Peace for Troubled Souls
by Father Boniface McConville, O.F.M.
with Imprimatur by Cardinal Francis J. Spellman
Memory of Sins
Five External Senses
Four Internal Senses
Many people have a tendency to forget that God does not take away our
Memory of our Sins, even when the
Sins themselves are Forgiven. And here we have the
cause of much needless Misery. This is not an Idle Theory. It has resulted from the
Hearing of Confessions on Missions for Many Years.
The Forgiveness of Sins, in the
Sacrament of Penance, is one thing.
The Memory of Sins
Forgiven is quite another.
So also, the Healing of a Wound is one
Process; the Scar that remains is quite another. Until we keep the
Two (2) Things separate, it is no exaggeration to say that those of us Troubled
by the Memory of Sins will never have
Peace. Thousands of sincere men and women are
Tortured by the Thought of their Vividly-Recalled Sins,
instead of being Comforted by the Fact, the definite Fact, that those
Sins have been Forgiven. We must Wisely take Refuge in the
Positive Side of our Religion. It is Distressing and
Dangerous to concentrate on Negations.
If you still retain your Baptismal Innocence, be Humbly
Thankful. But many of the men and women who have Fought and are
Fighting Life's Battles in the Front Line
Trenches, and have Suffered the Wounds and
Grime of the Conflict, will know what this
Pamphlet is about.
Memory (Body) and
Forgiveness (Soul)! If we will but keep the Two
(2) distinct! A lively Memory is a
Blessed Faculty and Possession. But why not use it to assure yourself of God's Great
Mercy? Of course this does not mean you should be Guilty of Presumption.
That will be referred to later. It means this: If you must remember the Sin inevitably ----
let that Memory be the Occasion for a Resolution
to do Sensible Penance and
Amend your Life. Use your Memory for
Constructive Purposes (see Prudence below), rather than for
Falling into Utter Despair. Some will say:
"Well, I never feel sure of Forgiveness, Father. Sometimes I wonder. I am usually Terribly Upset. So I
guess I'll go to Confession again. Even then, I won't be sure, but it will be a help. Oh, will I ever have Peace?"
Prudence is the
Virtue that directs
Reason to Choose Rightly the proper means to attain the
Will of God. Saint Thomas Aquinas states: Five
belong to Prudence as a Cognitive Virtue, namely, "Memory", "Reasoning", "Understanding",
"Docility" and "Shrewdness" (Summa
Theologica). Hence Memory is an important input to our
Discernment of the Will of God.
This Pitiful, Perpetual Unrest recalls the
Story of a Man who went annually to God's Acre and exhumed the remains of a
Loved One. He could never content himself that the
Burial really had taken place. Some of the Best Souls that
Almighty God ever created resemble him. They just cannot leave their
Forgiven Sins alone, Buried
in the Deep Grave of God's Forgiving Mercy.
They simply must make their Regular Trips to the Cemetery of Unhappy Memories, to excavate
the old-bones once more.
Another similar example is found in the woman who had an Intestinal Incision made every few years, for the purpose of a Thorough Diagnosis.
She felt all-right, understand, but she thought that the Safest Policy is to be examined Internally at Regular Intervals. These incidents may
be Slightly Exaggerated, but they do bring out a point.
What Our Lord Meant
Our Divine Savior told His Apostles, and their successors,
"Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them",
He meant those words Literally and without Reservation. Our Faith
and our Confidence in Our Savior should be
such that we accept this Comforting Assurance at its Full Value.
Our Savior did not say that your Sins might be
Forgiven, or that they may be Forgiven, or anything else of a
Conditional character. True God and True Man, the
Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, Jesus
your Savior, meant precisely what He
said when He Instituted the Sacrament of Penance.
