Confession and the Rosary

The other day, I went to Confession and had an experience I wanted to share with the Catholic Geek audience. The priest was forceful, which is always a mixture of refreshing and startling. Confession is a sacrament of love, but sometimes love means we need a kick in the pants.

In this case, the priest interrupted me, asking “Do you pray the Rosary daily?”

Startled, I responded “No, I–”

“Do you fast daily?”

“No . . .”

“Do you want to go to Hell?”

“No.”

“Recognize that those statements are contradictory.”

I wanted to tell him that I wasn’t ignoring the rosary; I just forget a lot, and wasn’t raised with the idea of a daily ritual. I felt weird with the implication that not praying a daily rosary would mean I would go to Hell. I briefly considered telling him that fasting daily was actually a bad thing, what with my health problems.

But all that would have just been avoiding the issue. Plus, I dislike trying to insist on circumstances in Confession; it smacks of trying to quibble or find excuses. I try to focus instead on the words of a former Christendom College chaplain, Fr. Mastroeni, on what to do in Confession. “Remember the three Bs: begin, be brief, and begone. If you need counseling, make an appointment. There are others behind you who need absolution.”

Fr Mastroeni Deduct points.jpg

Speaking of tough priests . . . yes, I had him as a professor, too.

Besides, this particular priest had a point. I wasn’t being told I was going to Hell for not praying the rosary; that would actually be a violation of Church teachings. And he went on to explain what he meant about fasting (in this case, abstinence from something, not just food). What happened is that for a brief few moments, until I got out of the confessional and went to pray before the Blessed Sacrament, I forgot the context. Confession is a doctor’s appointment for the soul, and my soul’s doctor just told me I was neglecting something I needed to do to stay healthy.

Let’s continue with that analogy for a moment. Imagine I really was seeing a doctor, and it was for a condition that was manageable or even treatable if I performed basic maintenance. Let’s replay those words I heard with a little editing.

Doctor: “Do you take your medicine daily?”

“No, I–”

“Do you exercise and eat right?”

“No . . .”

“Do you want to die of this condition?”

“No.”

“Recognize that those statements are contradictory.”

And they are. Not because the rosary — as great and powerful a spiritual practice as it is — is the only thing keeping me out of Hell. Not because having a little extra food or indulging in a harmless bit of pleasure, such as a few hours with Netflix or a video game, was keeping me mired in sin. Rather, the statements are contradictory because I am struggling with a problem but not following doctors’ recommendations.

Catholicism.jpg

Because the point of these two practices is not that you can perform them and then you’re good. It’s not that they erase anything, or hide it, or otherwise make up for what you’re lacking. Catholicism isn’t a point system. You don’t get coupons.

And what’s particularly humbling is that I can’t remember how many times I’ve given this same advice to others, and yet here I was not making much of a point of following it myself. I’ve pointed out to many people that prayer isn’t just about an intended result, such as getting a better job, finding your way when lost, or discovering the person you’re going to marry. All of those are good things to pray for. It’s also good to pray for little things, including frivolous things: sports teams, finding a toy, or getting past a particularly annoying boss in a video game. It can never hurt to pray about anything.

But prayer also has another benefit: it changes you. Sin is a scar on the soul. For the Catholics in the audience: have you ever wondered why you sound like a broken record in Confession? It’s because actions become habits, and habits become virtues or vices; and both virtues and vices will shape the soul and make it more likely that you tend toward one thing or the other. If we want to break out of that, then we have to be willing to reshape our souls.

Let’s get even more specific with that health analogy. Let’s say sin is excess fat gained purely through your own neglect of self. The most reliable way to fix that is diet and exercise: that is, reversing the neglect of self. Prayer and fasting are diet and exercise.

Do you want to be healthy? I sure do. It means breaking a lot of habits, of course. I know I’ll keep failing long before I succeed. But the point is to not put it off. It’s always easy to say you’ll start the diet tomorrow, and go to the gym on the weekend. Getting healthy is never easy; if it were, then you wouldn’t have trouble with it. But once you start improving, you’ll wonder why you ever backslid in the first place.

I know that, because I always do. And I keep backsliding anyway. But that’s the whole point; we’re all struggling to do better, and we have different obstacles. A big one for me is that I’m not very spiritual. I’m Catholic because I was convinced of how right the Church is about the world and people. I rarely feel any connectivity in spiritual matters, which is why it winds up being so hard for me to have spiritual practices. But that’s no excuse, any more than it’s an excuse to avoid exercising or eating right when there’s no other obstacle but my own preferences.

About Matthew Bowman

Matthew Bowman is a traditionally-minded Catholic convert and freelance science fiction and fantasy editor, which means that he's in high demand in a small population. Fortunately, he loves talking about stories. And Catholicism. And history. And philosophy. And lots of other stuff.
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8 Responses to Confession and the Rosary

  1. Foxfier says:

    I think it was Mother Angelica that had a great line about always confessing the same sins… “What, you want to go out and invent new ones?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great article, Matthew, just what I needed to hear, especially the part about praying for even beating the next video game level. 😀

    Like

  3. tgrignon says:

    Three words that I’m reminded of by this posting which are also scary but so true: Father Larry Richards.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sometimes love means a kick in the pants LOL! Loved the doctor’s recommendations analogy. Thank you for writing this.

    Like

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