Ask a Franciscan

God Knows Our Heart Completely

Q: I am an 87-year-old widow. Although my recently scheduled major surgery was called off because of other health problems, before that happened I recalled several things from many years ago.

Did I confess certain sins? If I didn’t, have I sinned by going to Holy Communion all these years? I have gone to Confession faithfully. When I confess in the future, how do I report any mortal sins that I may not have confessed? I have never intentionally omitted any mortal sin. Regarding venial sins, I could have omitted some because as a teenager I may have thought I didn’t need to confess them. These questions now bother me.

A: Your letter, in fact, includes the answer to your three questions: “I never intentionally omitted any mortal sin.” God has forgiven the mortal sins you actually confessed but also the ones you would have confessed if you had then recognized them as sins.

It is unlikely that you have ever forgotten to confess a sin such as murder or bank robbery. If there was no grave matter or if you lacked full knowledge or full consent, then there was no mortal sin to confess.

God’s mercy and forgiveness do not depend on how thorough a penitent’s memory is. The danger in not confessing venial sins is that eventually they can be brushed aside as “no big deal.” Over time, this dulls our consciences.

Honesty is the difference between having a clear conscience and being scrupulous (obsessively seeing sin in all one’s actions). If I am honest about who I am before God, in relation to other people and in my own eyes, I will have a healthy sense of sin but will not be paralyzed by it.

I encourage you to trust that God has forgiven all your past sins. Best wishes as you deal with your health issues.

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