To receive the blessings of the Sacrament of Penance, a man must proceed through five basic steps: a man must come to understand what sin which can be thought of as Christ’s “performance standards”; a man must rigorously measure himself against Christ’s “performance standards” through an examination of conscience to identify his sins; a man must personally confess his sins to one of Christ’s priests in the Sacrament of Penance and be forgiven; a man must make reparation for his sins when possible; and a man must go back out into the world of the spiritual combat and battle falling back into sin.
Step 1 – Understand Jesus Christ’s “Performance Standards”
In every worldly pursuit, men compete to win (academics, sports, military, work, etc.). Performance standards determine how to win (and lose) and motivate men (e.g. grades in school, scores and personal stats in sports, military ranks, performance reviews at work, etc.); when underperforming, men try harder, and when over-performing, men are motivated to identify the thoughts and behaviors have led to success and repeat them.
To help men in their ascent towards Heaven, Jesus Christ, the Perfect Man, has given clear “performance standards”; those who meet the standards receive the fullness of His Grace and are welcomed into Heaven; those who willingly and knowingly fail to meet Christ’s standards are destined to Hell.
Christ’s “performance standards” are fully described in the Gospels and include:
Sins of Commission – Sins of Commission are thoughts, words and deeds which a man purposefully commits that are in opposition to God’s Will. Examples include:
Breaking the 10 Commandments (CCC 2052-2082).
Committing sins described in Galatians (5:19-21): “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing.”
The Seven Deadly Sins: Pride, Avarice/Greed, Envy, Wrath, Lust, Gluttony, Sloth (CCC 1866).
Sins that cry out to Heaven: The blood of Abel, the sin of the Sodomites, the cry of the people oppressed in Egypt, the cry of the foreigner, the widow and orphan, injustice to the wage-earner (CCC 1867).
Sins of Omission – Sins of Omission are the failure to keep some duty which God and His Church call men to perform. All of the Sins of Omission are a failure to fulfill Christ’s commandment to love (Jn 13:34) in some way.
The Works of Mercy summarizes the acts of love Christ calls each man to continually perform (CCC 2447):
The Corporal Works of Mercy commanded by Christ (Mt 25:31-46): Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead.
The Spiritual Works of Mercy: Instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish sinners, bear wrongs patiently, forgive offenses willingly, comfort the afflicted, pray for the living and dead.
Failing to keep the Precepts of the Church: attending Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, annual Confession, annual reception of the Eucharist at Easter, keeping the holy days of obligation and the prescribed days of fasting, providing for the material needs of the Church (CCC 2041-2043).
Failing to keep Baptismal and Marriage promises to raise children in the faith.
Failing to fulfill a man’s duty to grow in holiness as a Catholic Son (p ___) and Catholic Father (p ___).
Step 2 – Prepare through an Examination of Conscience
The Examination of Conscience is a man’s self-evaluation that helps him grow and strengthen his efforts to follow Christ as a disciple. Prior to making his Examine, a man should seek the intercession from the Saints and Angels (The Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, and/or his Guardian Angel) to help him make a good confession; see “Prayers for the Sacrament of Penance” (p ___).
In a man’s Examination of Conscience, he systematically evaluates himself versus Christ’s “performance standards” (see above) and lists his small failures (venial sins) and catastrophic failures (mortal sin); if time allows, a man may also refer to the more detailed and rigorous guide to assessing his spiritual progress as a Catholic Son (p ___) and as a Catholic Father (p ___).
Reflecting on the ugliness of his sins, the fear of eternal punishment and his love for God, a man develops contrition (deep sorrow) and resolves to sin no more (CCC 1451-1454). A man can be blessed by God with a love for God so profound, that he has “perfect contrition”, which is based on charity (CCC 1452).
A man can also be blessed by God to develop contrition by considering the ugliness of his sin and the fear of eternal damnation; this is called “imperfect contrition” (CCC 1453) which motivates a man to confess his sins in the Sacrament of Penance.
To be forgiven, a man must have a firm purpose to sin no more which includes taking any and all action to avoid the occasions of sin which he typically falls (near occasion) and can voluntarily avoid. Occasions of sin can include bad company, bad places, and bad things; simply put, occasions of sin are those things which increase the likelihood that a man will fall into sin again.
If a man does not have a firm purpose of amendment to stop sinning and avoid the near and voluntary occasions of sin, he is not rightly disposed to make his confession and he will not be absolved of his sins because he has not made a valid act of contrition.
To grow in sorrow for his sins and increase his resolution to avoid sin in the future, a man can meditate upon:
- God loves the man so much as to suffer the Crucifixion for the man’s sins.
- It is an ugly act of betrayal and ingratitude to willingly rebel against God through deliberate sin.
- It is effeminate/weak for a man to not have the fortitude and self-control to avoid his sins and allow his sins to enslave him.
- A man’s sin hurts others, particularly his family and friends, who love him in many ways.
- A man can hate the feelings of shame, guilt and discomfort he feels when he commits and tries to hide his sins.
- Satan is tempting and seducing the man into sin and drawing the man under Satan’s control; instead of drawing him nearer to the Saints, a man’s sins draws him closer to the Damned and the demons.
- While he is in a state of mortal sin, a man loses the powerful supernatural help of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
- The just punishment of Hell for mortal sin is far more awful then the worst agony on earth.
- A man’s growing accumulation of “temporal punishment” for his forgiven sin will require purification in the fires of Purgatory; the more a man sins, the greater will be his suffering in the cleansing fires of Purgatory and the longer his delay in being received into the eternal happiness of Heaven.
