Check your attitudes before confession

By | March 6, 2013

During Lent, we are asked to take extra time for the sacrament of reconciliation. As the U.S. bishops in their pastoral on the sacrament noted, “In the sacrament of penance and reconciliation … we meet the Lord, who wants to grant forgiveness and the grace to live a renewed life in him.”


Living the Beatitudes certainly means a life of grace. Matthew’s Gospel begins each Beatitude with “blessed are,” and the Latin word for this is beatus, which means happy, fortunate, or in a state of bliss.

But a Beatitude isn’t a passive state of happiness, it’s a state of action. In fact, if we want to situate the Beatitudes into our modern slogan-happy, action mentality, we could say they are the “Be Attitudes.”

The late Jesuit theologian Fr. Jack Hardon called the Beatitudes “uniquely Christian principles of human conduct” and added that the Beatitudes fulfill the Ten Commandments.

“The Ten Commandments given on Mt. Sinai summarize pre-Christian morality,” Fr. Hardon wrote. “The Beatitudes assume the Decalogue and they go beyond it. … The Beatitudes are a perfect synthesis of Christ’s own life; … a summary of Christ’s own practice of virtue.”

So if you want to understand the “Be Attitudes” as you examine your life, look to Jesus. In announcing this Year of Faith, Pope Benedict said, “During this time we will need to keep our gaze fixed upon Jesus Christ …” in whom we find all the answers to the questions of human life and in whom “the examples of faith” are “brought into the fullness of light.”

In preparing for the sacrament of reconciliation, we are asked to take time for an examination of conscience. This word “examination” comes from the Latin word exigere, which means “to measure.”

So in preparing for reconciliation, we need to see how we measure up. Two reference points often suggested are the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes.

The Ten Commandments are a bit easier to use: we all know about lying, stealing, murdering, envy and not honoring God or our parents. I found these easy to tally up when I was a child learning about confession: Did I lie? Did I swipe a cookie? (Yes, there are deeper levels behind the Commandments, such as the extent of “What is a lie?”)

The Beatitudes, on the other hand, seem more complicated. However, since we are called to use the life of Christ as our yardstick, the Beatitudes can be very fruitful in an examination of conscience.

No, they are not as straightforward as the Commandments. Right off, they get hard. What does “poor in spirit” mean? What is the right action here? Is it literally to be “poor”? Or does it mean “humble”? (But then what about the next Beatitude, which praises the meek? Aren’t they humble?)

Yet precisely here we see the value of the Beatitudes in preparing for confession. You have to think hard. And remember that the measurement is Jesus. Yes, he was poor. But he had some rich friends, and he didn’t reject their offerings. How did he act?

Maybe St. Paul can help: “I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. … I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me” (Phil 4:11-13). See Paul’s measurement against Christ here?

“The Catholic Encyclopedia” explains the first Beatitude this way: “The blessed ones are the poor ‘in spirit’, who by their free will are ready to bear, for God’s sake, this painful and humble condition, even though at present they be actually rich and happy; while on the other hand, the really poor man may fall short of this poverty ‘in spirit’.”

Look at the next Beatitude on mercy. We often think of mercy as kindness, maybe as being forgiving in nature. However, what we call “mercy” is called hesed in Hebrew when referring to God. Hesed means God’s unfailing compassion and loyalty to the covenant he made with us — no matter what. We can see this lived out in Jesus, who lovingly went to the cross for us. No matter what. Here’s real action.

One way to see if we measure up to this Beatitude would be to remember the corporal and spiritual works of mercy (there are seven of each). These include praying for the dead, visiting the sick and feeding the hungry. Which do we do? Or not do?

See the varied dimensions of the Beatitudes? Quite a measuring stick. It’s hard enough to contemplate them in a time of reflection. But living them faithfully — as attitudes of being — is even harder.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “The Beatitudes … express the vocation of the faithful associated with the glory of (Christ’s) Passion and resurrection; they shed light on the actions and attitudes characteristic of the Christian life; they are the paradoxical promises that sustain hope in the midst of tribulations … (n. 1717).

Paradox is a good word.  Our “Be Attitudes” seem to offer nothing but paradox: we will be happy and holy if we do what seems hard, or against human nature. Really, who wants to be persecuted (Beatitude eight)?

Yet, remember, the Lord understands that it’s hard.

As Fr. Hardon put it, “In short, (Christ) tells us to do things that we don’t naturally enjoy and then tells us we are going to have joy. ‘Come, come,’ we say, ‘Lord, now what do you mean?’ … (Jesus answers) ‘You sacrifice pleasure and I will give you joy.’”

So when you struggle to see how your attitudes — and actions — measure up as you prepare for reconciliation, just remember Jesus’ promise for the end: joy.

Sources: Catechism of the Catholic Church; “Porta Fidei” at; “The Catholic Encyclopedia”; “God’s Gift of Forgiveness” at; and “The Beatitudes: Generosity and Happiness” by Fr. John Hardon.

Kasten is the author of “Linking Your Beads, The Rosary’s History, Mysteries and Prayers,” published by Our Sunday Visitor Press.



Related Posts

Scroll to Top