of God that is confession
One reason that people lack a firm purpose of amendment is that they don’t believe they can actually stop a certain sin.
But, the sacrament of confession is far more powerful than our human efforts could ever be.
Even in the sober words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the sacrament of confession has incredible power:
“In this sacrament, the sinner, placing himself before the merciful judgment of God, anticipates in a certain way the judgment to which he will be subjected at the end of his earthly life…In converting to Christ through penance and faith, the sinner passes from death to life and “does not come into judgment.’” (CCC 1470)
Pause for a minute and consider that the person who goes to confession, in a sense, won’t come into judgement after death because he has already experienced this judgment in the confessional.
Jesus, through St. Faustina, describes the sacrament in more expressive language:
“There the greatest miracles take place [and] are incessantly repeated…Were a soul like a decaying corpse so that from a human standpoint, there would be no [hope of ] restoration and everything would already be lost, it is not so with God. The miracle of Divine Mercy restores that soul in full.” (1448)
Can you imagine how much good confession does to your soul, which is hopefully not analogous to a dying corpse!
Many of you have asked that I write about how to grow in holiness. Please take this to heart:
Confession is the single most important act for growth in holiness aside from receiving the Eucharist.
Everyone can use a refresher on confession basics
Here is a brief refresher on the basics of confession:
- Make an examination of conscience before confession using a guide like this. For an examination of conscience based on St. Francis de Sales’s hidden sins, click here.
- Mortal sins must be confessed. You have to say how many times you did it and what it was.
- “Don’t be satisfied with confessing your venial sins merely as to the fact but accuse yourself of the motive that led you to commit them,” writes St. Francis.
- Before confessing something, it is important to be resolved never to do it again.
On this last topic, St. Francis writes, “It is an abuse to confess any kind of sin, whether mortal or venial, without a will to be rid of it since confession was instituted for no other purpose.” You may be fully aware that you’re going to commit the same sin again because you’ve confessed it in your last ten confessions, but you should resolve with all your strength never to do it again, try to hate the sin by reminding yourself of the evil it causes, and take concrete steps to avoid the occasion for the sin. For example, if you have a certain friend who loves to gossip, think of a few ways to redirect the conversation when it appears to be heading down that path. Without a firm decision and a plan to avoid the sin in the future, it’s hard to say that you have the purpose of amendment that confession requires.
St. Francis de Sales’s “undetected” sins
Everyone’s wants “cool” virtues like chastity, fortitude or prudence, which the devil is happy for you have if you are ignorant of sins that St. Francis says, “live and rule undetected in your conscience.”
Free Bonus: I created an examination of conscience called “St. Francis de Sales’s ‘undetected’ sins” based on the seven points below. If you want your next confession to be life-changing, get the examination of conscience here.
Try to relax because this is going to sting.
Speaking of humility, St. Francis writes, “all the saints, and particularly the King of Saints and his Mother, have always honored and cherished this precious virtue more than any other among all the moral virtues.” Since humility is so important, sins against it must also be important. So, according to an excellent book called Humility of Heart, pride “is certainly a sin which partakes of the gravity of a mortal sin.” If you were like me before I read Humility of Heart, pride as a mortal sin is a new idea. Indeed, none of the confession guides I’ve ever seen mention pride directly. Pride is often considered the root of sin and so actual sins of pride are little known. This is exactly how Satan wants it because according to St. Augustine, “among all the falls of sinners, none is so great as that of the proud.”
Our ignorance of how pride works makes the devil’s job easy. We are so inclined to pride and we barely know when we’ve sinned by it and we have no concept of how grave it is.
This ignorance is responsible for a large part of your spiritual stagnation.
According to Humility of Heart, here is how you can sin against pride:
- Taking credit for anything without reference to God and desiring that others give you that credit. The prototypical example of this from the gospels is the farmer who has a great harvest and builds another barn to store food. More subtle forms include reflecting on how wonderful your hair looks as if by your styling efforts you had created it and hoping that others will notice, too. The direct side effect of this manifestation of pride is scrupulosity because, when we believe that salvation depends on us, we get worried about what we’re doing rather than relying on God.
- Giving credit externally to God for something while actually believing that we earned it and hoping that others will believe that we earned it, too. My prayer was really consoling today, which of course is God’s doing, but I persevered through months of dry prayer, so this is my reward. While there is some truth to this statement, there’s also the potential to think that you earned consoling prayer, which is pride.
- Desiring to be esteemed above what you really are. Desiring a promotion that you’re not really qualified for. Wishing that other people would say that you were “on fire” for the Lord. All this leads to contempt for our current situation and a lack of gratitude for the many, many gifts that God has given you.
- Desiring to be better than others. The most clear sign of this sin is finding fault with other people mostly in our own mind. Our mind tries to satisfy our desire to be better than other people by honing in on their mostly imagined defects and blowing them totally out of proportion. This is especially pernicious when we turn our focus on spiritual things. One of our lay Dominican readers, Mr. Ambrose Little, O.P. brought a few examples of this to my attention: critiquing your priest for not following the rubrics properly, or your choir director for choosing the wrong songs, or your fellow parishioners for not being as devout as you. Another sign of this fault is habitually contradicting other people, which is a way of making yourself a little better than them in conversation.
