For Practical Advice Like This from Benedict Baur

Webster was kind enough earlier this year to send me a gem of a book about developing one’s interior spiritual life. This is one of those books, like St. Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle, that is so deep, so lovely and so helpful that one certainly cannot read it in one sitting, or even a chapter at a time. In fact, I have been reading it sentence by sentence, pausing to take notes and meditate on how the book’s message speaks to my own circuitous pilgrim path.

The title of this book, “Frequent Confession”  by the late German abbot Benedict Baur  O.S.B.,  was about as appealing to me as would be a book titled “Monthly Weigh-ins” that focuses on improving one’s physical health. That is because Baur’s book, first published in 1922, is not so much about encouraging Catholics to make frequent use of the Sacrament of Penance, which it does, but rather about cultivating an understanding of one’s exterior and interior faults daily so as to grow spiritually. Thus, frequent confession becomes a kind of weigh-in for our souls.

Thanks to poor faith formation as a child and my own spiritual immaturity, my understanding of the Sacrament of Penance has been shallow. I knew one is supposed to go to Confession at least once a year and always after one has committed a mortal sin, including deliberately missing Sunday Mass. So my habit has been to go at least once a year, and when I am aware of a mortal sin. Then before I head into the confessional I will do a quick examination of conscience, which helps me to confess a few venial sins for good measure. Until I started reading Baur’s book, sadly enough, I never connected my earnest freelance efforts to grow as a Christian throughout the year with this sacrament. This book is a useful guide.

Baur, for example, recommends that we examine our conscience every evening. He suggests we take a look at our “thought, feelings, words and deeds.” This is not an obsessive-compulsive exercise in scrupulosity; rather, Baur says: “When this examination of conscience is made regularly it is not very difficult; a person knows his customary failings,  and so he discovers without much trouble whatever faults he has committed during the day.” It’s pretty humbling.

Another point Baur makes early on in the book is that we can confess sins more than once. I never had considered this;  I had felt an overwhelming sense of relief that some of the more embarrassing sins of my youth had been confessed and that was that. Baur is helping me to see the links in my journey, the way my path sometimes winds back upon itself.  In other words, perhaps as a youth I had the tendency to sin in a certain way. While I have confessed those particular sins, and no longer sin in that way, the underlying character fault that caused those sins has remained and perhaps found expression in different ways of sinning.

Baur follows this insight with a discussion of exterior and interior faults. Exterior faults are those “by which those around us are annoyed or irritated.” I am finding those are easy to tackle, or at least to identify. For example, I have a tendency to gossip. When I fall into that bad habit or feel as if I am about to, it is relatively easy to realize and then I quite literally hold my tongue.

What is much more difficult to face and diminish are my interior faults: “our own faults of character, the weak points in our makeup.” These are the brutes I’m now confronting. It’s painful and cathartic and perhaps the subject of another post at another time. I am so grateful to have this monk, Benedict Baur, as my companion through rough terrain.

For now, dear readers, I’d like to ask you: what role does confession play in the cultivation of your own interior life?

  • Anonymous

    I am intrigued by this book, as I am a work in progress in terms of this Sacrament. I have recently been told by a few people, priests and laity, that retelling those old sins can be a sign of lack of trust in God's forgiveness, and a sign of idolatry in that you are holding onto them. Once confessed, they are forgiven by the Priest in persona Christi. We must continue to have deep sorrow for our sins, but must trust in God's mercy. The character faults which may persist and lead to other forms of sinning are what needs changing, and spiritual direction, perhaps with your confessor, can help in that area.Thanks for challenging my thoughts. You guys do a great job every post!

  • Sarah Harkins

    This book does sound very good. You are definitely not alone in needing to mature in the understanding of the sacrament of reconciliation and examination of conscience. I would like to grow in this area too. Confession for me, gives me the grace to tackle those sins that I frequently commit. It usually doesn't happen the first or even second time I confess those venial sins, but over time, I slowly start to change with the help of the graces of confession. It's like God has to gently weed out the sins in me- knowing that I need much time and mercy!

