Have you ever confessed a sin and then, no matter how earnestly you intended to amend your life, had the desire to commit that sin again? Why aren’t we simply fixed after Confession?
Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Confession that our sins may be forgiven and that we may return to friendship with him. He renews our souls, again filling them through the Holy Spirit with the many spiritual gifts first given to us at Baptism. Yet a certain inclination to sin—not the sin itself—remains. The Tradition calls this inclination the fomes peccati, the tinder for sin, or, we might say, the dregs (CCC 1264). These dregs of sin stick around in our minds through the memories of evil committed, and they also remain in our desires through the habitual bad decisions and actions that shape us. As the desires surface, they hurt quite a bit, but as long as they remain temptations we refrain from sinning.
These pinpricks of the desire to return to past sin are what we might call with St. Paul “thorn[s] in the flesh” (2 Cor 12:7). The temptations to commit that same old sin frustrate us, but the grace of Confession helps us to see these temptations in a new light.
“Power is made perfect in weakness,” the Lord tells St. Paul (2 Cor 12:9). Confession gives us a new memory—the memory of God’s forgiveness that reaches even through the shame I hide behind to the ugliness of my sinful soul. Memories of sin, that prick us like thorns in the flesh, by grace become moments of remembering both the loving forgiveness of our heavenly Father and the healing from sin that we still need him to work in our souls. Christ’s wounds were not erased after the Resurrection but poured forth light: our memory of the past becomes not of particular sins but of God’s healing. Our weakness becomes the moment of remembering God’s power.
Thus, the dregs of sin—those inclinations to sin that remain—remind us that we need to submit humbly to the healing of our sinful desires by cooperating with the grace that God offers us every day. Our sins are immediately forgiven with the words of absolution in Confession, but the healing of sinful inclinations takes place in a very personal manner through cooperating with the grace of Christ over time.
Confession does not leave us without a solution even for this remaining challenge, for Confession makes us hungry, in particular for the heavenly banquet, the Eucharist. Jesus shed his blood on the Cross for the forgiveness of our sins. In fact, at that moment his blood accounted for every sin that you and I have committed and will commit in our lives. Because he has done this, forgiveness awaits us. What is more, the blood that was shed on Calvary is the same blood that we receive at Mass. His blood covers us. His blood heals the inner recesses of our hearts whenever we receive it worthily—slowly but surely turning the desires of our hearts ever closer to him.
Image: Photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. (used with permission)