- A man’s merit through the grace of God by his many efforts through prayer, good works and mortifications, is reduced by his sins; to some degree, deliberately taken sins erase some of the merits of his good works.
Step 3 – Confession of Sins in the Sacrament of Penance
To be absolved of sin, a man must completely confess his sins to a priest (CCC 1458-1458). The priest, granted through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, has the power to forgive all sins (CCC 1461) and is bound to total secrecy (CCC 1467).
After the priest makes the Sign of the Cross and offers an introduction, a man says how long it has been since his last Confession and then confesses each of his mortal sins including the number of times he has committed them so the priest understands the degree; he is also encouraged to confess venial sins (CCC 1458).
If a man is struggling to make his confession, out of embarrassment, fear or confusion, he may ask the priest for help in making his confession. The priest will most graciously help and a man should respond with complete honesty and not hide anything.
When complete, a man admits his sins and his desire for forgiveness; for example:
For these, and for all the sins of which I have at any time been guilty, I humbly ask God to pardon me of all my sins if it be His Holy Will.
The priest may ask questions for clarification and may offer helpful advice.
Step 4 – Satisfaction
After a man confesses his sin, he must make an Act of Contrition, receive a penance from the priest, be blessed to receive absolution (forgiveness) through the priest for his sins, and then complete his penance.
Act of Contrition
The man makes an Act of Contrition (sorrow):
O my God. I am heartily sorry for having offended You, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell; but most of all because they offend You, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Your Grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and amend my life. Amen.
It is essential that a man have deep sorrow for his sins and a firm resolve to avoid all the near and voluntary occasions of sins to the best of his ability.
The priest gives a man a penance
A man must make satisfaction for his sins (CCC 1459). The priest imposes a penance that can include “prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service of neighbor, voluntary self-denial, sacrifices”; it is typically a small act that unites the man with Christ’s redemptive suffering (CCC 1460).
The priest gives absolution
The priest, acting on behalf of God the Father, through the Passion of His Son, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, gives absolution (CCC 1449) which completely forgives a man’s sins (“I absolve you of your sins…”).
Many Catholic men do not understand or fail to consider that each man remains liable for the “temporal punishment” for his sins, even after Confession. Though a man has been forgiven for the sins he has confessed in the Sacrament of Penance, his sins have caused damage and he is liable for the “temporal punishment” for his forgiven sins (CCC 1472-1473); he can reduce his liability for the just “temporal punishment” for his sins by seeking to live a holy life with many prayers, mortifications, and Works of Mercy, and by receiving Indulgences (see ___).
Any of a man’s accumulated “temporal punishment” which remains when he dies in a state of grace, will be cleansed in the fires of Purgatory in the Church Penitent (CCC 1030-1032, 1472) and he will eventually be received as a Saint into the eternal happiness of Heaven (CCC 163, 1028); if a man is not in a state of grace, but in a state of mortal sin, at the time of his death, he will be one of the Damned in Hell (CCC 633, 1022, 1033-1037, 1472). See “Every Man must accept Jesus as his Savior” for a more detailed discussion (p ___).
A man completes his penance
Forgiven of the guilt for his sins, a man completes his penance and is assured of entrance to Heaven as long as he does not fall into mortal sin; any future mortal sin requires a return to the Sacrament of Penance and a man is obligated to receive the Sacrament of Penance at least once a year (CCC 2042). Before leaving the parish, pray in thanksgiving to God for the blessing of being forgiven of your sins; see “Prayers for the Sacrament of Penance” (p ___).
Step 5 – Returning to the Spiritual Combat
Blessed with the relief from the guilt of his sin, strengthened by grace and joyfully reunited with Christ, a man returns to the daily battle to avoid sin and seek holiness (CCC 1496) by taking specific actions:
Since a man’s sin damages others, he must do what is reasonable to repair any harm that he has done (CCC 1459).
Avoid the occasions of sin
It is also necessary for a man to diligently take deliberate and decisive action to remove any occasions of sin which have tempted him in the past and can be anticipated and avoided.
Strive to grow in holiness and seek Indulgences
Just as the practice of sins becomes a habit (CCC 1791) so too can a man practice taking many holy acts which become holy habits (CCC 1494). To avoid the habits of sin, a man should strive to grow in the habits of holy acts.
Every Catholic man should also strive to receive the blessing of Indulgences. Given that the “temporal punishment” for a man’s forgiven sin remains after receiving forgiveness/absolution in the Sacrament of Confession, every Catholic man should strive to grow in holiness and merit through Indulgences so his “temporal punishment”, for which he is liable after dying in a state of grace, is reduced; Indulgences, which a man is granted for his holy thoughts, words, and deeds, reduce his “temporal punishment”, and reduce the time he will need to spend being purified in Purgatory.
There are many ways in which a man can receive remission for “temporal punishment” through the Church’s great blessing of granting Indulgences (See “Drawing closer to God in prayer” p ___).
The Manual of Indulgences (MOI) describes the types of holy actions a Catholic man can take to receive Indulgences, which include various prayers (see “Daily Prayer Routine” p ___), voluntary mortification by abstaining from something that is licit (Partial Indulgence MOI General Concessions Grant 3) and through the performance of Works of Mercy (see: “Performing Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy p ___).
Every Catholic man who desires to pursue Indulgences for the remission of the “temporal punishment” for his sins should review The Catechism of the Catholic Church section on Indulgences (CCC 1471-1479) and The Manual of Indulgences (see “Selective References”) for a comprehensive list of Indulgences, and discuss Indulgences with his priest.