There are two ways to make something “easy.” One is to provide a brief overview of a subject, the other is to cover every aspect of it so that the student has no questions left by the end. Fr. Fructosus Hockenmaier takes the latter approach in his 696-page Confession Made Easy.
Despite its intimidating length, Fr. Hockenmaier’s book does, in fact, make things easy by explaining the Sacrament of Confession in layman’s terms, and giving his book a practical focus. He begins by providing some reasons to attend Confession regularly, answers some common objections, cautioning against scrupulosity (which a book of this kind could easily engender), explaining the difference between mortal and venial sins, going through the Decalogue and Seven Deady Sins, and finally discussing how to approach the Sacrament itself. In the final part of the book he provides many prayers and devotions.
Now, Fr. Hockenmaier assumes that his reader is already Catholic, so he does not provide an apologia for the Sacrament, nor does he spend a lot of time discussing the theology of it. For example, some of the objections to frequent Confession he answers are simply excuses that people use for not going, such as not having time, having nothing to confess, or being too embarrassed by one’s sins. Of his explanations and advice, only a few illustrations are needed. From his discussion of Sixth and Ninth Commandments:
It is with this sin as with sin in general that the principle “Beware of the first step” is to be applied. For in matters of holy purity one most easily falls into mortal sin, from seeking the danger. No sin so quickly begets an intense habit as the sin of impurity, a habit which is often found to be incurable.
Confession Made Easy received its imprimatur in 1910, and one can tell that it’s an old-school Catholic book by the seriousness and clarity of passages like the above. One problem that many Catholics seem to have is not only recognising what things are sinful, but what are not. The vice of the 21st Century is indifference to or denial of sin, but there are those who run to the opposite extreme of scrupulosity, or sometimes just uncertainty. For example, while offering instruction in how to distinguish mortal and venial sin, Fr. Hockenmaier says this:
The same is to be said of persons who suffer from involuntary thoughts and illusions. What are illusions? They are representations to the mind, originating from bodily ills, especially nervous diseases, and such illusions are forced upon the minds of such persons, altogether against their will, now for a short time, now for a longer period. They should remember that no thoughts or illusions can be sins, when they do not invite such thoughts or illusions.
What about cases when we aren’t sure if something is sinful or not? In such cases, Fr. Hockenmaier repeats many times to consult with one’s confessor.
Such a long book represents a significant time investment, so is Confession Made Easy worth the effort of reading, or is a pamphlet as one often finds online or laid out near a church’s confessional sufficient? For those who are well catechised, having a good guide for an examination of conscience is probably enough. For those who did not have the fortune of a good religious education, though, or who simply want as thorough a guide as possible, Fr. Hockenmaier is excellent. Though not everyone needs it, Confession Made Easy accomplishes its task perfectly.