Saturday, May 6, 2017

WHAT IS ONE OBLIGED TO CONFESS IN THE MATTER OF IMPURITY? WHAT DISTINCTION IS TO BE MADE IN REGARD TO BAD THOUGHTS?

St. Alphonsus, Precepts of the Decalogue, Chapter VI, The Sixth and Ninth Commandments:

“1. WHAT IS ONE OBLIGED TO CONFESS IN THE MATTER OF IMPURITY?

I will only observe here, in general, that it is necessary to confess not only all the acts, but also improper touches, all unchaste looks, all obscene words, especially when spoken with pleasure, or with danger of scandal to others. It is, moreover, necessary to confess all immodest thoughts.

“Some ignorant persons imagine that they are bound only to confess impure actions: they must also confess all the bad thoughts to which they have consented. Human laws forbid only external acts, because men only see what is manifested externally; but God, who sees the heart, condemns every evil thought: “Man sees those things that appear; but the Lord beholdeth the heart.” (I Kings, xvi. 7.) This holds good for every species of bad thoughts to which the will consents. Indeed, whatever it is a sin to do, it is also in the sight of God a sin to desire.

“2. WHAT DISTINCTION IS TO BE MADE IN REGARD TO BAD THOUGHTS?

“I said, thoughts to which the will consents. Hence, it is necessary to know how to determine when a bad thought is a mortal sin, when it is venial, and when it is not sinful at all. In every sin of thought there are three things: the suggestion, the pleasure, and the consent.

“1. The suggestion is the first thought of doing an evil action that is presented to the mind. This is no sin; on the contrary, when the will rejects it we merit a reward. "As often," says St. Antonine, "as you resist, so often you are crowned." Even the saints have been tormented by bad thoughts. To conquer a temptation against chastity, St. Bernard threw himself among thorns, St. Peter of Alcantara cast himself into an icy pool. … St. Catharine of Siena was once assailed by the devil for three days with impure temptations; after the third day our Lord appeared to her in order to console her. She said to him: "Ah, my Saviour, where hast Thou been these three days?" He replied: "I was in your heart to give you strength to resist the temptation by which you were attacked." He then showed her that her heart had become purer than it was before.

“2. After the suggestion comes the pleasure. [Generally] When a person is not careful to banish the temptation immediately, but stops to reason with it, the thought instantly begins to delight him, and give him pleasure, and thus draws the person on to give his consent to it. ... But if the soul does not then turn to God, and make an effort to resist the pleasure, it will easily go on to give its consent. "Unless," says St. Anselm, "a person repel the pleasure, it passes into consent, and kills the soul." A woman who had the reputation of a saint was tempted to sin with one of her servants; she neglected to banish the thought instantly, and so in her heart consented, and fell into sin, but only in thought. She afterwards fell into a more grievous sin, for she concealed in confession the complacency she had taken in the bad thought, and died miserably. But because she was believed to be a saint, the bishop had her buried in his own chapel. On the morning after her burial she appeared to him, enveloped in flames, and confessed, but without profit, that she was damned on account of the bad thought to which she had consented.

“3. The soul loses the grace of God and is condemned to hell the instant a person consents to the desire of committing sin, or delights in thinking of the immodest action as if he were then committing it. This is called morose delectation, which is different from the sin of desire.

My dear Christians, be careful to banish these bad thoughts, by instantly turning for help to Jesus and Mary. He who contracts the habit of consenting to bad thoughts exposes himself to great danger of dying in sin, for the reason that it is very easy to commit sins of thought. In a quarter of an hour a person may entertain a thousand wicked desires, and for every evil desire to which he consents he deserves hell. At the hour of death the dying cannot commit sins of action, because they are unable to move; but they can easily indulge sins of thought, and the devil suggests every kind of wicked thought and desire to them when they are in that state. St. Eleazar, as Surius relates, was so violently and frequently tempted by bad thoughts at the hour of death, that he exclaimed: "Oh, how great is the power of the devils at the hour of death!" The saint, however, conquered his enemies, because he was in the habit of rejecting bad thoughts; but woe to those who have acquired a habit of consenting to them! Father Segneri tells us of a man who during his life had often consented to bad thoughts. At the hour of death he confessed his sins with great compunction, so that every one regarded him as a saint; but after death he appeared and said that he was damned; he stated that he made a good confession, and that God had pardoned all his sins; but before death the devil represented to him that, should he recover, it would be ingratitude to forsake the woman who loved him so much. He banished the first temptation: a second came; he then delayed for a little, but in the end he rejected it: he was assailed by a third temptation, and consented to it. Thus, he said, he had died in sin, and was damned.” (The complete ascetical works of St. Alphonsus, vol. 15, pp. 466-469)

St. Alphonsus tells this sobering story.

