It seems that many people today either ignore or reject the sacrament of Reconciliation. In my day, growing up, it was called the sacrament of Penance, or Confession. It is that sacrament in which a Catholic confesses his/her sins to a priest in a confessional in the church or some other private setting. While in grade school and high school, I received this sacrament monthly. The precept of the Church that relates to Confession states that we must receive this sacrament at least once a year if we have committed serious sin. It is somewhat intimidating to enter a confessional and kneel before a priest (behind a screen) and confess serious sin. People today seem to dismiss serious sin as not being so serious, and so they never receive this sacrament. They feel that they are then in compliance with the precept. Examples of serious sins that are seemingly rationalized as being not so serious are: missing Mass on Sunday, use of artificial methods of birth control, cohabitating and having sex outside of marriage, aborting a baby … it is really a pretty long list. I believe that the need for repentance today is tremendous. Many people today seem to have a poorly formed conscience.
John the Baptist preached the importance of repentance for salvation, and so did Jesus. Three parables of Jesus come to my mind when thinking about repentance: The Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Parable of the Lost Coin, and the Parable of the Prodigal Son. In the case of the lost sheep, a shepherd (God) has lost one sheep (a sinner) out of a hundred sheep in his flock. The shepherd ultimately finds the sheep (the sinner repents) and the entire community (heaven) rejoices. In the case of the lost coin, a woman (God) has lost a coin (a sinner). The woman “seeks diligently until she finds it” (the sinner repents) and she then rejoices with her friends and neighbors (heaven). In the case of the prodigal son, a father (God) loses his son (a sinner) when the son squanders his property (commits sin) and winds up hungry and destitute (experiences the effects of sin) and subsequently returns home and asks forgiveness (repents). The father then hugs and kisses him, dresses him in the finest robe, kills the fatted calf, and puts on a feast (admits him into heaven).
Jesus instituted the sacrament of Reconciliation as the repentance tool to be used so that we may return to God after committing serious sin. Sometime after the resurrection, Jesus said to His apostles: “Receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven them and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” This is the scriptural basis for the private confession to a priest. The priest is a successor of the apostles and so has this power to forgive and retain.
The reception of the sacrament of Reconciliation is liberating, even exhilarating. Patrick Madrid, in his book Why Be Catholic puts it this way: “To actually verbalize one’s sins to another human being, a fellow sinner himself, to own up and take responsibility for the evil acts one has committed, to speak them out loud, is tremendously liberating. Even more liberating is hearing the words of absolution from the priest and knowing you have been forgiven by God.” These words of absolution include this statement: “… through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” I know what Madrid is talking about. There have been times when I have walked out of the confessional with tears in my eyes.
My prayer for today: Lord, please give your people the strength to recognize serious sin and the courage to seek repentance through the sacrament of Reconciliation. Amen