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by Catherine Frakas 16 Jun 2002

Ammendmant QUESTION from Anon February 11, 1999 What would be the best way to help a Catholic who cannot acheive a firm purpose of ammendmant to go to confession and is lost in Sin The above is this persons self description and it seems that this person is sincere about trying to repent but for some reason cant. Thank You
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius on February 18, 1999 Dear Anon:
Thank you for your question and please forgive me for taking so long to answer. This has been a heavy week.
It is not possible to make a diagnosis of course on so little information, but oftentimes the reasons a person feels he cannot repent can be several:
the person is in despair (psychological and/or spiritual thinking God cannot forgive him)
the person is scrupulous (seeing sin where there is none)
the person is lacking knowledge about the meaning of repentance
the person is suffering from an addiction, or ingrained habit, and mistakenly thinks that this is evidence of not being able to repent.
The last two are probably the most frequent. For example: sexual sins can be addictive. One of the greatest addictions in this country, greater than cocaine or any drug, is addiction to masturbation. Being an addiction, if it has indeed risen to this point, means that the bio-chemistry of the brain is working against the person.
The person may try everything in the book, every prayer, every penance, every mortification and nothing works to bring the addiction to an end. Thus the person begins to feel he cannot repent.
Yet many people find that their addiction (to whatever) will disappear with medication that controls serotonin in the brain – these are psychotropic drugs that are used with obsessive-compulsive problems.
The Church teaches that the culpability of a sin is reduced if there is a debilitating factor involved. Addiction qualifies. Because it is an addiction one CANNOT stop.
Going to confession will help because confession is also a healing sacrament. But if an addiction exists then medical attention MUST be procured as well.
The same thing goes for ingrained habits. In addition to confession, psychological therapy may be indicated to get over the habit.
God has given us the gift of these tools – medicine and psychology – as a means to find healing. He EXPECTS us to use the gifts He has given us.
As to the meaning of repentance, when one goes to confession they need to ask themselves:
Am I sorry for my sin?
Do I wish to turn away from this sin?
Will I do the best I can to not sin again (even though I know I might again tomorrow)?
Do I have the purpose (that is, INTENTION) of amendment?
What is important is that a person be sorry for his sin and to truly INTEND to stop the sin at the time of confession. If that is present then the confession is a good one even though the person knows that most likely he will sin again because of his weakness. Tomorrow is Tomorrow. Heck, this afternoon is this afternoon. If I go to confession this morning and sin this afternoon, that afternoon sin is a NEW incident. My confession this morning was a good one. I intended to not sin again.
Even St. Paul said, I keep doing what I don’t want to do.
Each incident of sin is separate from another incident. If the person is truly sorry for sin and intends amendment and receives confession, the slate is wiped clean. If sin happens again, it is a new and separate incident in which we need to be sorry for and have purpose amendment for and confess again. It is separate from the previous incident .
If this goes on and on, God will forgive again and again. The Bible says 70 times 70 times will God forgive; but when no progress is seen, then most likely a medical or psychological problem exists which must be dealt with.
At the bottom line, pray for your friend, encourage him to go to confession no matter how useless he thinks it is. Encourage him to seek medical or psychological treatment if that is indicated.
To not go to confession places our soul at risk. That is a serious thing. Eternity is at stake. Pray for him.
We will place this person on our prayer list.
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