God communicates His grace to us through Jesus Christ, His Mystical Body which is the Church. The Sacraments are the chief or principal channels by which Jesus sanctifies us, makes us holy. However, and this must be emphasized, the abundance of grace or the lack of grace is commensurate with the disposition of the recipient.
DISPOSITIVE GRACE IN SACRAMENTAL THEOLOGY. So as to reap the most abundant harvest in the reception of the Sacraments, one must have a firm grasp on what Dispositive Grace really means. To be concrete, dispositive grace means the more open, docile, pure, receptive, and humble the soul, the more abundant the graces.
A SIMPLE IMAGE. The sun will pass through a windowpane once the drapes are pulled open. However, a windowpane that has been sullied or besmirched by smut and dirt, then the abundance of the sun’s rays will be blocked, at least partially. That window cleansed by Windex and a dry newspaper will result in a pure and transparent window and the sunlight will penetrate and permeate the room in abundance. So, it is with the soul—a pure and transparent soul will capture and absorb the abundant light of God’s graces in the reception of the Sacraments!
CONFESSION AND GOD’S ABUNDANT GRACES. The normal and most efficacious means by which we can receive God’s Infinite Mercy is through the worthy reception of the Sacrament of Confession, also known as the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Sacrament of God’s Infinite Mercy. However, it must be emphasized, the thrust of this short essay is this: the abundance of the graces of all the Sacraments, and most specifically in this article, that of Confession, is in direct proportion to the disposition and the preparation made before entering the Confessional.
THE FIVE INDISPENSABLE STEPS. There are Five Indispensable Steps that are necessary to receive the grace of forgiveness in the Sacrament of Confession: 1) Examination of conscience; 2) Sorrow for sins, 3) Firm purpose of Amendment, 4) Confession of sins vocally to the priest, who represents Christ; 5) Penance—carry out the penance given by the priest. If done, the grace of the Sacrament flows into the soul.
PASTORAL COMMENT AND ADMONITION. As a priest for many years and having heard thousands of confessions in various countries, I would like to make this comment with the purpose of encouraging penitents to approach this great Sacrament with trust, love, confidence, and frequency. However, with the strong encouragement to analyze one of the five steps or aspects of the Sacrament—the 3rd Step: Firm Purpose of Amendment.
MEANING: Firm Purpose of Amendment. These few words mean the following: as a penitent in receiving the Sacrament of Confession, I will strive with the help of God’s grace and with all of the energy in my will to avoid the near occasion of sin. If you like, I will not play with fire. Or again, I will not walk on thin ice or walk on the slippery slope that leads to a fall. Meaning, I will avoid any person, place, thing, or event that can easily lead me to falling into sin. I will utilize preventive medicine to procure the avoidance of the moral infirmity of sin!
Let us offer a few concrete suggestions on how we can upgrade or improve our reception of the Sacrament of Confession, augment grace in our soul—even allow God’s grace to fall in a deluge upon our soul, and most important, to overcome falling into the same sins over and over.
1. IMAGINE THIS TO BE OUR LAST CONFESSION, THEN JUDGMENT. This thought can be of incalculable value: try to imagine that this Confession might be the last in your life and then Judgment ensues. No doubt with this thought in mind, your preparation will improve 100%.
2. EXAMINE OUR CONSCIENCE THOROUGHLY. Make a concerted effort to examine your conscience most thoroughly with the help of a guide booklet explaining the Ten Commandments in minute detail. Those who have drifted away from the Church for years and have not studied their faith, almost certainly do not know the Commandments and have a poorly formed conscience.
3. WRITE DOWN THE SINS. Of great utility for us as penitents would be that of writing down our sins. If done, sins will not be forgotten and skipped over in the context of the Confession. The Sacramental Grace of Ordination gives the priest the ability to absolve and forgive sins, but not to read minds.
4. REWIND THE FILM OF OUR LIFE AND DETECT OUR SINS. Even before writing down your sins, you should rewind the film of your life since your last Confession and see your sins with great honesty, not glossing over sins, or justifying sins, or rationalizing sins—this is pride. Try to see your sins through God’s eyes with total honesty and truth.
