The Power of the Sacrament of Penance by Fr. Michael Muller, 1880

In the little book, Triumph of the Blessed Sacrament over Beelzebub; or History of Nicola Aubry , who was possessed by Beelzebub and several other evil spirits, we read the following :

“One day, during one of the exorcisms in church, the evil spirit was chattering and uttering all kinds of nonsense. Suddenly he stopped short and gazed fixedly at a young man who was eagerly forcing his way through the crowd in order to have a nearer view of the possessed woman. The devil saluted him in a mocking tone: ‘Good-morning, Peter,’ said he, calling him also by his family name. ‘Come here and take a good view of me. Ah! Peter, I know that you are a free-thinker; but, tell me, where were you last night?’ And then the devil related, in presence of every one in the church, a shameful sin that Peter had committed the preceding night. He described all the circumstances with such precision that Peter was overwhelmed with confusion, and could not utter a word. ‘Yes,’ cried the devil, in a mocking tone, ‘you have done it; you dare not deny it.’

“Peter hurried away as fast as he could, muttering to himself: ‘The devil tells the truth this time. I thought that no one knew it but myself, and God.’

“Peter seemed to have forgotten that the devil is the witness of our evil actions, that he remembers them all well, and that, at the hour of death, he will bring them all against us, as he himself declared. ‘For it is thus,’ he added in a rage, ‘that I take revenge on sinners.’ Peter had not been to confession for many years; and, as a natural consequence, his morals were not exactly of the purest order. He had been guilty of gross sins which, in the fashionable world, go by the name of ‘pardonable weaknesses,’ ‘slight indiscretions,’ etc. The public accusation of the devil filled him with wholesome confusion. He rushed into a confessional, cast himself at the feet of the priest, confessed all his sins with true contrition, and received absolution. After having finished his confession, Peter had the boldness to press through the crowd once more; but this time he kept a respectful distance from his infernal accuser. The exorcist saw Peter, and, knowing that he had been to confession, he told him to draw near.

Then, pointing to him, the priest said to the devil: ‘See here, do you know this man?’

“The devil raised his eyes, and leisurely surveyed Peter from head to foot, and from right to left. At last, he said:

“‘Why, really, it is Peter.’

“‘Well!’ said the priest, ‘do you know anything else about him?’

“‘No,’ answered the devil, ‘nothing else.’

“The devil then had no longer any knowledge of Peter’s sins, because they had been entirely blotted out by the blood of Jesus Christ in the holy sacrament of confession.”

By absolution eternal punishment is remitted as well as part of the temporal punishment due to sin. There is a sinner. He has not yet received absolution. His soul is still lying in chains–the chains of eternal punishment deserved by mortal sin. They are great, heavy, clanking chains. They are strong as the gates of hell. Those chains go into the soul. They have eaten their way into the inmost spirit. Corruption and rottenness have grown up from the soul into the links of those chains, and made them one with itself. Those chains go round the soul and into every faculty of the soul. The soul looks as if it was buried out of sight in those chains. Who can break those terrible chains in pieces? No man, no spirit, no devil, no angel can break them. All men and angels and devils, together, cannot break the least ring of those chains.

Poor soul! there is a God above who heareth the groans of them that are in fetters. (Ps.) There is a God who is able to break these chains, who wants to break them if you only want it yourself. And, since you have come to confession, God will break these chains. But wait a little. The priest is saying the words of bsolution. Those words of themselves could do nothing. But the endless force and the almighty power of the blood of Jesus are in those words. Another moment!–the words of absolution have struck the the chains off the sinner, like a flash of lightning. Those chains are snapped and broken in pieces as if they were but a bit of thread. The sinner is free! (Ps. cxxx v.) With a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, God has burst the iron bonds of eternal punishment.

He who is in the state of mortal sin deserves severe punishments, not only in hell, but even in this world. Although absolution frees the sinner from the chains of eternal punishment, yet it generally does not free him from all the temporal punishment due to sin. The temporal punishment that remains must be endured in this world, or averted by penance and good works, otherwise the soul will have to satisfy God’s justice in the flames of purgatory. God, however, in his infinite mercy, by the absolution of the priest, remits a considerable portion of the temporal punishment due to sin.

In the revelations of St. Bridget (Lib. vi., c. 27.) we read that there was a rich man, as noble by birth as he was vile and sinful in his habits. By an express compact, he had given himself to the devil, and for sixty successive years had served him, leading a most infamous life, and never approaching the sacraments. This prince at last came to die; and Jesus Christ, to show him mercy, appeared to St. Bridget, and commanded her to tell her confessor to go and visit him, and exhort him to confess his sins. The confessor went; but the sick man said that he was not in need of confession, as he had often approached the Sacrament of Penance. The priest went a second time; but the poor slave of hell persevered in his obstinate determination not to confess. Jesus again appeared to St. Bridget, and told her to request her confessor to return. He did so. On this occasion, the priest said to the sick man:

“I suppose you do not know who sent me to you three times to hear jour confession. It is Jesus Christ Himself; for He appeared three times to his great servant, Bridget, and each time requested me, through her, to exhort you to make your confession, as He wished to show you mercy.”

On hearing this the dying man was touched, and began to weep. “But how can I be saved,” he exclaimed, a I who for sixty years have served the devil as his slave, and have committed innumerable sins?”

“My son,” answered the priest, encouraging him, “do not lose courage; if you repent of your sins I promise you pardon, in the name of God.” Then, gaining confidence, the dying man said to the confessor: “Father, I looked upon myself as lost, and already despaired of salvation; but now I feel a sorrow for my sins which gives me confidence, and, since God has not yet abandoned me, I will make my confession.” And he made his confession four times on that day, with every mark of true sorrow, and, on the following morning, received communion. On the sixth day, he died, contrite and resigned. After his death, Jesus Christ again appeared to St. Bridget, and told her that this sinner was saved; that he was in purgatory, and that she should pray for his release.

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