20 February 2012

Just Name the Sin: No excuses, no explantions. . .

In the post below ("10 Random Thoughts on Confession") I urge penitents to avoid explaining their sins in favor of simply confessing them.  

Often, penitents feel the need to describe the circumstances of the sin or offer some sort of causal account of their sins.  Not necessary.  

Just. Name. The. Sin.  Easy, cheesy.  If your confessor needs more info, he will ask.  

Now, what do I mean by "explanation."  This definition is as good as any. . .from wikiAn explanation is a set of statements constructed to describe a set of facts which clarifies the causes, context, and consequences of those facts.

Your confessor needs to know the nature of your sin ("name") and how many times you've committed the sin ("number"). He does not need to know the cause, context, or consequences--unless he does, in which case, he will ask you for a description.  

Good Example:  "I lied four times this week to my wife."  

Bad Example:  "I found out that my wife lied to me last week about how much money she spent on shoes, so I told her that my fishing boat only cost half what it really costs and when she asked me about at dinner last night--no, wait--it was lunch. . .anyway, when she asked about it I told her another lie. . ."  

Your confessor does not need to know:  1) that you know that your wife lied to you; 2) that your wife lied; 3) that she lied to you last week; 4) that she lied about money; 5) that she bought shoes; 6) that you lied about a the cost of a fishing boat; 7) what meal you were eating when she asked you about the cost of the fishing boat; 8) that she asked you about the cost of the boat a second, third, fourth time. . .

Your confessor needs to know:  1) that you lied to your wife; 2) how many times you lied.  Yes, lying to your wife is different than lying to a stranger.  A lie is a lie.  Period.  But lying to your wife raises different sorts of flags.  If you were to confess, "I lied four times this week." your confessor rightly asks, "To whom did you lie?"  He will not--I hope--ask, "What were you eating when you lied?"

Basically, I'm urging penitents to get out of the habit of explaining their sins because: 

1). explanations almost inevitably end up sounding an awful lot like rationalizations/justifications;

2). confession-time is not story-time, "Just the facts, ma'am."

3). explaining your sins can lead to Vicarious Confession, i.e., in the process of explaining who, when, why, where of Your Sin X, you end up trying to confess someone else's sin.

4). explanations are often veiled attempts at provoking sympathy in the confessor. 

Strip that confession to the bare bones so that there is a white-hot laser focus on YOUR sins--no excuses, no explanations, no causal accounts, no nothing but the wrong you did!  That way, you can get on with enjoying God's love and loving others in kind.


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  1. Anonymous11:54 AM

    I got mad at your mother today.Is that a sin? I'll not explain what she said to me that caused my reaction.Pop

  2. buckyinky12:17 PM

    This was also helpful - again, thanks

  3. Pop, sorry. . .you can't confess to me unless you're near death and I'm the only priest available. . .besides, you ain't even Catholic!

    How's that for a dodge? :-)

  4. Fr. P,

    I once asked my late spiritual director whether the preferred that penitents confessed their roll of sins (which I prefer for the reasons you mentioned) or whether they'd contextualize them and he answered that he preferred the later because then he'd be able to provide better advice.

    So I guess that it depends on the priest and on how the penitents were instructed to confess.

    God bless.