So far, in part 1
and part 2
we’ve looked at sin and why we need the Sacrament of Reconciliation. There are two Sacraments that can be received every day: The Eucharist and Reconciliation. The Church doesn’t say we have to go to Confession all the time but the Catechism of the Catholic Church says that, "after having attained the age of discretion, each of the faithful is bound by an obligation faithfully to confess serious sins at least once a year." (CCC#1456)
It also says that “anyone who is aware of having committed a mortal sin must not receive Holy Communion, even if he experiences deep contrition, without having first received sacramental absolution, unless he has a grave reason for receiving Communion and there is no possibility of going to confession.” (CCC#1457) Children who are about to receive their First Communion must go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation beforehand.
Even if you are not in a state of mortal sin, the Catechism #1458 says that even though it’s not necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is strongly recommended: “Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit. By receiving more frequently through this sacrament the gift of the Father's mercy, we are spurred to be merciful as he is merciful. (CCC#1459)
When I was growing up, we used to say that we had to go to “confession.” It is called the Sacrament of Confession because we confess our sins to a priest and that is an essential element of this Sacrament.
“Confession” is probably the most common name for the Sacrament, but it also has other names. It is called the Sacrament of forgiveness, since by the priest's sacramental absolution God grants the penitent "pardon and peace."
It is also called the Sacrament of Conversion. This is because it makes sacramentally present Jesus' call to conversion, the first step in returning to God. (CCC#1423)
Nowadays it is most commonly called the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This is “because it imparts to the sinner the life of God who reconciles. He who lives by God's merciful love is ready to respond to the Lord's call: Go; first be reconciled to your brother." (CCC#1424) It is through this Sacrament that we are reconciled back to God and with the Church; we are restored back into Communion.
Jesus always preached a message of mercy and forgiveness. Consistently he forgave peoples sins. “Go and sin no more” he told the woman caught in adultery. He said to Peter that we had to forgive seven-times-seventy. But perhaps the most memorable lesson on forgiveness comes through the story of the prodigal son. (Luke 15: 18-19)
Prodigal is a word that means “wasteful” or “extravagantly wasteful”. Most of you are familiar with this story of a boy who betrayed his father and his people. He wasted all his inheritance and ended up sleeping and eating with pigs – not the most clean of animals as far as Jews were concerned. Still he “came to his senses” and went back to his father and said, “I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father, instead of being angry, welcomed him and had a party for him. He explains it to the older son: “We had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” (Luke 15: 32) This is what happens at Reconciliation: we come back to life in Communion with God, the Father.
that in every Sacrament we receive God’s Grace. In Reconciliation...
- Our sins are forgiven
- We are reconciled with God
- We are restored to God’s Grace
- We are joined with god in intimate friendship
- We are reconciled with the Church
In Reconciliation we are truly changed – that’s the "metaphysical occurrence" that takes place: our sins are wiped clean; clean slate.
This past week we’ve been hearing daily readings at Mass from the Book of Genesis. I have always been intrigued by God’s statement that “if you eat from the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil, you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:17
) When I first paid attention to that passage I thought it meant that they would die immediately, but it’s clear that Adam and Even did not die immediately after eating from the Tree.
What God meant was that they would be subject to death. If they didn’t eat from the Tree they would live forever. If they did, they would die. That did happen. Sin means that we are subject to death. When sin entered the world, so did death – that is why “death is the wages of sin” (Romans 6:23
). When God says, “don’t” it doesn’t mean “don’t have fun”. Rather it means, “don’t hurt yourself”. It means “I don’t want you to die.” Sin means that we will die; and i'm not talking about physical death. This death is eternal. The Sacrament of Reconciliation restores us to the capacity for Life; a Life with God.
This weekend we hear a beautiful and moving story of Jesus healing a man afflicted with leprosy (Marc 1:40-45). "If you want, I know you can make me clean," says the man. "I do want." Jesus responds and with pity, He touches the man and heals him. In touching him, not only is the man healed but restored into the community. He is brought back into Communion. That is what happens with the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
To summarise: Sin separates us from God and the Church and reconciliation brings us back into Communion with God and the Church. And to be truly reconciled, one has to be truly repentant. A sign of that repentance is that we do a penance to help repair the hurt we may have caused, which is why if someone is not repentant, the priest cannot absolve them of the sin. What’s important here is not just that we confess, but that we are truly sorry for our sin, that we repair the damage done and that we promise to try to be better.
That’s what that little prayer, The Act of Contrition is all about. There are different versions. Here’s one I learned when I was preparing for my First Communion:
Oh my Jesus. I am sorry that I have sinned. Please forgive me. I know you love me; I want to love you and be good to everyone. Help me to make up for my sins. I will try to be better from now on.
As an adult, working at a Vacation Bible School, I learned a very similar one:
I’m sorry for doing wrong. Please forgive me all my sins. I know you love me very much. Help me love you in return and care for others as you do.
Which one do you know? Remember to pray it often and make a point of going to Confession and celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation this Lenten Season.
What should we “deacon-struct” next time? Write to me:firstname.lastname@example.org