For Those Recovering From Addictions: An Often Unknown or Neglected Effect of the Sacrament of Reconciliation


“Still another effect of the sacrament of Penance is that **it restores to us the merits of our past good works if these have been lost by mortal sin. **As we know, every good work that we perform in the state of grace with the intention of doing it out of love for God is a meritorious work. It entitles us to an increase of grace in this life and an increase of glory in heaven…However, mortal sin wipes out this accumulated merit, much as a man might lose his life savings by one reckless gamble. God could with perfect justice allow our past merits to remain forever lost even when he forgives our sins. But in his infinite goodness he does not do so. He does not make us start all over again from scratch. The sacrament of Penance not only forgives our mortal sins; it also restores to us the merits which we had so willfully cast away.” (Trese, Leo (2011-02-09). The Faith Explained (Kindle Locations 6747-6754). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.)

“The sacrament of Penance confers sanctifying grace by which are remitted the mortal sins and also the venial sins which we confess and for which we are sorry; it changes eternal punishment into temporal punishment, of which it even remits more or less according to our dispositions; it revives the merits of the good works done before committing mortal sin; it gives the soul aid in due time against falling into sin again, and it restores peace of conscience.” (Catechism of St. Pius X)

“[G]race is infused into man through Penance. Now all the gratuitous virtues flow from grace, even as all the powers result from the essence of the soul…Therefore all the virtues are restored through Penance.” (St. Thomas Aquinas, ST, III, Q. 89, A. 1)

“[A] man is repaired in an instant by Divine grace.” (St. Thomas Aquinas, ST, Suppl., Q. 36, A. 5)

If you fall into a relapse and then go to Confession, you are NOT starting from scratch again, but all of the days, weeks, months, and even years of fighting before your fall has contributed to your healing. You have not lost them!

It is unfortunate that this effect of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is not emphasized in the current Catechism since it would have greatly helped many people, but not being included in the Catechism does not mean that a doctrine or part of such doctrine is not true anymore.

Some may object here, saying that because of the compulsive nature of addictions, relapses are not mortal sin and thus shouldn’t be confessed. I will not say anything about the severity of sin such relapses, but, when it comes to confessing relapses no matter how severe they are, I beg to differ, since the Catechism itself says that:

1458 Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church. Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit.

My intention here is to give solace to the recovering addict who wants to be lifted out of their addictions. No matter how morally light a relapse is objectively, for the addict a relapse weighs very heavily for him subjectively. This doctrine of the Catholic Church should help ease their sufferings.

So for those fighting addictions, a suggestion: get a calendar and, starting now, mark all the days you have resisted your addiction; when you fall, make a perfect act of contrition and go right away to Confession, and ignore those days. Then look at the days you have marked, ignore the days you have not, and say to yourself and believe, “I am so-and-so days free from my addiction,” even though you may have just fallen and went to confession yesterday.

God says, “I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12). Cannot you give yourselves a favor and do so as well?

What a valuable post. . . . I hope everyone notices it.

Nice reminder of the power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We are washed clean and this can be a joyous occasion.

I would just like to discuss one point that I differ on that I quoted above. I understand what you are saying about appreciating the forgiveness and remembering your virtues, but…
I never count the days. I am in need of God’s mercy and grace every single day unto eternity. If I base my recovery on counting days (it has been roughly a year and a half, with a couple minor slips), I put my self in a self-justifying frame of mind, and that is dangerous for me. Grace then becomes a quantity, or something I can possess and tally up, rather than God’s free, gracious, un-measurable gift. I am aware of my spiritual state and the state of my virtue. But my spirituality is primarily the submission of a needy sinner in God’s eyes, not someone who has earned holiness because I haven’t misbehaved for X number of days.

Does that make sense? I find that framing my spiritual state around my own virtue or lack thereof brings my pride and sense of control to the forefront, and I do not want that.

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