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Confession, Devotional – Spiritual Dictionary

October 31, 2013 by  
Filed under Dan Burke, Penance/Confession, Sacraments, Spiritual Dictionary

CONFESSION – DEVOTIONAL: The practice of regular confession even when one is not aware of mortal or even venial sins. This practice includes setting and keeping a specific schedule of self-examination and confession. This may also include the confession of past mortal or venial sins even if confessed previously in specific or in general. Devotional confession can also make note of imperfections though they are not sufficient matter for absolution. In such a case, previously confessed sins, especially related to one’s predominant fault, should be mentioned. Note: This practice is not recommended for those who suffer with scrupulosity without the guidance of a spiritual director.

This Spiritual Dictionary Term is an excerpt from the Glossary of Dan’s book Navigating the Interior Life – Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God. To learn more, click here.


What is spiritual direction and my spiritual direction? What are my “blind spots” and how can I uncover them? What keeps me from all the spiritual riches Christ has for me? How can I better understand where I am in my spiritual progress?

Daniel Burke’s Navigating the Interior Life will give you the tools you need to understand how and why we grow and die in the spiritual life and what we can do about it.

Most of us have questions about spiritual direction. What is it? Is it for me? What if I can’t find a spiritual director? These questions and more are well answered in Dan Burke’s book. The Lord is clearly calling all Catholics into a deeper union with him. This book, in a style which is both inspiring and practical, provides some of the Church’s most important wisdom about how to respond to this call.

Ralph Martin, PhD, president, Renewal Ministries
and author of ‘The Fulfillment of All Desire'




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About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio - Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, and his newest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

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  • Mary@42

    I hear you, Dan, loud and clear :

    “Devotional confession can also make note of imperfections though they are not sufficient matter for absolution. In such a case, previously confessed sins, especially related to one’s predominant fault, should be mentioned”.

    As I wait for God to give me another Spiritual Director, I continue to honour my Devotional practice of Weekly Confession.

    I am still unsure whether or not I actually suffer from scrupulosity. All I know is that when I have fallen flat on my aging face – even if the the fall is a Venial Sin – my peace of mind is shattered….I make a note of it and add it to other previous falls during my Examen….I shall only regain my peace of mind when I encounter Jesus in His Tribunal of Mercy and pour my heart out in tearful confession and repentance, begging His forgiveness for those sins I have confessed, those I have forgotten and all the sins of my past life. I also ask Him in His Mercy to grant me the Virtue of Humility to enable me to fight my predominant faults. Weekly, do I plead for the Gifts of Wisdom, Understanding, Right Judgement and Prudence in every aspect of my life.

    Only His Words – through his Representative – of advice, encouragement and guidance and the Rite of Sacerdotal Forgiveness and Absolution restores my peace of mind.

  • Mike

    Why would we re-confess our sins? Aren’t we absolved once we confess?

    • LizEst

      You’re absolutely right Mike. They are absolved. One has to be very careful with “re-confessing” sins; because, it can be one of the devil’s tricks to make you believe you have not been absolved. And, from there, it’s just a small step to believing that God will not absolve you. This is particularly dangerous to those who suffer from scruples, as Dan mentioned in his definition. For some people it is also especially risky to remember certain sins, particularly those of the flesh, where even the memory of such may cause further sin, even if there is no actually doing of the sin. Remember a famous politician once said he lusted after someone in his heart?

      It’s important to remember that if, while confessing, you confessed all sins you could think of, everything is absolved. If, later, you remember you didn’t confess something in that confession, it is still absolved because it was not due to any fault of yours that you inadvertently omitted it. However, if you omitted it on purpose, then, of course, you have to confess it and confess that you hid it.

      Now, if one is having trouble with a particular sin, you can say to the priest something like, “I confessed such and such the last time, but I am still having problems with it. Or, I confessed thus and such many years ago…and I can’t believe I’ve done it again! In a devotional confession, one could say something like, “I am particularly vulnerable to thus and such which I’ve confessed before. And, while I haven’t fallen into that sin, I feel very tempted even though I am avoiding the occasion of sin. I don’t feel very strong right now. So, I’m asking for God’s grace to keep from doing it.” Or, also in a devotional confession, you can, for the purpose of growing in humility, for the purpose of keeping your sins always before you (cf Ps 51:5a), mention a sin that you have previously confessed saying something like, “I wish to keep my sins before my eyes so that I don’t become proud or arrogant, so I state that I have confessed the sin(s) of x, y and z in the past.” Thus, you are not really confessing those sins in the sacramental sense, but merely bringing them to light, within the framework of the sacrament, as a way to grow spiritually in wisdom and grace.

