"Big Four" Highlights


An Amended Life

The grace of a good Confession makes us new

By Jason Godin

(This is the final installment in a six-part Lent series on how to make a good sacramental Confession.)

Six weeks ago we started to take steady steps together on a penitential path. It began with cultivating true contrition, which led us next to reach for repentance through an instrument of mercy, the Cross. We then found remorse and remembrance along the path. The royal road to restoring our souls also involved frequent confessional combat, interior engagements in which we fought to put pride in retreat. And, then we recognized that repaying God for his goodness must include a generous attitude toward others in the form of our own sacrificial works of love.

We’ve come a long way, but one more step awaits. Now is the time to take it, yet truth be told, it will take time. The rest of our lifetime, in fact.

Father John Kane concludes his classic How to Make a Good Confession by calling for a firm resolve to change. The last chapter is as much a summons without an expiration date as it is a closing summary. The pioneering priest points readers to a place in their journey of faith beyond mere moments of feeling good. He closes with three interconnected stages that make a map with contours where future failures and our fallen nature remain facts of life. Go forward with a firm resolve not to sin again, yet fall without fear, he seems to say, for God lifts us back up by the grace of a good confession.

The first stage involves perseverance. It calls for confronting dimensions of desires, angers and appetites on a daily basis. It isn’t an easy advance in holiness by any means. Father Kane presents it as iron purified by fire into steel: “peace of mind under pain, tranquility in trial, meekness in humiliation, forbearance under gross injustice, and a more religious response to the truths of their Faith” (p. 96-97).  

The second stage plays out what the world would consider a paradox. One ascends in holiness, Father Kane reveals, by descending into your core to discern the will of God (cf. p. 97). Models for this “complete conversion” of soul include Mary Magdalene and Peter (cf. p. 97-98). Humility surfaces as a primary standard measure in this regard, and also provides a point of perpetual strength and commitment. 

Firm and humble resolve, however, isn’t an end in itself. We must also nurture the theological virtue of hope. “We are saved more by faith increasing, tendencies developing, and charity expanding than by knowledge acquired, results obtained, and victories won,” Father Kane explains (p. 103). In our striving to do penance and sin no more, are we willing to get back up when sin will assuredly knock us down again? Muscles of faith are there, but we need to form the habit of flexing them. Part of that process takes reconnecting with God when we suffer a severed link, which is why the Church stands ready to serve us through sacraments like Confession.

Sacramental Confession includes these wonderful words of the priest:

“God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

These words effect absolution, the forgiveness of sins. They provide peace, both interior and exterior. They set our sights far beyond the days of Lent, to our everyday life in the Church and the world. And they do much, thanks be to God, in helping us to articulate an anthem for an amended life.

Jason Godin is managing editor of Fathers for Good