If the Penitent has Sorrow for the
Sin, there are no strings attached to the
Forgiveness. Nor is it necessary that you be able to Shed Tears in your
Sorrow. It is safe to say that Sorrow and
Forgiveness depend in no-way on the Lachrymal Glands.
the reason why we almost Doubt God's Forgiveness is
because we ourselves are comparatively slow to Forgive
Injuries. How unkind it is of us to place Almighty God in our class in this
regard, even unwittingly! "Be of good heart, son, thy sins are forgiven thee";
"Go and sin no more"; "Peace be to you";
---- these and many other convincing Assurances of Mercy were given by our
Understanding Savior for your Consolation. But so many of us seem to believe
in a Weak and Abstract Fashion. So many of us are
unwilling to rest content without a written Statement of Pardon, bearing the Signature of our
This Authentic Signature of our Redeemer is written in His
Blood, in the Work of Redemption. Never
Doubt it. Trust Him. And carry your Belief and Confidence over into that Personal,
Unhesitating, Catholic Conviction which brings you
Comfort, Stability and the True Penitential
Why should God destroy our Memories when our
Sins are Forgiven? You remember all the
Pleasant Events of your Life. Is there any reason why you should not also remember the
Unhappy and Unfortunate phases of your experience?
But, for your Peace of Mind, remind yourself firmly of the difference between
Memory (Body) and
correct that we must be Sorry for our Sins,
and that we must have a Firm Purpose of Amendment. However, after this
Sincere Resolution that goes with Effective Confession, we step from
the Confessional into the World. Reluctantly we re-enter the
Battle against the World, the Flesh
and the Devil. We are again in the Thick of the Fray.
Although we have been Sacramentally Absolved, although we have received an increase of
Sanctifying Grace, and although we have made a Firm Purpose of
Sinning no more, we did not thereby take out an Infallible Insurance against ever
Committing Sin again. All too well do we know that we must use
Devout Prayer, Heroic but Sane
Penance, the Frequent Reception of the Sacraments
and every source of Grace as a Protection
against the Hour of Temptation.
You may Soliloquize: "Well, is there anything inevitable about committing sin? I wish that there were
means of being saved against even slight imperfections. I am often so weary in the daily battle". In that Soliloquy, you can
give yourself the correct answer: Sin is not Inevitable, since you have a
Free Will. But, Sin is quite-probable unless
the Available and Indispensable means of Prevention are used.
If, with Saint Paul, we desire to be Dissolved and to be with
Christ, that is a Legitimate and Salutary yearning. There is nothing Wrong
about being Homesick for Heaven, about longing to go
to our Father's House. On the other hand, it does not seem to be precisely
Catholic to be Fearful of Sins
which have been Forgiven. Of course, we need not be reminded that it is not
Catholic to Abuse God's Mercy by
returning to former Sins deliberately. We may feel that God
is very broad-minded, in His Boundless Mercy, but we are not allowed to have
Presumption in our Hearts.
You will recall from your Catechism that the Eternal
Punishment due to Sin is wiped-away by the
Absolution of the Priest. It is also the Traditional Conviction of the Church
that Purgatory must be faced by the Vast Majority. But
Purgatory, in all its Intensity, is Temporary. And our Punishment in
Purgatory can be shortened greatly, or canceled entirely, by
Penance performed and Indulgences acquired here below. The
Catholic Church is Divine. This is Catholic
The Church And Optimism
Spiritual Mother, the Catholic Church, is the
Mother of Sane Optimism.
Pessimism and our Discouragement have no-place in
Her Doctrine. Under various guises, they have repeatedly tried to Destroy
the Peace which Christ assures to the
Penitent Sinner. This Peace
is assured, obviously, because of the Penance, not because of the
Sin. Is there not Balance, Unequaled in the Teaching that you can possess True
Grief of the Soul, and at the same moment you can have Music in your
Heart and a Smile on your Face? These Dispositions are entirely Normal; they involve
no Contradiction or Inconsistency.
Sorrow refers to your unfortunate lack of Love of
God in the Past.