      Devotional confession can also be kind of like a general confession, which is something those who are changing their state of life do. It is important to know oneself, especially when one becomes a religious, is ordained or consecrated. So, in a general confession, a person would go over things which they have already confessed as well as those not. It is kind of like a life review. It shows where the grace of God is working in one’s life and what one needs to continue to work on. And, if there are big issues with a particular sin, that may be grounds to wait to change one’s state of life or not to make the change that is planned. It can help people not to fall into the same sin by pointing out life-long issues or weaknesses with a particular sin. Here, the confessor really gets a good picture of the state of your soul and what issues could be hidden traps for you.

      Hope that helps answer your question, Mike. God bless you!

      • Becky Ward

        General confession is also used as a tool on the spiritual journey – not just when changing one’s state in life.
        As we grow in humility and the other virtues we become more aware of the seriousness of our sins, and hopefully we begin to get to the ‘roots’ (cause) of our sins. Growth and healing both open doors we forgot, or didn’t know about, and although our sins ARE forgiven as has been stated, (if we make a full and sincere confession), when something pops up that we weren’t aware of it can be a good thing to mention it and the circumstances that brought it to our attention.
        Also, when we are truly working on our spiritual life, a general confession (once a year or so) can be a good way to see where we have progressed, and identify any places we may be ‘stuck’. Understanding our past can help us see where God is leading us.
        We should always let the priest know that we are making a general confession….and try to schedule it in advance because it takes longer.

        • LizEst

          Thanks, Becky, for highlighting that others can also make general confessions as part of their spiritual journey. But, just so readers are clear: it is a tool and not mandated. It’s even mentioned in the COMMENTARY on the Code of Canon Law, but it’s not part of Church Law itself, although It is required by some religious institutes. “…it [is] a private confession where the penitent (exceptionally)
          resolves to confess as far as he or she can all past sins, and not only those since the last confession. The practice is recommended when a person is entering on a new state of life — the priesthood, religious life, or marriage — and is required in some religious institutes by
          rule to be done annually.” (from Fr. John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary, © Eternal Life. Used with permission as quoted in )

          So, where not required as with some religious institutes by rule, it’s nice for others to do for spiritual growth and/or as a spiritual help. In fact, St. Francis de Sales recommended it, “I cannot enter into the subject of a general change of life and entire turning to God, by means of a devout life, without urging upon you to begin with a general confession.” (“Introduction to the Devout Life” by St. Francis de Sales, Chapter 6:The First Purification, Namely, From Mortal Sin).

          Wonder how many are now going to make a general confession after this discussion?? :)) Happy confessing everyone!!

          • Becky Ward

            Did I say it was mandatory? So sorry, didn’t intend that at all.

          • LizEst

            No Becky. That was my doing as I didn’t want any one to get that idea just in case they might be tending in that direction.

            btw–I just discovered “The Ten Commandments of Scrupulosity” on this website and thought I would add that link here in case it is helpful to some (number seven has to do with general confession):

          • #7 is a critical piece of advice for those who suffer with scrupulosity.

      • Mary@42

        This is what you state, LizEst : ”

        “However, if you omitted it on purpose, then, of course, you have to confess it and confess that you hid it.”

        May I reiterate, omitting to confess a sin DELIBERATELY during Confession, is a very, very serious matter, indeed. It is Sacrilegious and renders the entire Confession invalid. However, forgetting to confess a sin which you intended to confess is not a sin, and does not invalidate the Confession – in fact, it is forgiven along with the sins you have confessed. But one is required to ensure to confess it the next time one goes for Confession

        • LizEst

          Thank you, Mary.

          You’re right about this Church Law. That’s a correct “reading” (for mortal/grave sins) of Canon 988, section 1 which states, “A member of the Christian faithful is obliged to confess in kind and number all grave sins committed after baptism and not yet remitted directly through the keys of the Church nor acknowledged in individual confession, of which the person has knowledge after diligent examination of conscience.”

          It hinges on the words “remitted directly” as the Commentary to this Canon shows, “although grave sins forgotten and thus omitted at the time of confession are indirectly remitted, the canon indicates that these too must be confessed when remembered and thus be submitted for ‘direct remission.”


        Dear LizEst: Thanks for a good explanation re: Psalm 51. on keeping confessed sins that re-occur. Psalm 51:10 has been a mantra for me for many years, but I failed to recognize the significant of verse 5. Thanks. God bless you. Donald True.

        • LizEst

          God bless you, Donald. I’m glad that was helpful to you. Happy Lord’s Day!