A magician who had frequent communication with the devil, on one occasion invoked him after having once committed a sin of impurity. The devil appeared, but would not come near him, and kept his back turned to him. The magician asked him why he treated him in that manner. The devil answered that it was on account of his impurity: "Your lust does not permit me to approach you." [viii]

If the devil himself cannot look upon the impure man, do you believe that God can stand it, He who is All Good, All Holy, All Powerful, and All Just? No! An impure man becomes a beast, “like the unclean animal that is accustomed to live in filth; these persons are an object of horror in the eyes of God and His angels.”[ix] Do you see now, dearest soul, how great the evil of impurity is in the eyes of God? Beg God for true sorrow and repentance for your sins! The struggle for purity cannot be achieved alone. Therefore, in order to begin your battle, you must be in a state of grace. If you are in a state of mortal sin, dearest soul, go to confession! Do not put it off, for who knows if tomorrow will come for you? Review your conscience, beg God for the graces of sorrow for your sins[x], and make a firm purpose of amendment. Then make a good confession, and return to God. With the help of grace, dearest soul, you will be ready to learn how to use the weapons the Saints have given us to defeat the enemy, and gain an eternal crown of unfading glory. For the praise and glory of Christ, Amen.

Sins Against Thought

A section must exist regarding sins of thought against purity, dearest soul, because this is a point of confusion for many people. Some scrupulous souls are deceived into believing that temptations are seriously sinful, while others do not know that indulging in impure thoughts is sinful. We will rely on the teachings of St. Alphonsus Liguori in defining sins of thought against the virtue of purity.

There are three incremental steps which happen when sinning against thought, dearest soul, which you must know in order to judge whether or not you committed a sin of thought against purity, and to what degree you have sinned. The first step is the temptation or suggestion, the second step is pleasure, and the third step is consent. The temptation or suggestion always arises first. If you drive the temptation away immediately, no sin is committed, and merit is gained. “As often,” says St. Alphonsus, “as you resist [temptation], so often you are crowned.[xi]” Even the saints were tempted by sins of thought. St. Alphonsus teaches that if you are tempted, dearest soul, it is a sure sign that you are in a state of grace. “Francis de Sales says that when a thief knocks at the door outside, it is sure sign he has not yet got in; thus, when the devil tempts us, we have a strong proof that the soul is in the state of grace.[xii]

[Editor: It is not necessarily a sign of being in a state of grace just because one is being tempted. In fact, since most people are damned according to the Holy Bible, this is a good sign that most people who are tempted are not saved.]

If we do not immediately refute the impure thought or desire however, St. Alphonsus warns us, “when a person is not careful to banish the temptation immediately, and he reasons with it, the thought instantly begins to delight him, and give him pleasure, and thus draws the person on to give his consent to it.[xiii]” As long as there is no consent of the will given to the impure thought, only a venial sin is committed. It is of even greater importance to repel the thought at this point, because the time between pleasure and consent is usually only a very brief period of time. The third and final step is when full consent of the will is given to the thought, or the soul delights in thinking of the immodest action as if he were then committing it. If the third step occurs, this person has committed a mortal sin.

Dearest soul, it is best to begin immediately in earnest to practice banishing impure thoughts, because at the hour of death the devil becomes a raving animal, throwing temptations at you like he has never before, that he may snatch you away from God at the last second. Saint Alphonsus Liguori tells this story.

A man during his life had often consented to bad thoughts. At the hour of death he confessed his sins with great compunction, so that everyone regarded him as a saint; but after death he appeared and said that he was damned; he stated that he made a good confession, and that God had pardoned all his sins; but before death the devil represented to him that, should he recover, it would be ingratitude to forsake the woman who loved him so much. He banished the first temptation: a second came; he then delayed for a little, but in the end he rejected it: he was assailed by a third temptation, and consented to it. Thus, he said, he had died in sin, and was damned.

You must practice banishing sinful thoughts now, dearest soul, for many saints tell us that at the hour of death the temptations of the devil are much more powerful than any temptations which we have previously experienced upon this earth. What are the remedies against temptations to impure thoughts, dearest soul? They are discussed in detail in the section titled “Remedies in the Moment of Temptation”, but in short, the remedies against impure thoughts are these: Invocation of the names of Jesus and Mary, turning our thoughts away from the impure thought at hand, and meditating upon the passion of Christ.

Related article: About sexual thoughts and fantasies inside and outside of the marital act

“Several doctors [of Divinity] maintain that willingly fostering wicked carnal thoughts in order to enjoy oneself is a deadly sin, even without doing the deed. Be sure, however, that kisses, gazes, and fondling, mainly caused by such wicked and lustful thoughts, without anything more, is an even greater sin. … it is even worse if these kisses do not respect the honesty which is usually kept in public.” (Jean Gerson, Oeuvres Compl├ętes)

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