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Friday, November 25, 2011

Strategies for Prayer -- tenth in a series (Confession)

Lord, teach us to pray (Luke 11:1)

Each of the preceding strategies have helped me maintain focus during my times of prayer. However, two strategies I’ve not yet mentioned form for me the foundation of intimate prayer with God. Actually, I consider them more as prerequisites for effective prayer instead of simple strategies. They are confession and forgiveness. The two are as inseparable as faith and works (see St James 2:17). One is useless without the other. And without either, I don’t believe my prayers – despite my ‘strategies’ – get higher than the ceiling.

Today’s post addresses confession. Next time I’ll talk about forgiveness.

The writers of Scripture link prayer and confession so often that even with a cursory reading of the Old and New Testaments, it is impossible to miss to connection. For example: He who conceals his sins prospers not, but he who confesses and forsakes them obtains mercy (Proverbs 28:13).

I called to the Lord with my mouth; praise was upon my tongue. [But] had I cherished evil in my heart, the Lord would not have heard (Psalm 66:17-18).

As long as I kept silent [about my sin], my bones wasted away; I groaned all the day . . . Then I declared my sin to you; my guilt I did not hide. I said, "I confess my faults to the Lord," and you took away the guilt of my sin (Psalm 32:3-5).

Likewise, you husbands should live with your wives in understanding, showing honor to the weaker female sex, since we are joint heirs of the gift of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered (1 Peter 3:7). 

Following the Biblical writers, the Church in her teaching on the effect sin (mortal or venial) have on our relationship with God, quotes St. Augustine: 

While he is in the flesh, man cannot help but have at least some light sins. But do not despise these sins which we call "light": if you take them for light when you weigh them, tremble when you count them. A number of light objects makes a great mass; a number of drops fills a river; a number of grains makes a heap. What then is our hope? Above all, confession (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1863). 

The Church further warns: . . . There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss (Catechism, 1864).

Imaginative prayer, Lectio divina, the Rosary, prayer lists, and all the other strategies I use to grow in my relationship with Christ – I have found them all utterly useless if I am aware of my sin  – even venial sin – and I delay my repentance. Thus, the examination of conscience, along with confession, forms the basis of this prayer strategy.

The Church explains such examination as made in the light of the Word of God. The passages best suited to this can be found in the Ten Commandments, the moral catechesis of the Gospels and the apostolic Letters, such as the Sermon on the Mount and the apostolic teachings” (Catechism 1454).

When I meet each day with the Holy Spirit, I ask Him to reveal to me things I did wrong that day (or in the very recent past) – the unnecessarily harsh words I spoke to others, lusts I entertained in my thoughts, resentment, an unforgiving spirit . . . . And when He unveils those sins to my mind, I immediately repent, using words similar to the Church’s Act of Contrition:

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, 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 Thee, my God, Who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.

As the Church teaches, Among the penitent's acts, contrition occupies first place. Contrition is "sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again" (Catechism 1451). When the Holy Spirit reveals to my mind my mortal sins, I bring them to the confessional to receive the Sacrament of Penance.

St. Paul tells us, “God is not mocked” (Galatians 6:7). Without honest confession and repentance, I believe my prayers are in danger of falling on His deaf ears. Which, by the way, is why I so often pray:

“Lord, I am not as willing to change my lifestyle as I ought to be. But, Lord, whatever You have to do to purge me, to redirect me, to make me holy, Lord, I am willing to be made willing for you to do that.


Rev. Clarence Heis said...

What are your thoughts on "how" the new liturgy was celebrated this past weekend, and subsequent days?

As a Priest, I find the "new words of the new translation" awkward, but nudging me toward greater preparation and intentionality (focusing on the words and their power) for the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy.

When you have a chance, I'd be interested in hearing from you.
Fr. Clarence (cgheis7@aol.com)

Richard Maffeo said...

Hello, Fr. Clarence. I'm probably not the best person to give an intelligent opinion. Having spent more than 30 years in evangelical circles, and then being received into the Catholic Church only a few years ago, I am quite used to change. Frankly, I think change is sometimes a good thing. It keeps us from falling into mindless routine. That's one reason why I 'shake up' my prayers, using several strategies to keep myself from getting too used to one or two . . . and thus going onto autopilot.

What are your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Beautiful reflection, Rich. Only when we are 'empty' can we receive God's Grace - so abundant and so patient!