        • Ann Marsden

          A comment on Psalm 51:5.
          I think, defining what sin is can help here: Sin is a turning away from God.
          “My sin is always before me= I know I turn often away; one uncharitable thought is a turning away from His Majesty. God is the ultimate GOOD! And as Romans tells us “Creation is made subject to futility” and somewhere else in the Bible it says, I think Paul again: “I don’t do what I want but what I don’t want..”

    • Yes – we are absolved once we confess. We would do so in order to avail ourselves of the grace of confession to further strengthen us against sin. Here’s more:

  • Pepe

    Spiritual direction is the offensive weapon, confession the defensive one. Our sins are forgiven in confession and we start afresh. Spiritual direction provides specific objectives to aim for, to ensure that your apostolic life is heroic.

    • Well said

    • Becky Ward

      I really like this!

    • Marg

      I appreciate the clarity Pepe, thank you for this!

  • Bill

    Can I confess sins in a general way? e.g. “lust” or “sins of the flesh” rather than a specific sin because of embarrassment?

    • It would be best to avoid generalities. The best way is to be very direct. Answer these to questions: 1) In a word, what is my sin? and 2) How many times did you engage in this sin? Here’s the canon law on the matter: Canon 988 – §1. A member of the Christian faithful is obliged to confess in kind and number all serious sins committed after baptism and not yet directly remitted through the keys of the Church nor acknowledged in individual confession, for which one is conscious after diligent examination of conscience.
      §2. It is to be recommended to the Christian faithful that venial sins also be confessed.

      • judeen

        i guess I never have done it that way.. I confess from the heart.. what I did.. the preist ussually helps me out how to over come a weakness… but at times I am general.. because of enbarrassment.. but too.. I try to kneel behind the screen.. to remind me that I am talking to God not to the preist.. also.. to humble my self… in reverance , it is not just a conversation… with the preist.. but a deep hearted repentance of my sin..

  • Thomas Irenaeus

    There are so many things wrong with this little snippet it would be wise if you expanded on it and explained it in much greater detail. There are contradictions in it (i.e., scrupulosity as in confessing previously absolved sins even though you qualify it at the end, the difference between spiritual direction and confession, not being aware of mortal or venial sins even when the sin of omission is most likely present in most people’s lives, how about the sin of pride thinking one is laboring faithfully when there could be omissions or even blind spots that the person is not readily aware of, imperfections which we all have are not confessable items vs. actions which are, etc…). Read it quickly and you’ll see what a I mean. I would hope Fr. Bartunek would jump in and correct all that could go wrong with writing such a thing so that folks are not inappropriately misguided. God’s blessings to you.

    • Just for clarity, this snippet was reviewed by Fr. John and two other scholars. it was found to be an accurate reflection of Catholic teaching on the subject.

    • LizEst

      Hmm. Thomas Irenaeus, this is a definition of a term, not a snippet or extended explanation. So, it can’t cover every concern. For that, one could go to something like what Dan cited, which Fr. Bartunek, ThD, wrote for this site. Devotional confession would also be a good topic for discussion with one’s Spiritual Director. It does stimulate discussion, though, doesn’t it?

      On another subject, it sounds like you might be a student of theology, or something like that. What field of study might you be in? And, what degree might you be pursuing?

    • Mary@42

      Thomas, if I recall my Catechism Classes some, oh 65 yeas ago, for an act to become sin there are three distinct conditions. 1) one recognizes what one is about to do is against God’s Commandments, 2) one decides regardless to go ahead and do it and 3) the actual commission. However, human brokenness due to our fallen nature is present in all of us and we are not always aware of our blind spots and imperfections. So if one does anything which one is not consciously aware is against God’s Will, then one has not committed any sin.

      Pope’s comment above explains this well what is the role of the Sacrament of Confession and the vital necessity of having a Spiritual Director. A Spiritual Director helps one to identify their blind spots or predominant disordered conditions which makes one prone to sin. The Director will help one to discover their Root Sins and gives advice on how to acquire the opposite Virtues to fight the Root Sins and thereby grow in Spirituality.

      That is my elementary understanding which can be confirmed by checking the explanations of what makes an action a sin in the Catechism of the Catholic Church

    • judeen

      confession.. sins we are doing and do not know them are forgiven.. in confession .. that is why sometimes I say .. forgive me for the sins I do not know I am doing or forgotten… this is in old testement..
      God asked for the jews to offer a sin offering 1nce a year…
      as we grow closer to God.. God reveals sins we are doing without knowing them.. as each 1 is removed so too we grow closer to God until union with God… ( when our perfections bring us to a humble sinless heart and soul…) theology of the body- by the pope. talks about being like adam before He sined… union. with God… as we grow .. God reveals.. deeper sins of the heart.. but until then God forgives all sin at confession… like a child that does not know better.

