If you are living in habitual sin, Pope John Paul wants you to know this. These words of St John Paul II is not a new Catholic teaching or anything; it is a reaffirmation of the Church’s thousand-year belief in forgiveness. This teaching can be summarized thus: If you are genuinely sorry and try to change your life. God will forgive you and keep forgiving you. However, if you choose to hold onto your sins, you cannot be forgiven. Because you do not want to forgive yourself enough to receive divine mercy.
In his 2002 Apostolic letter entitled Misericordia Dei, he writes:
“It is clear that penitents living in a habitual state of serious sin and who do not intend to change their situation cannot validly receive absolution” (#7(c)).
The Church believes that for a person to receive absolution validly, the following conditions must be met:
- Contrition: meaning that one must be sorry for offending God who loves him. Not just about being afraid of hell, but remorse born out of love. Repentance born out of fear isn’t perfect but still suffices.
- Confession: the penitent confesses everything to the priest without willfully withholding any tiny detail. Once one is unwilling to confess appropriately, it indicates they’re not very sorry for their sins and cannot receive valid absolution.
- Satisfaction: after one has been forgiven, they have to make up for their sins. They have to do penance and restore all they have damaged by their sins. Get rid of all instruments of sins in their possessions and stay far away from anything tainted with corruption to avoid future temptations.
These conditions are necessary for receiving a sacramental pardon, but one could still see a confessor help them discern their hearts. If you have doubts about how you feel about your sins, an experienced confessor would be very helpful.
The Council of Trent defines contrition as:
“sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again” (#1451).
There is perfect contrition motivated by a sincere love of God; the penitent feels sorry for offending God, who their soul loves deeply. Then there is imperfect contrition called “attrition,” which is motivated either by the ugliness of sin, fear of divine punishment, and eternal damnation, or both.
Another type of sinner who isn’t part of the John Paul II category is the penitent who makes honest efforts, who try to free themselves from sin and everything related to it. This person sometimes slips into sin or other potentially sinful habits but keeps trying.
So, on the one hand, you have someone who, for instance, lives in an adulterous union. They go to confession and return to their homes, where they live in sin. If they do not do something to free themselves from this situation, they cannot receive forgiveness.
Then on the other, a person who confesses anger or cursing. Then after a while, they find themselves overcome by sinful passion again and feel bad once more.
In his Holy Thursday Letter to Priests in 2002, Pope John Paul II stated:
“Unless it appears otherwise, the priest must assume that, in confessing his or her sins, the penitent is genuinely sorry and is determined to make amends…. Clearly, when there is no sorrow and amendment, the confessor is obliged to tell the penitent that he or she is not yet ready for absolution. If absolution were given to those who actually say that they have no intention of making amends, the rite would become a mere fiction; indeed, it would look almost like magic, capable perhaps of creating the semblance of peace, but certainly not that deep peace of conscience which God’s embrace guarantees” .#8
If you are living in habitual sin, Pope John Paul wants you to know this