This is your resident Thomist bringing you a minute from the Bellowing Ox.
Did you know that Aquinas considered penance a virtue? Much as Lord Sebastian Flyte in Evelyn Waugh’s 20th Century novel Brideshead Revisited comments that being a Catholic means he knows guilt, Thomas says that knowing that something is wrong and repenting of it is a virtue. I once had a friend comment to me that he does not like the Catholic Church because it “makes me feel guilty for my natural inclinations.” That comment has stuck with me, as it seems more of a scapegoat than anything else. It is for this reason that the Church has martyrs – she reminds sinners of their guilt.
Thomas, however, has a more affirmative view of Confession. First, penance is a virtue. For Thomas, virtues clothe the powers of the soul to quicken prudent decision making in the practical life. Possessing virtue means choosing rightly and choosing rightly means happiness (Aristotle defines happiness as “virtue as lived through a complete life.”)
Confessing sin then means you are given the grace to live more virtuously. To live more virtuously means to live more happily in this life as well as the next. Thomas encourages us to not be afraid of this sacrament as it is one of our best tools to discovering happiness in this life. Confession gives strength to wage the battle against all forms of evil. Used frequently enough, it becomes an invincible arms that, given the proper cooperation, can lead one to never sin mortally. Have you been to confession lately?