Q. How does one confess a mortal sin so foul to himself, his spouse and his family — knowing that by doing so he will destroy all that he loves? I have committed fornication outside of marriage and am living day to day with remorse and guilt so intense that my thoughts are constantly on suicide and despair.
I have prayed to the Blessed Virgin and to the Lord Jesus to forgive me and to give me one more chance with my family. I have also prayed that my wife and children never find out, as she is all-good and has shown me and our children nothing but respect and love.
I pray and beg for forgiveness and repentance on a constant basis. Is there a way that I can reclaim my soul, that I can go on living my faith and staying with my family? I am at an end, admit that I failed terribly as a human being and sinned against the love of Our Lord. Please help me. I do not know what to do. (City of origin withheld)
A. Here is what you need to know: God can forgive us for anything, and wants to. Some of the greatest saints had sex outside of marriage, repented and were absolved (St. Augustine, most notably). Divine forgiveness is as close as the nearest confessional and a priest can never disclose what you tell him during confession.
What you should do, right away, before you carry this heavy burden any further, is to stop at a nearby Catholic church (anytime, day or night). Ask the priest to hear your confession and also get his recommendation for counseling or a follow-up. The question of whether your spouse needs to know — and, if so, when — depends on a lot of factors, and a counselor can help you sort them out.
If thoughts of suicide persist, one solid resource is the Samaritans crisis hotline. Your local phone directory, or an online search, will give you their number.
Meanwhile, please know that you will be in my prayers daily. What comes to mind is the story in John’s Gospel (Chapter 8) of the woman taken in adultery. Jesus refuses to punish or condemn — or even to criticize her. He simply says, “Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more.” Please give Christ the chance to be just as kind to you.
Q. The announcement of the forthcoming canonizations of popes John XXIII and John Paul II caused me to wonder. I thought that it was Vatican policy not to canonize anyone until at least 50 years after their death. Did that policy change? (Walton, N.Y.)
A. Yes, the policy changed. The canonization of saints is now governed by reforms set in place by Pope John Paul II in 1983.
Prior to that time, the introduction of a saint’s cause had to wait until 50 years after that person’s death. The thinking was that this buffer would allow mere human enthusiasm to cool and the fame of genuine holiness to endure.
The downside, though, was that witnesses to the person’s life died off and personal correspondence and other writings became more difficult to assemble.
Under the present guidelines, the investigation into a person’s life usually opens no sooner than five years after death — although popes are free to waive even that delay, as was done in the cases of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata and Blessed John Paul II.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.