January 6, 2019 (640 words)
(The following is reprinted from the Letters section of the December 2018 issue of Culture Wars magazine, as contributed by Lise Anglin of Toronto, Ontario.)
In the October issue of Culture Wars, Sean Naughton reviews the work of David Walliams, whose fame began in England in 2003 as a result of his appearance in a “shocking and disgusting” show called Little Britain. Walliams went on to write books for children that encouraged vulgarity, revenge, and rebellion against the Fourth Commandment.
Naughton laments the enthusiastic acceptance of these books by Catholic primary schools, and sees them as an offshoot of the example set earlier by Roald Dahl (1916-1990) who was a pioneer in writing hateful but popular books for children.
In the course of the review, Naughton describes the psychology of unrepentance in some detail and thus touches upon an amazing aspect of the Catholic doctrine on sin. We often use the word “sin” as if it had one general meaning (an offense against God), but in the Catholic world it really has two meanings. Unconfessed sins are one thing and confessed sins are quite another.
Unconfessed sins, as Naughton shows, produce confusion, guilt, moral blindness, stupidity, shame, degradation, cruelty, sadism, inhumanity, hatred, coarseness, crassness, and vulgarity. They even cause a detestation of the innocence of children. Unconfessed sins enslave, dominate, and imprison the soul in darkness (John 8:34). Under their weight, the soul can only lash out in pain instead of doing something useful for others.
However, the Sacrament of Confession, received with the right disposition, goes way beyond the forgiveness that it guarantees. Forgiveness is just the beginning. Confession actually transforms former sins into a bond with God. They become the opposite of what they were.
Once confessed, these sins are changed into memories of former times, between the soul and God, when the soul had put itself in danger but then was rescued by the Perfect Friend, and now is safe and bubbling over with happiness. Confessed sins are no longer a burden. They are like injuries an athlete had to overcome before he went on to win an Olympic Gold Medal. They testify to the power and goodness of God. Naughton is exactly right in his article when he uses the phrase “the richness of repentance” (p.24)
The anchoress Julian of Norwich (1342-1416), author of Revelations of Divine Love, believes that in Heaven confessed sins are like trophies or jewels commemorating the early victories of the saved soul. For all eternity, they shine and sparkle. They no longer signify an offense against God but rather the triumph of Redemption.
About those who have overcome sin by confession, she writes: “This is the bliss of Christ in His works; and this is His meaning when He saith in the same shewing that we are His bliss, we are His prize, we are His worship, we are His crown” (Revelations of Divine Love, Chapter 31)
The power of Confession is so transformative that it is almost reminiscent of the mystery of Transubstantiation. This is why Catholics feel no disturbance but only peaceful awe at litanies of sins once committed by saints. We marvel at the conversions of Mary Magdalen, Peter, and Paul and we know for sure the sins they once committed were changed into witness, gladness, and glory. We even take a certain pleasure at remembering how low they had once sank.
Mary Magdalen was full of demons, Peter denied he even knew Jesus, and Paul organized the slaughter of Christians. Yet these histories of sin are not sources of sadness for us. We enjoy them as a foreshadowing of great things to come.
In summary, confessed sins and unconfessed sins are two completely different things, and Sean Naughton gives an excellent description of the difference.
Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.
January 6, 2019