    • GHM_52

      I respectfully disagree with you, Thomas… I fail to see anything wrong or dangerous about Dan’s statements. I think sometimes we miss the forest when we focus too much on a given tree. Some of the comments provided, educational and edifying as they may be, suggest to me that there has been an overfocusing on “confession” and a sort of dismissiveness of the adjective “devotional”. The way I see it “Devotional” confession is about…just that: devotion to our God shown via the act of confession. When we sin and repent and confess our sin to Him through one of His beloved priests, our sins are definitely forgiven. There is actually no “need” to “re-confess” as Michael puts it. However, “need” or “requirement” are not necessarily synonymous with devotion…Devotion suggests a strong inclination to communicate to God our desire to praise, thank, reverence Him, love Him above all else…and in the process, communicate to Him how very sorry we are for having offended Him even in “past” small things. When I approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation devotionally, I do so because, even in full certainty of having been most lovingly forgiven for previously confessed sin, I still want to “officially reiterate” to Him, again, how sorry I still am, and always will be, for having offended so Good a God. That “contrition of the heart” has nothing to do with neurotic, or perhaps diabolical scrupulosity. It is not motivated by fear of judgment, by lack of trust and/or hope in the already granted pardon by Him, Who “crossed over” into the world in order to “cross me over” into Heaven. It has everything to do with absolute, consuming, reverent, and yes, even joyful love for Him Who always forgives us and tirelessly works for our salvation. It is really no more different than when, more than once, we tell our loved ones whom we have offended, how sorry we are for having caused them heartache. In fact, I take that back, there is a difference…If we reiterate our contrition over having offended our “merely mortal” brothers and sisters, how could we balk at devotionally reiterating our contrition to the Only One Who can give us and died to give us abundant life?

  • judeen

    confession.. there is so much to it… besides being pure and forgiven ,, sins remembered no more… 1 receives grace.. also opperssion stops /// this I get.. a depression .. heavyness.. tierd.. cant get going…great pain.- confession stops it… even if it is a venial sin.. it will open the door … to get attacked.. the blessings in confession can stop fights at home… bring peace… there is so much to this sacrament… words of wisdom from the preist.. from God…

  • Jeanette

    38 years ago, after being away from the Church for 14 years, I was drawn powerfully back to the Lord and went to Confession and had to wait a year to have my marriage recognized by the Marriage Tribunal before I could start receiving Communion again. But, just recently, I realized there were sins that I did not confess at that time because I didn’t realize they were sins. So, I went to Confession with my list of sins and told the Confessor why I was doing so. He felt it was a good idea as it would help me psychologically to know that I have confessed everything even though 38 years ago, all my sins were forgiven. It did make me feel better. Could you say that was a devotional Confession?

  • patricia

    the sacrament of reconciliation allows me to see Gods endless mercy and my total dependence of him. I used to fear it but know it my allowing myself to be little and small before the Lord my God and my Father in which fills me with peace knowing I can go to him through his representatives. As with devotion to the Holy Eucharist I have devotion to Confession. For God’s will is our salvation and sanctification as I learned through Avila Institute . God’s will is love and mercy it’s self (St. Faustina)

  • diane

    May I ask a question? In several of my past confessions the priest has told me that what I confess is not a sin. I would like to find some resources that will guide me to better understand examination of conscience and to make a good confession. I do not have a spiritual director as one is not available in our area. Thank you for your thoughts.

    • LizEst

      Hi Diane,

      If you will send me an email at and put “confession” in the subject line, I will send you the pdf of a guide I use, which is a very thorough guide/exam. I was going to send you the link but apparently the website is being redone and the link is not active.

      As to bringing things to confession that are not sins, I usually phrase it something like this, I know that this is not a sin but I am being tempted/feel weak/etc in this area and I want to bring it to the sacrament and get some grace and some light on the situation. Then, I tell the priest what the issue is and it gives him the opportunity to give me some mini-spiritual direction during the sacrament. This does a couple of things: (1) the devil is exposed for what he is doing and (2) amazingly, I find that the Lord provides extra grace and strength to combat the particular temptation or difficulty, even if it isn’t a sin.

      Hope this helps. May God bless you as you seek to draw nearer to Him!

      • Dan Burke

        Excellent advice Liz. You should be a spiritual director.

    • LizEst

      The website has now redone their link to the most comprehensive guide/exam for confession I’ve ever seen. Here is the link for anyone else who would like to have this downloadable pdf:

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