Happiness comes from the fact that your Sins
have been Forgiven and that, through the Grace of
God, you are Sorry for ever having
Dismas, the Good Thief - from Michelangelo's
The Last Judgement
Do you need a greater proof that your Sorrow is turned into
You will recall, in the Narration of the Passion in the
Twenty-Third Chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke,
that Jesus was Crucified between
Two (2) Thieves. Holy Scripture
speaks of One of these Criminals as
"the Good Thief". There was surely nothing
Good about the Stealing which he had done in his career. The term refers to
his Good Dispositions while he was Dying
alongside of Jesus. What a Place of Distinction in which to
Die, by the way! And Two (2) Thieves
shared this Distinction. Well, the Good Thief was Humble
and Sorrowful. In his Agony of Death, he asked of
Jesus: "Lord, remember me when Thou shalt come into Thy
And Jesus said to him: "Amen, I say to thee, this day
thou shalt be with Me in Paradise". Our Divine Savior gave the
Good Thief Absolution then-and-there.
Jesus also gave him a Plenary Indulgence,
because the Good Thief, apparently, was not sent to
Purgatory. He was assured that on that very-day he would be with Jesus
in Paradise. Here is a case, vouched for in Holy Writ,
where Our Lord Saved a Man from Eternal Damnation,
and also removed all the Temporal Punishment which was due to this Man's
Sin. And yet the Man was a Thief! He had been Arrested by the Authority of
the Roman Government and put to Death on the
Cross as a Public Criminal and Malefactor.
And we hear from the Lips of Jesus that He took this
Good Thief with Him to
Heaven on the very day of His Own Death.
Now, you may be as Discouraged and as Pessimistic as
anybody can be about your Past Life. But don't you honestly think that you will receive as much Kind
Consideration from your Savior as a
Thief received? All Doubts and Misgivings
must disappear as you read this Narrative in the Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke.
And Absolution for your Sins is yours for the Asking.
A Plenary Indulgence, taking away all the Temporal
Punishment due to Sin, is also waiting for you if you meet the Easy Conditions of the
Church for this Great Spiritual Favor.
Most people have Suffered Physical Injuries
of some kind. Perhaps as a boy or girl you fell and cut your hand. It may have been a deep cut, too. No doubt you remember the exact place where
Maybe you were running to the store and you fell. And oh how your hand bled! You were very young at the time, but you recall it vividly.
However, it Healed after a while, did it not? You almost forgot about the
Healing part ---- that was taken for granted. But every time that you notice the
Scar on your hand, you are reminded of the Injury over again. It seems
that Sin is something like that. The Wound caused
by Sin is Healed by the
Sacrament of Penance. But every Sin leaves a sort of
Scar in the Memory. And the Saddest
Part of it all is that so many men and women are Tormented by that
Scar. When they forget that the Wound has been
Healed, they Rob themselves of
Poise, Comfort and Spiritual Health.
We can almost hear our Savior's Rebuke: "Oh ye of little
Faith". After all the convincing proofs of His Mercy,
Our Divine Lord deserves more Confidence than that.
is a Modern Surgery called "Plastic", by which Scars,
Wrinkles and various Imperfections of one's appearance
may be removed in whole or in part. The Body is heir to these and a multitude of more
Serious Woes, the last of which, of course, is Unavoidable Dissolution. It is said that Plastic
Surgery is an expensive luxury, so most people have to do the best they can with their Scars without the
aid of Science. If one enjoys Good Health, a Scar or Two (2)
should not interfere with one's Happiness. The removal of Blemishes is, at best, a
Temporary Flattery and Comfort. It is a Scientific Compliment and the postponement of the inevitable.
The Immortal Soul, being Spiritual and
having no Physical Characteristics, cannot be Scarred
or Wounded in the accepted sense of the words. When we speak of
Wounds on the Soul and Scars
on the Memory, we use Figures of Speech. Living in a Physical World, we naturally employ
comparisons gathered from Physical, Visible and
Tangible realities. This art, incidentally, was supremely exercised by
Our Divine Savior Himself, especially in the Parables.
You must be your own Physician, then, for removing Scars from the
Memory. These are of no more Fundamental Importance than Scars on a
Healthy Body. It is true, as previously indicated, that these
Memories frequently bring Great and Disturbing Worries. They indicate
a Common and Widespread Spiritual Neurosis. You must
Heal yourself by Faith and
Confidence. Take your Savior at His Word.
