"Big Four" Highlights


Confessional Combat

Penance puts pride in its place

By Jason Godin

Authors of Western classics have long wrestled with the theme of pride. Dante described it as a sin of the intellect in his 14th-century Inferno. Jane Austen paired it with prejudice beginning in the early 19th century. Oscar Wilde painted his protagonist Dorian Gray with pride almost 80 years after Austen. And many centuries before them all, the prophet Isaiah forecasted the moral failure’s future in the Old Testament: “For the Lord of hosts will have his day against all that is proud and arrogant, against all that is high, and it will be brought low” (2:12).

In How to Make a Good Confession by Father John A. Kane – a classic installment in the “Basics of Catholic Living” series published by Sophia Institute Press – pride also finds a prominent place in the book’s shortest chapter. Don’t let the lack of length suggest to you, however, that pride plays an insignificant part in building a stronger faith. The nine pages on the topic is situated near the heart of the book with good reason. For pride is at the center of all sins, Father Kane argues, and it is best combatted through frequent Confession, a sacrament that returns pride to its proper place and us to a right relationship with God.

Few people today want to admit publicly what most people already know in the privacy of their hearts. Acknowledging pride-inspired sins we’ve harbored silently for so long is a very scary endeavor. It can be even more daunting with another person sitting before you in the confessional. Fear and egotism can mix to convince us that Confession enslaves rather than frees us. Pride in this instance disguises itself with a series of confusing, contradictory appearances – vanity is dressed up as dignity, selfishness as survival skills, and hubris as honor.

Father Kane, however, finds “inestimable benefit” coming from such “fruitful confusion” (63). For it is precisely in that instance – in humble humiliation before the priest in persona Christi, shrouded in a sanctuary sealed with secrecy, perhaps not even knowing what or what not to say – that the priest finds a prognosis along with the diagnosis for our eternal soul. A good Confession, he says, requires an examination of conscience of every thought, word and deed where sincerity teams with humility to expose the truth – our greatest tool – to Truth himself (cf. p. 62). A Confession in this way, verbalized contritely and forthrightly, calls forth “a living power that often swiftly changes the course of a life” (p. 64).

“If we but turn to Him with sorrow and confess our sins, He will turn to us and His mercy will, with undying solicitude, embrace our souls,” he writes (p. 66). Progress in faith places us all in an interior battlefield, a war zone where vices battle with virtues. Frequent sacramental Confession helps clear that fog of spiritual war. Together with cultivating true contrition, reaching for the mercy of Christ crucified on the cross, as well as repentant remorse, confessional combat puts pride in retreat, and advances us a step closer toward our heavenly homeland.

Jason Godin is managing editor of Fathers for Good