Consider first, that confession, without due dispositions, will only serve for our greater condemnation; so that the great business of a sinner that desires to receive such an absolution for his sins as may be ratified in heaven, must be to procure the necessary dispositions, by making a due preparation for confession. And as thee dispositions must come from the giver of all good gifts, and as the sinner has removed himself to a great distance from him, amongst the husks of swine, the first part of his preparation must be to begin to turn to God, with a great sense of the misery of his present condition, by fervent prayer and desire. The raising up of a soul to life, which is dead to God by mortal sin, is in effect no less a miracle of the divine power than the calling of Lazarus out of his grave, after he had been four days dead and buried; there can be no expectation of succeeding in so arduous an undertaking, without taking him along with us, by earnest prayer, who alone can raise the dead. No, my soul, the most essential conditions of a good confession are a change, of heart, and a perfect sincerity in the accusation of ourselves, even of those sins which we are most ashamed of - and who but God can change the heart of man, or bring him to overcome his pride, by a full confession of his shameful sins? or how can so great a grace as this is be procured without ardent prayer?
Consider 2ndly, that another necessary part of the preparation for confession is to find out, by a serious examination, the true state of our interior. Alas! it is one of our greatest misfortunes not to know ourselves, and it is much to be feared that many pass their whole lives under the guilt of mortal sin; pride, envy, hatred, detraction, of omissions of essential duties, &c., which for want of a serious and impartial examination of the true state of their consciences, they neither confess, nor repent of, nor amend. Hence their confessions are null, their Communions sacrilegious; they go on all their lifetime in their sins, and they die in their sins. O my soul, see this be not thy case; see thou labour in earnest to know thyself; see thou examine seriously thy whole interior, that thou mayest be able to discover, by the light of God, which thou must implore, those lurking evils which thy busy self-love, or the false maxims and practices of deluded worldlings, may otherwise disguise under false pretences, and hide from thy eyes.
Consider 3rdly, that the principal and most necessary preparation for a good confession is true contrition; that is, a hearty sorrow and detestation for our sins, by which we have offended so good a God; with a firm resolution of a thorough amendment for the time to come, and of making the best satisfaction we can for our past offences. This is the most essential part both of the virtue and of the sacrament of penance. This we must take the most pains about, when we are to go to confession. This we must labour to procure by serious and deep considerations of the most moving truths, and by repeated and fervent prayer; and never leave off knocking at the door of divine mercy till he is pleased to open to us, and to touch our hearts. Alas! none but he can bring forth the waters of true compunction out of these hard rocks.
Conclude to be diligent in every branch of this necessary preparation, as often as thou pretendest to make thy peace with God by confession; lest otherwise, instead of obtaining a discharge, thou increase thy debt.
Consider first, the motives we have to repent for our sins, from the consideration of the filthiness of that ugly monster sin, and of its heinous enormity in the sight of God. Mortal sin is infinitely odious to him, because infinitely opposed to his sovereign goodness, and to all his divine attributes. It is infinitely pernicious to our souls - it makes them like very devils in the eyes of God. It robs us of divine grace, which is the true life of the soul, and of all our good; it is a poison which, in a moment, brings present death, and condemns us to a second and eternal death. It is an evil so black, so odious, so hideous, that hell itself has nothing worse. It leaves behind it a cursed stain, the perpetual fuel of the merciless flames of hell, which endless ages will never be able to efface. Alas! my poor soul, how wretched then has thy case been all this while thou hast been in sin! How ugly and abominable hast thou been in the sight of God and his angels! for the foulest creature upon earth is a beauty in comparison with a soul in sin. Ah! couldst thou but see thyself as thou art in this wretched state, the very sight would strike thee dead! O detest then this abominable monster, and spare no pains to get rid of it.