There is no Peace unless Christ brings it.
It requires no Profound Thesis to show that there are Spiritual
Worries, or Neuroses, which are Manifested by all kinds of Fantastic and Extravagant
Imaginations in ordinary life. We see these
Nervous Cases all around us. Perhaps, to your own Regret, you are
somewhat affected yourself. Some people cannot stay in a crowd. Others cannot bear to be alone. Again, there are those who are
Tortured if they go to High Places. Unless you have experienced what such a
Nervous Condition really means, you simply cannot be sufficiently Sympathetic to the
Unhappy People who thus Suffer. And the most distinguished
Nerve Specialists of the World can do little to Help. The
Sufferer must Help Himself.
The Need of Courage
Courage is the answer. Face the very conditions that you
Fear and, Defeat them. These conditions are not really there, of course, when you do face them. In overcoming them you will
sigh-with-relief when you find out that you overcame nothing. You were fighting a product of your own
Imagination: nothing else. In overcoming yourself, however,
you will win a Great Victory indeed.
Jesus saves, not destroys sinners
Few swimmers are brave when they take the First Dip of the Season. They stand and
Fearfully contemplate the Great, Cold Ocean. Most of them probably wish that they were back home. They
cannot understand why they came to the Beach in the first place. Reluctantly and with Trepidation, they immerse one foot, then the other. In
the course of human events, they finally get wet. Then it is, after having been Dreadfully Afraid
of it, that they find out how Delightful the Ocean is. And far, far greater is the
Joy that awaits those who will cast Fear aside and, with
Joyful Abandon, plunge into the Limitless Ocean of God's Mercy, which
There isn't anything Narrow-Minded about our Divine Master. His
Mercy isn't Niggardly or Circumscribed. Did He
Reject you when you Committed your First
Sin? No! Our Savior never seeks, as some seem to
Fear, the easy opportunity to destroy Sinners. You know
that He walked the dusty paths of Palestine building
Confidence in the Hearts of Discouraged People.
And His Church is solemnly appointed to continue His
Constructive Program of Mercy until soft twilight shadows fall on time's brief day. So, be unusually
brave. Defy yourself. Wrap up all your Doubts, all the phases of your
Terror, in one package. Label the package: "Vain Fears". Then, with
Courage born of Strong Faith, based on His
Unfailing Assurances, throw that package into the Yawning Abyss of Permanent Oblivion. Forget it! Find out, finally, what
Christ means by the greeting: "Peace be to you!"
When Our Lord said to the Apostles and their successors: "Whose sins
you shall forgive, they are forgiven them", He immediately added:
"and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained". It is important, for a comprehensive picture,
to note here that Our Lord gave His Church the Authority
to loose a Soul from Sin, and also the
Power to refuse to Forgive a
Sin. This Authority to retain Sins refers, of course, to the cases where
Sinners are Impenitent and refuse to meet the conditions
of the Church. We see here that the Church not only can
Forgive and Sanctify
Souls, but can also Reject, though reluctantly, those who are Hard-of-Heart.
This Two-fold Power is clearly conveyed by the commission
to the Apostles.
Sacrament of Penance is the Greatest Major Spiritual Surgery in the
Church. The Medical Art of removing Scars from the face is comparatively child's-play. It
has much the same importance and permanence as when a baby's chubby hand pats away a bulge or bubble in a fresh mud pie. But when the Hand of a Priest
of Jesus Christ is raised in Absolution over a
Sinner, that Soul is returned to the
State of Grace and prepared for Eternal Union with its
Creator. That is really God's Work. And, because He
gave us this All-Comforting Sacrament, we stand in Awesome
Gratitude. The Royal Psalmist foreshadows this
Peace when in the 102nd Psalm, he sings: "As far as the East is from the West, so far
hath He removed our Iniquities from us"; because "the Mercy of the Lord is from Eternity and unto Eternity
upon them that fear Him".