5. THE PRECEDING REASONS THAT LED US TO FALL INTO SIN. Now what is of prime importance in this short essay aimed at improving your confessions, is to arrive at the root causes or reasons that led you into your sins, and possibly what has led you to fall into the same sins in the past. This knowledge of self is of enormous importance in helping you not to fall into the same sins again, the same traps you have in the past.
6. DESOLATION. In general, relying upon the wisdom of the saints, especially Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the state of desolation is often a key trigger or catalyst that can easily catapult you into the mire of sin. By desolation basically is meant that you feel sad and depressed, have a sense of futility and purposelessness in life. Therefore, immersed in such a state, you must double your spiritual armaments to fight against the ensuing temptations.
7. KRYPTONITE (Superman’s weakness). The devil will take advantage of this weakened state of your soul to launch his missiles to manipulate and maneuver you into his camp and tempt you to sin, and sin again.
8. SELF-KNOWLEDGE OF THE PAST TO AVOID SINS IN THE PRESENT. Being aware of having slipped and fallen into the mire of your sins in the past due to a state of desolation, you must allow to kick into high gear the Ignatian concept of Agere Contra—this means instead of succumbing to sin, deliberately do the exact opposite. Instead of overeating, practice temperance. Instead of capitulating to impatience, be doubly patient with the people around you. Instead surrendering to laziness, bounce out of bed 15 minutes earlier. Instead of looking at something impure, contemplate Jesus on the cross with His Mother Mary at the foot of the cross. By living out the Agere Contra—doing the exact opposite, the victory can be won!
9. PRAYER, PENANCE, POWER OF DETERMINATION, PREVENTIVE MEDICINE. Now this is the key to confessing better, most specifically in carrying out Step Three—having a firm purpose of amendment in the scheme of the Sacrament of Confession—and that key is Prayer, Penance, Power of the Will, and Preventive Medicine. Let us look at these series of words with the Letter “P”. First, by Prayer is meant that even before entering the confessional you strive to make a fervent Act of Contrition. In this prayer you are already aware of your weaknesses and past sins, as well as what preceded these sins. Second, you will be adding to fervent prayer, an act of Penance, again prior to entering the confessional. It can be a small penance. It is not size of the penance that matters but the love and sincerity with which you offer it. Third, the Power of the Will—make a really firm act of the will with a determined determination to not sin again. Fourth, now have recourse to the Sacrament of Confession which is not only medicine and healing to the sick of soul, but also Preventative Medicine. If done well, not only are your sins forgiven, but the Sacrament confers grace not to fall so easily into sin again, and past habitual sins will be greatly diminished. In other words, you are having recourse first and foremost to God’s grace, but second and of great importance, doing your own part with good will!
10. NUNC CAEPI—Now I begin! Despite our good efforts, we still can fall. If that is the case, then we should strive to bounce back as soon as possible, and then strive with the help of God’s grace, and an even more firm commitment, to fight against sin. As the Psalmist reminds us: “God is slow to anger, but rich in mercy.” (Ps. 145:8) This refers to sin and the Sacrament of Confession. “Even if I should fall a thousand times a day, a thousand times I will get up again and say Nunc Cœpi–Now I begin.” (Ven. Bruno Lanteri, Founder of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary)
11. COMMUNION AND CONFESSION. Another added help to improve our Confession is to connect it with Communion. By this is meant, when you receive Holy Communion, beg the Sacred Heart of Jesus to support you in your fight, in your struggle against sin, in your weakness. Beg the Eucharistic Lord to strengthen you when you are weak and being tempted, and He will quickly run to your aid. Both Sacraments—Confession and Holy Communion—are intimately connected.
12. OUR LADY REFUGE OF SINNERS. The saints all agree that Mary is most powerful in our struggle against sin. Before having recourse to Confession, let us place our Confession in the hands and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and beg her most fervently every time we confess to the priest to make the best Confession in our life, and also to help us upgrade our firm Purpose of Amendment! Let us beg Mary to help us to avoid any person, place, thing, or circumstance that can plunge us into the mire of ugliness—that is sin. But rather may we choose beauty—that is virtue. “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”