Consider 2ndly, the woes that are pronounced in scripture against unrepenting sinners, and the judgments of God that are perpetually hanging over their heads, and threatening them on all sides both with temporal and eternal evils. Ah! what good can they expect who have made God their enemy, and are fighting against him! he holds the thread of their life in his hands, which they are provoking him to break; and if he breaks it, in that moment they drop into hell. They have made themselves slaves of the devil; they are possessed by him, and are at his mercy, who knows not what mercy is. Death is always following them at the heels, and a sudden, or at least an unprovided death, is commonly the reward of their presumption. Hell below opens wide her jaws, and is gaping to swallow them up, and thousands of them are daily going down into that bottomless pit, 'where the worm never dies, and the fire is never extinguished,' Mark ix. 43. Ah! who can bear everlasting fire? Who can endure to burn for ever? Fly then, my soul, from sin. Detest that evil which can, and will without repentance, condemn thee to hell.
Consider 3rdly, that sin makes a dreadful separation between the soul and God, which is begun here and extends to all eternity hereafter. 'You are not my people,' says he, Osee i. 9, 'and I will not be yours.' Alas! the loss of God which begins from mortal sin, is the very worst of all the ingredients of hell. Sin is a rebellion against this sovereign good, a blasphemous preference of Satan before him, a sacrilegious attempt to rob him of his glory, and to divest him of his kingdom. It is murdering both the Son of God and our own souls. The folly and madness of it, as well as the monstrous presumption and treason, is infinite. O! how much then does that evil deserve to be detested which robs us of an infinite good, which otherwise should have been ours for all eternity, and brings us nothing in exchange but endless and infinite evils?
Conclude to labour with all thy power to drive away sin from thy soul by penance, and God will return to thee and be thine for ever.
Consider first, that monstrous ingratitude that is found in sin. God is our first beginning and our last end; he has given us our whole being out of pure love, having no need at all of us; he has made us and made us for himself; he has thought of us from all eternity; he has loved us from all eternity, and has prepared for us a happy eternity in the enjoyment of himself. In the meantime he is ever loading us with his benefits; his eyes are always upon us; he preserves us from innumerable evils; all his other works are appointed to serve us; his very angels, by his orders, wait upon us; his own Son came down from heaven to redeem us. O reflect, my soul, on the particular obligations thou hast to his divine goodness! How he preserved thee in thy mother's womb, and brought thee safe to the water of baptism, where he washed thee from sin, made thee his child, and heir to his kingdom; how he gave thee an early knowledge of himself and of his heavenly truths; how he favoured thee with many graces, and opportunities of good beyond thousands; how often he has admitted thee to his sacraments; how he has borne with thy repeated provocations and treasons for so many years, and notwithstanding all thy unworthiness and ingratitude, has been still thy constant benefactor. Alas! how many are now howling and burning in hell or the like sins to those thou hast so often committed, and how mercifully has he all this while dealt with thee! O detest then this sinful life thou hast hitherto led and all thy past ingratitude, and now, at least, with thy whole heart return to thy God.
Consider 2ndly, my soul, what thy sins have cost thy dear redeemer, the innocent Lamb of God. His whole life was a continual suffering, but what dreadful torments did he endure for thee in his passion and death! Call over in your mind the particulars of his sufferings, (which we have seen elsewhere,) from his agony and bloody sweat even to his expiring upon the cross, and learn from that multitude and variety of torments, willingly endured for thy sins, how much he abhors sin, and how much he loves thee. For he had thee in his heart all this while, and for thee he was weeping and praying, bleeding and dying, to teach thee to return love for love, and to detest thy sins which have crucified thy God. See then what motives thou hast for contrition, for the remembrance of the passion of thy Saviour.
Consider 3rdly, the innumerable motives we have to love God, and consequently to detest our sins as infinitely opposite to his divine goodness. He is infinitely good in himself, infinitely beautiful and charming, the overflowing ocean of all goodness and beauty, ravishing all that are so happy as to see him, so that they can never cease to love him> His mercy, his bounty, his wisdom, his truth are infinitely charming - all perfections are infinite in him. No tongue can express, no heart an conceive, the incomprehensible greatness and multitude of his attractions. All created beauty and perfection quite disappear and dwindle away to a pure nothing when compared with him. He is infinitely good to us - the happiness of heaven consists in seeing, loving, and enjoying him. All our good is from him and in him; he is our sovereign and universal good; the being of our being, the life and the light of our souls. He is our maker, our redeemer, our father, our friend, our spouse, our God, and our all. To love him is our greatest honour, our greatest interest, our greatest pleasure; it is the source of all our happiness, both here and hereafter. All these reasons oblige us to love God; all these motives strongly call upon us to detest and to repent of our sins, because by them we have offended so good a God.
