Sunday, July 25, 2010

Step 4: Light

"4.  Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves."

It just struck me that this Step - well, approximately - is (was?) performed regularly - weekly, if not more often - until quite recently, in the Catholic and Orthodox varieties of the Christian faith.  It's quite obviously what Confession is, in its essence - or perhaps better said, what preparation for Confession is.  Which is what I need to go have a look at right now.  Will be back....

OK, here I am again. As I suspected, the Catechism covers "preparation for Confession." (Not the Episcopal Catechism, of course! The Baltimore Catechism of the Catholic Church from 1941, I believe.) Here's what it says there:
Q. 741. What must we do to receive the Sacrament of Penance worthily?
A. To receive the Sacrament of Penance worthily we must do five things:
  1. We must examine our conscience.
  2. We must have sorrow for our sins.
  3. We must make a firm resolution never more to offend God.
  4. We must confess our sins to the priest.
  5. We must accept the penance which the priest gives us.
Q. 742. What should we pray for in preparing for confession?
A. In preparing for confession we should pray to the Holy Ghost to give us light to know our sins and to understand their guilt; for grace to detest them; for courage to confess them and for strength to keep our resolutions.

Q. 743. What faults do many commit in preparing for confession?
A. In preparing for confession many commit the faults:
  1. Of giving too much time to the examination of conscience and little or none in exciting themselves to true sorrow for the sins discovered;
  2. Of trying to recall every trifling circumstance, instead of thinking of the means by which they will avoid their sins for the future.
Q. 744. What, then, is the most important part of the preparation for confession?
A. The most important part of the preparation for confession is sincere sorrow for the sins committed and the firm determination to avoid them for the future.

And just for the record, here's a page titled "Self-Examination Before Confession
The Whole Armour of Truth" from "," which offers these and other points to ponder:

Sins Against God
Do you pray to God in the morning and evening, before and after meals?
During prayer have you allowed your thoughts to wander?
Have you rushed or gabbled your prayers? or when reading in church?
Do you read the Scriptures daily? Do you read other spiritual writings regularly?
Have you read books whose content is not Orthodox or even anti-Orthodox, or is spiritually damaging?
Sins Against Your Neighbours
Do you respect and obey your parents?
Have you offended them by rudeness or contradiction?
(These two apply also to priests, superiors, teachers and elders.)
Have you insulted anyone?
Have you quarreled or fought with anyone? Have you hit anyone?
Are you always respectful to old people?
Are you ever angry, bad tempered or irritable?
Have you called anyone names? Do you use foul language?
Have you derided any that are disabled, poor, old or in some way disadvantaged?
Have you entertained bad feelings, ill will or hatred against anyone?
Have you forgiven those who have offended you?
Have you asked forgiveness from those whom you have offended?
Sins Against Yourself
Have you been proud? Do you boast of your abilities, achievements, family, connections or riches?
Do you consider yourself worthy before God?
Are you vain, ambitious? Do you try to win praise and glory?
Do you bear it easily when you are blamed, scolded or treated unjustly? Do you think too much about your looks, outward appearance and the impression you make?

Anyone preparing for confession must ask God to help his resolve to tell all his sins. A penitent should prepare for confession and collect his thoughts regarding his sins at least a day before confession. The most valuable thing in the eyes of God is the confession of the sin which weighs most on the conscience.

The questions listed are intended to help the Orthodox Christian examine himself and identify the symptoms of his spiritual ills; they should not be taken as some kind of test to ascertain how well we are doing as if there was a certain "pass-mark." Before God's perfections, we shall always fail. It is for that reason that, as believing Christians, we throw ourselves on the mercy of the Lord and do not trust in our own righteousness.

Remember that our sins can never outweigh God's love towards us. Even if we should seem to have failed with regard to all the points mentioned above and more, we should not lose heart but confess our sins unshamefacedly, we should regret the wrongs we have done, be resolved to make amends, and receive whatever remedy our confessor should be guided to lay upon us. Most of all, one should be assured of the blessing of God which these endeavours will bring upon you.

Most Protestants - outside Anglicanism and Lutheranism perhaps? - do not seem to have a systematic theology of Confession, and therefore wouldn't have one for "preparation for Confession." I could be entirely wrong about this, and am willing to be corrected, if anybody can do so.

Well, this is just an intro to Step 4. I used the word "light" because it comes directly out of the long version of the Step: "Once we have a complete willingness to take inventory, and exert ourselves to do the job thoroughly, a wonderful light falls upon this foggy scene. As we persist, a brand-new kind of confidence is born, and the sense of relief at finally facing ourselves is indescribable. These are the first fruits of Step Four."

The Step views the "character defects" that alcoholics must address in themselves as "instincts gone astray." Somebody once said he found this "interesting" - meaning, I guess, that it's not the usual thing. I don't, to be honest, know what terms the psychiatric literature uses, if there is any dominant point of view (which probably there is not) - and I've never objected to A.A.'s understanding, so I'll discuss this Step from this point of view. (We do get into a discussion of the Seven Deadly Sins, in fact! The Step notes - sardonically, I assume! - that "Some will become quite annoyed if there is talk about immorality, let alone sin. But all who are in the least reasonable will agree upon one point: that there is plenty wrong with us alcoholics about which plenty will have to be done if we are to expect sobriety, progress, and any real ability to cope with life."

Well, yes - we have to change. More later.

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