Monday, February 7, 2011

Advice on Preparing for Confession

We are again fast approaching the Lenten period.  This is a time for introspection and a rededication to nurture our spiritual well being.  One of the activities, in addition to fasting, that most participate in during this time, is the Sacrament of Confession. Saint Theophan the Recluse offers some advice on preparing for this most important and valuable Sacrament.

He says,
The first thing to do in making repentance is to go inside yourself and begin to look over what is within...  no one except yourself can go inside of yourself and analyze the workings of your conscience...
 To examine yourself well, you must turn your attention to the three aspects of your active life. 1) the actions, those isolated acts which are performed at a given time in a given place and under given circumstances; 2) the disposition of the heart and the characteristic tendencies which are concealed beneath the actions; 3) the general character of your life.
First step: listen to your conscience and all those actions which it exposes to you, without any excuse, acknowledge as sinful and prepare to confess them...  It is a necessity for the conscience to turn for assistance to the Commandments of God that are depicted in the Word of God, and, in reviewing them, to find out if we have done anything contrary to any of them. By doing this, we may recall much which we have forgotten, and much that is recalled will be presented in a form other than how we interpreted it.
Second step: go over the Commandments and see whether you carry them out or not. For example, the commandment enjoins us to offer charity every time someone asks for it. Look at yourself, do you always offer it, or not? Do you sometimes refuse it, not because of any important reason, but simply because you scorn the beggar? If this turns out to be the case, take note: it is a sin. The commandment says to forgive everyone everything, even that which is unpleasant and offensive... In this way you will make a detailed examination of your actions.
He also points out that is important to examine the disposition of your heart. What is its mood, what is its inclination, what is your heart like? Christ has told us what are the proper disposition that we as a Christian should have in our heart. These are humility, contrition, meekness, love of righteousness and truth, mercifulness, pure heartedness, love of peace, and patients.

St. Paul gives us the following dispositions of the heart which she calls the fruits of the Holy Spirit: "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance (Galatians 5:22, 23)." "Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do you. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also you are called in one body; and be thankful (Colossians 3:12–15)."

In opposition to these we have the passions that are operating within us. The main ones are pride, vanity, selfishness, intemperateness, anger, hatred, envy, idleness, desire for sensual pleasures, gloom, and despair. The challenge in preparing for our confession is to identify which one of these passions has become dominant within us. 

Saint Theophan says, 
Everyone has one main passion around which all the others in twine themselves. You must take care to seek out this one above all.
When you do this you will find out the disposition of your heart. This is what is most difficult and most important to transform or change. This involves a difficult struggle. Be realistic and develop a personal strategy to effect change it your disposition.  Seek the help of God through your prayers.

Reference: The Spiritual Life, pp 156-162

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