Conclude , if thou wouldst secure to thy soul the remission of thy sins, to seek it by a repentance and contrition enlivened by love. Remember what our Lord said of that glorious penitent, (St. Luke vii. 47,) 'Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much.' Go thou,, in like manner, to the feet of thy Saviour with penitential tears proceeding from love, and he will pronounce the like sentence in thy favour.
Consider first, the wonders of God in these two glorious saints; reflect what they were before their being called by Jesus Christ, how admirable they were afterwards exalted by divine grace, and how perfectly they corresponded with divine grace, by their zeal and by their labours, by their lives and by their deaths. The wisdom of God came down from heaven to build a house, to found a city, to establish a kingdom here upon earth, which should ever be victorious over all the powers of hell, and should subsist till time itself should end. And see what choice he has made of men to be his principal instruments in this great work. See in the person of St. Peter, a poor, weak, illiterate fisherman, made the master-builder, under Christ, of this house and temple, and at the same time the strong rock and foundation of it; see him raised to be the first governor of this city, the prime minister of this kingdom of God upon earth, St. Matt. xvi. 18, 19, and St. John xxi. 15, &c. Oh! how true it is, that 'God hath chosen the foolish things of the world, that he may confound the wise, and the weak things of the world that he may confound the strong: and the things that are contemptible, and things that are not, -that no flesh should glory in his sight,' 1 Cor. I. 27, &c. O divine wisdom, how incomprehensible are thy ways, and how much exalted above the ways of men! O how do these thy dealings with us confound the proud and comfort the humble!
Consider 2ndly, in the person of St. Paul, another still more admirable instance of the power of divine grace and of the incomprehensible wisdom of the ways of God. An ignorant fisherman as St. Peter was, seems indeed nowise qualified to be a preacher and teacher of Jews and Gentiles, a founder of churches, an apostle, and prince of the apostles; but then he was humble and simple, and such God usually chooses for the greatest things. But as for St. Paul, he was not only not qualified to be preacher of the gospel, but positively disqualified by dispositions directly contrary to the humility and simplicity of the gospel. He was a blasphemous Pharisee, a fiery zealot, a bloody persecutor, a ravenous wolf, scattering and destroying the sheep of Christ. And yet he is made, in a moment, by a miracle of grace, a vessel of election, to carry the name of Christ before nations and kings and the children of Israel; he is changed in an instant from a wolf into a lamb; he puts off at once the Pharisee, the blasphemer, the persecutor; he lays down his own will at the feet of Christ, and has now no other passion but that of employing his whole life in propagating the name, the will and the kingdom of his God. O! here is a change of the right hand of the Most High! Here the wonders of God's power, wisdom, and goodness, shine forth much more brightly than even in the raising of the dead to life.
Consider 3rdly, the lives of these two great saints after their call and election; their ardent zeal for the glory of their Lord; their unwearied labours in preaching and propagating his kingdom; their constancy in a long course of sufferings, dying, in a manner daily, for the cause of God; and above all things, that divine love and charity which continually burnt in their breast, which animated all their words and actions, supported them in all their labours and sufferings, kept them always in their interior united to their God, and was daily growing stronger and stronger in them, till it made them victorious over death, and brought them to true life, in the eternal enjoyment of the great object of their love.
Conclude to give praise and glory to God for all the graces and glory bestowed upon these two princes and pillars of his church. Study to learn the great lessons they taught both by word and work. But especially learn of them the practice of divine love - nothing else can make us saints.