True, it was
not our Precious Privilege to have seen Jesus in the Courtyard of the Temple, or in
Naim, or in Capharnaum, Healing the
Sick, Forgiving Sinners, and doing the
Work of the God-Man with Mercy that possessed Perfect Finesse.
The fact that we did not see Him in Person, however, must never
interfere with our Faith. The Master
Rebuked the Apostle Saint Thomas by reminding him that they are Blessed
"who have not seen and have believed". It is no Distinction and no Comfort to be numbered among
Of course, we have no Photographs taken of our Savior in His
Work or in His Suffering. Photography
was unknown Two Thousand Years Ago. But speaking of Pictures, we were given, as it were, the
Negative or the Undeveloped Film of Faith when we were
Although we were made children of God and heirs of Heaven
on that occasion, in one sense of the word it was only the beginning of our Spiritual Career. All-important
and necessary for Salvation was this Baptismal Beginning; but
our co-operation is needed to develop that Vague Negative into a Bright, Cheerful, Positive Picture. This developing takes place in the Fluid of
Confidence, by a Life of Prayer, by the Frequent Reception of the
Sacraments and by avoiding the Occasions of Sin. What we here
call the Negative Film of Faith contains in essence everything that is necessary. But our active,
Catholic Lives must develop it into the Finished Photograph.
By our Inactivity and our Careless Failure to develop
our Catholic Faith, the Great Gift of Faith continues,
in a sense, to be a Permanent Negative. And it is apparent that a Professional Photographer cannot
be engaged to do this Developing which we speak of. That must be our own Personal Activity.
There is little enjoyment, indeed, in the possession of the Undeveloped Negatives of the pictures which you snapped in the Mountains or at the Shore.
The picture which you took of your Friend, or of your Sweetheart, or of that smile on your sleeping baby's face, will never enrapture you if it remains
undeveloped. A film, as you know, often contains within itself a Nourishing Harvest for the hungry Soul
of the camera fan. People usually hurry to have these negatives developed so they may enjoy the Feast of Happy
The Cause of Spiritual Ills
It is too often the case, in the Spiritual Order, that Dormant Negatives and Undeveloped Catholicity are
the cause of Spiritual Hunger and of consequent
Spiritual Illness. Where there is no
Catholic Development, there is no Reaping of the Rich Spiritual Harvest
for the Hungry Soul; there is no
Spiritual Health and Stability. It may be called a Lack
of Confidence, or a Neurosis, or Scrupulosity,
perhaps. But it can be called a Derangement caused by the want of the
Correct Catholic Attitude. This Negative,
Spiritual, Nervous Attitude is a
Plague which Destroys Confidence and makes
the Unhappy Soul
Afraid of almost everything.
Jesus assures the Faithful Eleven
Before His Ascension into Heaven, our
Savior said good-bye to the Apostles. He was always Most
Kind, but in this farewell message He uses language that is more than
Kind ---- language that creates most Wonderful Confidence:
"Let not your Heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house
there are many mansions. If not, I would have told you; because I go to prepare a place for you. And if I shall go and prepare a
place for you, I will come again, and will take you to Myself; that where I am, you also may be"
Humanly speaking, the Master felt as Disappointed
about His necessary Departure as the Apostles felt. But if you read that text again, slowly, and
visualize our Savior giving Comfort and
Assurance to His closest Friends, you will
find therein the Treasure that you have sought all your Lifetime. And you will not
be Afraid any more. That Reassuring Farewell Message
was not only for the Apostles, it was for us too. The words, "Let not your Heart be Troubled . . . I go
to prepare a place for you . . . that where I am, you also may be", always bring Confidence.
In the meantime, until life's day is done, until evening comes, until those quiet, personal shadows which creep constantly, kindly and imperceptibly
toward us ---- until those Soft Shadows place Mercy's Comforting Cloak about your
Tired Form ---- until your Guardian Angel touches you on the shoulder, calling you
Home ---- until your Weary
Heart and Exhausted Nerves Enjoy that
Peace which Mary's
Son waits to give you ---- until then, don't be Afraid. The
Forgiving Master said that He went to prepare a place for you. Where
He is, there you also soon shall be.