It can be discouraging, but confessing the same faults repeatedly has many advantages.
One person complained to a priest about “always committing the same sins.” The priest replied humorously, “Well, I hope you don’t feel like committing new ones!” Indeed, the fact that we are not making our situation worse with new sinful behavior is a grace in and of itself. But what is the use of confessing if we always end up repeating the same sins?
A sacrament that aims to be “pedagogical”
Confession is not a legal act, a way of “settling accounts” with the Good Lord and with yourself. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a privileged opportunity to experience the Father’s mercy. It is a channel of grace—divine life is transmitted to us even through the wounds of our soul that we present to God for his forgiveness.
This sacrament is also intended to be “pedagogical,” as Benedict XVI said. It provides us with a more intimate understanding of God’s heart: the Father of mercy never tires of forgiving. Receiving the mercy of God is not a feeling (however “good” that feeling may be) but rather, in the words of Pope Francis, it means receiving “the true strength that can save mankind and the world from the cancer of sin.” Fascination, gratitude, and joy arise from this revelation of God’s personal love for each one of us!
If confessing the same sins bothers you, it is often because we are irritated with ourselves, and we recognize that our self image is not what we would like it to be. However, a Christian life is rooted precisely in the existential experience of our misery, of our inability to do anything outside of Christ (John 15:5).
The benefits of confessing the same sins
St. Maximilian Kolbe once said: “When everything we tried didn’t work out, when I recognized that I was lost and when my superiors realized that I was useless, then the Virgin Mary took into her hands this poor instrument that was only for good scrap.” For his part, Francis de Sales explains: “It is not just the soul that knows its own misery that can have great trust in God but that, without this essential knowledge, there cannot be true trust in Him: it is precisely this knowledge and the confession of our misery that place us before God.”
Therefore, repeating the same faults in confession leads us to this double knowledge—of our innate misery as well as the infinite goodness of God. To Mother Teresa, who lamented being “incapable,” Jesus replied: “You are, I know, the most incapable, weak and sinful person, but that is precisely why I want to use you for my glory. Will you refuse?”
Thus, God’s pedagogy is not a question of first freeing us from sin in order to be morally correct. Rather, God seeks to lead us to this deep understanding of the abyss of our misery and engulf it in the abyss of Divine Mercy. It is then and only then that God’s grace, always sufficient to keep us from sinning, can be effectively received.
Father Nicolas Buttet
How often should we go to confession?