Consider first, the necessity of being sincere in the confession of our sins, if we hope for the forgiveness of them. All hypocrisy and double-dealing, in matters of this consequence, is abominable in the sight of God. The prophet pronounces a curse against them 'that do the work of the Lord deceitfully,'
Jer. xlviii. 10. And surely they must be guilty, in the highest degree, of doing the work of God deceitfully, that go to confession with fraud and deceit, and while they outwardly profess humility and sincerity, conceal though the pride of their heart, and disguise by lies the guilt of their consciences. Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead by a visible judgment of God, for telling 'a lie to the Holy Ghost,' Acts v. And are not all such as are insincere in the confession of their sins, guilty in like manner of telling a lie to the Holy Ghost, whilst they seek to impose upon the minister of God, in this most solemn and sacred function? They are guilty also of a grievous sacrilege, as often as they receive absolution in this case, by their profaning the sacrament of penance, which sacrilege is commonly followed by another still greater, by their making themselves also guilty of the body and blood of Christ by an unworthy Communion, and thereby receiving damnation to themselves. Good God, preserve us from so heinous and so dreadful an evil!
Consider 2ndly, the dismal consequences of suffering one's self to be imposed upon in such a manner by the father of lies, as to conceal any matter of moment in confession, either through shame, or fear, or pride of heart. Alas! to avoid a little present confusion, which would be immediately followed by the recovery of God's favour, with peace of conscience, comfort, and joy, what a bottomless pit of dreadful and endless evils does the soul cast herself headlong into! What inextricable difficulties, pains, and perplexities! For she has no sooner yielded herself up to the old serpent by this criminal concealment but this dumb devil takes such possession of her as to make her apprehend the confession of her guilt more than either death or hell. Hence she goes on adding sin to sin, sacrilege to sacrilege, burthened all the while by her own conscience, gnawed with a remorse which she seeks in vain to stifle, and carrying about with her a painful imposthume in her heart which never suffers her to be easy. She deludes herself indeed with vain purposes of confessing some time or other hereafter; but in the meantime her difficulties increase, the devil daily acquires more and more power over her, till at length mercy abused gives place to justice, and when she least expects it she is cut off in her sins, and carries down with he the guilt of them all, to be confessed too late in hell.
Consider 3rdly, how little reason there is for a penitent to be so much ashamed of the confession of his sins. Sin, indeed, is shameful, but the confession of one's sin is not so. No, the humble confession of a sinner gives glory to God, is honourable to the penitent himself, and affords joy to the whole court of heaven. And as to the confessor, besides that he is bound by all laws to an eternal secrecy, and can make no manner of use of the knowledge he receives by confession that can anywise be disagreeable to the penitent, he is so far even in his own mind from despising or thinking worse of the prodigal child, returning home by confession, or having less regard or affection for his penitent on that occasion that, on the contrary, as he more clearly sees the hand of God in the humility and sincerity of the confession, he rejoices in this happy change, he likes the penitent better than before, and conceives greater hopes of him for the future, and thinking no more of what is past, he has a more tender regard than ever for a soul that has thus unbosomed herself to him. In the meantime, the penitent finds himself in a manner in paradise, by the comfort and joy that he feels in having discharged his conscience of its load, and let out the imposthume that would not suffer him to be easy.
Conclude to beware of the tricks of the father of lies, who hates nothing so much as an humble confession, and therefore makes use of innumerable artifices to induce Christians to pass over, or disguise at least, their sins in the sacrament of penance. Ah, how many thousands of souls has he deluded by these artifices, and drawn down into the bottomless pit? Alas! how easy it is for persons to be deceived on these occasions, who in effect have a mind to be deceived, and are willing, at any rate, to form to themselves a false conscience, by some pretext or other, to spare themselves the shame of confessing their sins. See, my soul, this never be thy case, and therefore whensoever thou findest a repugnance to confess any part of thy guilt, and a willingness to find some reason to dispense either thyself, be sure to confess the sooner that which thou findest this repugnance to declare , for fear of thy being imposed upon by pride or self love.
Contents of Challoner's Meditations
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