THE HIDDEN POWERS AND SECRETS OF CONFESSION INCLUDE TRUE MEANING OF 'CONVERSION'
There are hidden powers and history with Confession. Seldom do we stop to contemplate how powerful this sacrament is in ridding pride (truly, the great inhibitor to holiness) and purging evil. An exorcist in Rome once wrote that Confession is as powerful against the enemy as a formal exorcism! When we purge darkness, we purge demons. And when we purge demons, we often set the way to healing (for as Christ showed, many ailments are caused by unclean spirits).
We tend to think Confession was always with our Church, that as a sacrament it is the twin of Communion -- which in crucial ways, of course, it is. However, it does not share the same history. Where the Eucharist was instituted by Jesus at the Last Supper, Confession came through other parts of Scripture.
Note that when Jesus passed His mission to forgive sins to his ministers, He told them that "as the Father has sent me, even so I send you. . . . Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (John 20:21–23).
But it is false to call it a relatively recent sacrament (as do some, saying that verbal Confession started only in 1215, at the Fourth Lateran Council).
In fact, while it has changed, as has the Mass itself, there was Confession in the initial days of the Church (tradition has it, right from the start) -- often involving years of penitential acts. It is pointed out that in the earliest Christian writings, such as the first-century Didache, are indefinite on the procedure for Confession, but a verbal confession is listed as part of the Church’s requirement by the time of Irenaeus -- which means around A.D. 180. It was during the seventh century that Irish missionaries began the practice of "private" penances that did not require public and long-term penances. What the Fourth Lateran Council did was establish the requirement of Confession at least once a year. The Council of Trent (1551) reaffirmed this.
St. Ambrose (d. 397) rebuked the Novatianists who "professed to show reverence for the Lord by reserving to Him alone the power of forgiving sins. Greater wrong could not be done than what they do in seeking to rescind His commands and fling back the office He bestowed." St. Augustine (d. 430) warned the faithful: "Let us not listen to those who deny that the Church of God has power to forgive all sins." St. Athanasius (d. 373): "As the man whom the priest baptizes is enlightened by the grace of the Holy Ghost, so does he who in penance confesses his sins, receive through the priest forgiveness in virtue of the grace of Christ."
That all said, it is good to meditate on the power of this sacrament.
And for this we turn to a useful little book by John A. Kane, How To Make A Good Confession, which includes "examination of conscience."
Therein we realize more fully that when those who were born Catholic but have strayed come back and "convert," what is really meant is "repentance." When we return, we repent. Our eyes are reopened. And with it comes joy because with it comes the Holy Spirit. As Kane says, "The end of sorrow, both natural and supernatural, is correction, change. Supernatural sorrow must wean the soul from sin and turn it to God; it must, in other words, work repentance, for to repent is to change."
Conversion is literally a turning of the soul and all its faculties from sin to complete consonance with the Will of God.
In fact, "repentance" comes from the Greek metanoia.
"True repentance is easily discerned," writes Kane. "Mortification is its soul. When we repeatedly resist our ruling passion, when we remove the causes that stir it into action, when we lay the axe to the root of sin, when we are proof against the alluring voice of self-love, which ever seeks to discredit the claims of conscience, when we bridle the triple concupiscence of the world, the flesh, and the devil, when we are guided by the Divine philosophy of the Gospel and not by the uncertain and shifting maxims of the world, when the spirit of self-denial has so thoroughly woven itself into the fibers of our religious life as to make us impervious to the poisonous exhalations of worldliness, sensuality, and pride, when there is a substantial, not accidental change in our attitude toward sin in its complex guises, when the Cross is for us the test and measure of success, when we learn the secret of sanctity from its greatest exponent and example, Jesus Christ, Who 'did not please Himself,' when we 'rend our hearts and not our garments,' and turn wholly to the Lord, our God -- then and then only are we truly penitent."
In other words: if we do not work actively -- and with great tenacity -- at purging evil inclinations, we have not truly repented (converted).
"Watch and pray," said Jesus (Mark 14:38), "that you not enter into temptation."
Here's a constant prayer for us -- that of the publican: "Oh God, be merciful to me a sinner" (Luke 18:13). We cannot repeat that too often.
"The essential difference between true and false repentance shows the indisputable necessity of sincerity with God," says the book. "Our service to God must be free from duplicity. Christ enforces this truth: 'He that is not with Me is against Me' (Matthew 12:30). God cannot tolerate any compromise with sin: 'He that gathereth not with Me scattereth' (Matthew 12:30 again). The man who tries to bargain with God is a weakling. To confess and not to change is treason against God. The eye of the soul must be sound. To the conviction that we are sinners, we must add honesty in dealing with our sins and in addressing ourselves to God for their pardon. Grace not only can reveal to the soul its characteristic weakness -- without the cloak in which dishonest self-love would hide it -- but also can counteract the deadly poison of sin and give the soul the moral strength to overcome the treacherous tempter."