  • Allison

    @Anon: I am still in the middle of reading the book and Baur's comment about "re-confessing" (my words, not his) sins is a fleeting mention. Given the context of his statement, here is what I am thinking. That confessing that sin (let's call it Sin X) would be done within the context of talking about X and understanding it within the context of a persistent character fault. One has a deeper understanding of Sin X, why it occurred and how one is disposed to not repeat it. Perhaps a different sin has cropped up, related to the fault, and this makes one re-reflect on Sin X. So I think this is an and/both situation. I think your advisors are correct AND I think Baur is too.Again, I am still reading the book, I am a huge work in progress myself on this and other matters. I am glad you are finding this blog useful.Blessings.

  • Frank

    Well, if St. Augustine can reflect on his past iniquities, which no doubt had been absolved in the confessional, I reckon we all can as well. From Book II, Chapter IV of St.AugustinesConfessions.There was a pear tree close to our own vineyard, heavily laden with fruit, which was not tempting either for its color or for its flavor. Late one night — having prolonged our games in the streets until then, as our bad habit was — a group of young scoundrels, and I among them, went to shake and rob this tree. We carried off a huge load of pears, not to eat ourselves, but to dump out to the hogs, after barely tasting some of them ourselves. Doing this pleased us all the more because it was forbidden. Such was my heart, O God, such was my heart — which thou didst pity even in that bottomless pit. Behold, now let my heart confess to thee what it was seeking there, when I was being gratuitously wanton, having no inducement to evil but the evil itself. It was foul, and I loved it. I loved my own undoing. I loved my error — not that for which I erred but the error itself. A depraved soul, falling away from security in thee to destruction in itself, seeking nothing from the shameful deed but shame itself.

  • Athos

    Here's something I wrote regarding chasing distractions for persons who are keenly aware of their (our) mortal condition perhaps due to a bad prognosis:I am going to say something you don’t want to hear, but you need to. And here it is: you will fail. You will fall flat on your face chasing distractions. You’ll wake up and say something like, “Oh no. Not again.”But here is what you will do: go to Confession, again. Just tell it, and listen to the words your Confessor tells you. Then you will grasp the grace that God gives you to see that temptation coming and you will avoid it the next time. Will it happen again? Sigh. Sin is sneaky. It likes to slip into a little different guise and present itself as something totally new – yeah, right. For me, it came finally to saying internally, “All right. That’s the last time I will ever have to confess that to a priest,” and meaning it. Absolutely, totally, end of story.That was regarding a recurrent, habitual sin that, blessedly, the Holy Spirit took from me when I was confirmed 9 years ago. Recurring emotional and spiritual issues – temptation to despair, lack of faith, hope, charity – these are weak links in my spiritual chainmail that are symptoms of my fallen human nature. Each has his or her own set, IMO.It is comforting to know that the last two popes have gone weekly to confession … Cheers

  • Laura R.

    Allison, thank you for this post; you've got me definitely interested in the book by Abbot Baur. I've been to confession once, in preparation for confirmation and reception into the Church at Easter Vigil this year; it made me aware that this is something important that I need for spiritual growth, but have been at a loss as to how to go about pursuing a deeper understanding of it. Thanks also to other commenters; it's nice to have a lot of good company!

  • Allison

    @Laura R: Welcome to the church and to this blog! I am so glad you found the post and the responses to it helpful. We are all learning together. Blessings, Allison

  • Laura R.

    Thanks! I am filled with joy at being a new Catholic and excited about all there is to learn (am going to order the book by Abbot Baur today).

  • Ona

    This book looks wonderful. Thanks for the recommendation. I am a recent convert but finding frequent confession quite helpful. At first I asked others about it, as I was shy to go to confession for the first time. I confessed privately to God frequently but had only recently been baptized and never confessed to a priest before. Most people I asked said they only went in cases of mortal sin, or once a year, but I felt compelled to go anyway. I studied the questions for examining my conscience, came up with a list of things to say, and the parish priest was kind enough to prompt me through my responses. Despite being a bit nervous, I was delighted at how light and joyful I felt after. Even on a practical level it seems a very beneficial exercise for not allowing little things to fester inside, and for being ever more conscientious about my weaknesses (impatience, ill thoughts towards others and speaking sharply being things I seem particularly prone to). I was trying to find some reading on the subject today, and stumbled on this book review. Timely and most welcome. Thanks.