2. Failing to speak of God with reverence
“Never speak of God or devotion in a routine or thoughtless manner, but always with attention and reverence.” In short, speak about your God as you would someone you truly love and honor. It should cause us a little pain when we hear something like, “Jesus is my homeboy.” Sure, the person saying that wants to acknowledge Jesus as his friend and certainly means well. But, the truth about Jesus and the mystery of the Incarnation shouldn’t be reduced to slogans and catchphrases. The same goes for the saints.
3. Rash Judgment
In St. Francis’s chapter on “Rash Judgment” he makes the point that the word rash isn’t really necessary because all man’s judgments are rash. “They are not the judges of one another, and when they pass judgment on others they usurp the office of our Lord.” You may be wondering if you can ever judge your neighbor. St. Francis responds, “No, never.” When we are required to judge because we are in a position of authority, then we must strive to pass along God’s judgment without distorting it with our own ideas and passions. St. Francis delineates several causes of rash judgment, which will help you get to the root of this sin.
- Naturally bitter dispositions: “they convert ‘judgment into wormwood,’ as the prophet says, by never judging their neighbors except with the strictest rigor and severity.
- Pride: These think that “in the same proportion as they lower other men’s honor they raise their own.” If you find yourself complaining frequently, this could be the cause because complaints often bring others down and judge them rashly.
- Self-satisfaction: “When they see the defects of others they feel a certain little satisfaction so as to preen themselves more and bring others to admire the contrary good qualities they think they possess.” Usually the part about bringing others to admire the contrary good qualities happens implicitly because the act of condemning something implies that the one condemning would never commit the offense. This little satisfaction can be very hidden, but we see the effects of it when we feel an inner attraction towards tabloid news that is so scandalous that we are saints by comparison.
- Softening your own remorse of conscience: We often condemn others of the very same vice that we are addicted to because we feel that if others are doing it then it must not be so bad.
- Playing the philosopher: “Many men make a habit of rash judgment merely because they like to play the philosopher and probe into men’s moods and morals as a way of showing their own keen intelligence.”
- Passion: “They always think well of things they love and ill of those they dislike.” This generally holds, but there is an exception “where excess of love arouses them to pass harsh judgments on what they love.” Judgments from passion are very common. I love this team, so I hate their rival. I love praying this way, so I hate praying that way.
Slander is falsely imputing sin to another. This sin is doubly bad because it is an offense against truth and it robs another of their good name. “Beware of falsely imputing crimes and sins to your neighbor, revealing his secret sins, exaggerating those that are manifest, putting an evil interpretation on his good works, denying the good that you know belongs to someone, maliciously concealing it or lessening it by words.”
5. Failure to be faithful to little tasks
“Bear patiently the slight injuries, the little inconveniences, the inconsequential losses that daily come to you.” St. Francis wants us to see the myriad of small opportunities to serve Jesus in our day and, for the purposes of making a good confession, he wants us to examine our attitude towards these opportunities because to despise these opportunities is to reject an opportunity to love Christ. To identify where we are going wrong in this area, it can be helpful to pay attention when we think or say that we hate doing something or that we don’t like this or that. Doing dishes, getting stuck in traffic, filling out forms, shoveling snow, talking to a certain person are all opportunities to love and it would be a mistake to despise them.
6. Failure to preserve a just and reasonable mind
In this chapter, St. Francis provides a litany of “little” ways in which we are “unjust and unreasonable” to our neighbor. Here are a few examples:
- We condemn every little thing in our neighbor and excuse ourselves of important things.
- We want to sell very dearly and to buy at bargain prices.
- We like to have things we say taken in good part but we are tender and touchy about what others say.
- In general we prefer the rich to the poor, even though they are neither of better condition nor as virtuous.
- We even prefer those who are better dressed.
In short, we don’t treat our neighbor as we would like to be treated.
7. Failure to resist small temptations
“It is easy enough to refrain from murder but it is extremely difficult to restrain all the little angry feelings for which occasions are offered at every moment.” And, the same goes for adultery, slander, theft, drunkenness, etc. The “headline” sin is relatively easy to avoid, but resisting the little desires in our heart that eventually lead to those big sins is very challenging. For example, we would never think of stealing someone’s house, but some long for the houses of others, talk about them at every opportunity and hope some calamity will befall the owner forcing them to sell.
Go to confession as soon as possible
If these sins were not on your radar up until now, take heart! You may feel weighed down by these “new” sins, but your deliverance is near. St. Francis writes, “Sin is shameful only when we commit it; when it has been converted by confession and repentance it becomes honorable and salutary. Contrition and confession are so beautiful and have so good an odor that they wipe away the ugliness of sin and purify its stench.”
And, if your experience is anything like mine, greater freedom from these sins, especially pride, will open up a new horizon of spiritual growth because “in confession you not only receive absolution from the sins you confess but also great strength to avoid them in the future.”