I went to confession yesterday and confessed having missed Mass the week before. I paused after confessing it, wondering if I should explain the circumstances, as they might have decreased my culpability but I wasn’t sure. Before I could continue, the priest said: “You don’t have to know why you did it. It’s enough that you know it was wrong.” This really confuses me. I thought motivation in committing individual sins was important? If I can’t identify my motivation, how can I tell how culpable I am, and (more importantly) how can I figure out what I need to do in order to strengthen myself against the temptation to avoid the sin? My priest, while assuring me that the sin was forgiven, didn’t give me any counsel as to how to avoid committing it in the future.
Knowing *why *we commit a particular sin is indeed helpful in avoiding that sin in the future. However, the sacrament of penance does not necessitate that we develop complete self-awareness before receiving its grace. The priest was correct, in one sense, to let you know that all that is required to receive the grace of the sacrament is to recognize our sins, be sorry for them, and intend to correct our actions. The sacrament does not require an immediate “game plan” to address each sin. On a pastoral level helping people to understand why they commit certain sins is certainly very helpful to them in their spiritual lives.