I am often surprised at how often people do something and then come to Confession in the expectation of instant forgiveness with no consequences. They are actually wrong on both counts. Forgiveness comes with true repentance not simply from a sense of feeling sorry that you got caught. When I hear a confession, I cannot judge someone’s repentance, but I hope that they realize that I am only hearing the confession. I am not the one who forgives, and the One who forgives can see down to the deepest part of our hearts. He cannot be fooled by feeling sorry for being caught. Having said that, our God often takes being sorry for being caught and uses that as a beginning, a beginning that can often lead to true repentance and salvation.
But, he often does that by not blocking the consequences of our actions. It is when we experience the consequences of our actions that our being sorry starts to become a true realization of what we have done, leading to true repentance. This is why there are those jail conversions, particularly of those prisoners that are either in prison for life or are waiting to be executed. When the consequence of your actions is that your life is over it does tend to focus your thoughts and lead you to repentance. I know that there are many that do not repent. However, when you hear of those who go to their death saying that they have changed and are going to meet God, I do not doubt them. In fact, the ones I doubt are the relatives who are telling the TV interviewers that those who are dying will rot in hell forever. It is ironic that the ones dying may have a more certain future than the ones who are holding on to their pain and anger while desiring the eternal suffering of others.
And yet, like Calvin in the comic above, people come to Confession with the expectation that saying that they are sorry will forestall any possible just consequence of their actions, when it is precisely the just consequence of their actions that may be the very thing that may bring their salvation. Mind you, I quite sympathize. There is no way that I want the just consequences of all my actions to ever come about. I, too, desire mercy. The thought of all the possible consequences of my actions leads me to fervency in my litanies during the various liturgies, “Lord, have mercy.”