In a previous post, we somewhat whimsically gave reasons not to celebrate the Sacraments of Reconciliation (or Confession). On a more serious note, this post discusses some reasons why you should celebrate the Sacraments, especially during this season of Lent.
Reconciliation and the Beauty of God. Through the forgiveness of God and the ministry of the Church, a renewed heart is created in you, the Spirit is again given so that you can live a life reconciled to God, to the community, to family and friends, and to yourself. In being forgiven by God because you asked, you can more deeply learn and understand what it means to forgive others as you have been forgiven. And those are the moments in which you catch glimpses of the beauty of God.
To more deeply learn humility. Priests are often asked why one must go to Confession. It is a question that is posed again in many ways. Why go to a priest to tell one’s sins and not do so directly to God, who knows and understands us much better than any priest? Why speak of my sins and secrets, especially of those of which I am ashamed, to someone who is a sinner like me, and who perhaps will assess my experience in a completely different way than I do, or doesn’t understand it at all? What does he know is a sin for me?
If you consider the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) paragraph 1846, it is a fair summation to think of sin as a love that falls back on itself. The medieval theologians called this amor curvus – ingratitude of the one who responds to love with indifference and rejection. The ingratitude has consequences not only in the one who lives in such a way, but it also ripples outward into friends, family, and the larger community. Is the love of another met with indifference or rejection, all that different that the larger societal sins of racism, poverty, hunger, sexism, and the rest of the list? Sin exists and leads to evil in the world.
People do not think of themselves as self-absorbed, failing to respond to love, ungrateful, indifferent and more. But we all have moments of those things. It is humbling to realize it. And even more humbling to say it aloud to another person. James 5:16 says to “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.” There is an act of humility. Have you done that?
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a place where you can humble yourself before God and receive forgiveness and grace. But there is also grace in the preparation for such a confession when one encounters and experiences humility.
To Experience Mercy and Forgiveness. People experience, not just a relief at the end of truly contrite confession, they experience joy. I think the joy stems from feeling loved in a new way by God, knowing that the forgiveness of God reaches me through the priest who gives it to me in His Name. It is not the transitory sense of relief of the one who has “emptied the bag of sins” that has been carried around, but the peace of feeling peace “within” oneself, touched in the heart by a love that cures, that comes from above and transforms us.
To understand the experience of Mercy and Forgive in the signs and language of our human condition. Are there forms of Penance outside the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Yes – for venial sins. Take a look at CCC 1434 and following. So why confess to a priest? Consider this: in sending his Son with our flesh, God shows He wants to encounter us through a direct contact that passes through the signs and language of our human condition. Just as He came out of Himself for love of us and has come to “touch us” with his flesh, we are also called to come out of ourselves for love of Him and to go with humility and faith to him who can give us pardon in His name with word and gesture. Only the absolution of sins that the priest gives in the sacrament can communicate the interior certainty of having been truly forgiven and received by the Father who is in Heaven, because Christ has entrusted to the ministry of the Church the power to bind and to loose, to exclude and admit in the Covenant community (cf. Matthew 18:17).
It is He who said to the Apostles: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:22-23). Therefore, to go to Confession to a priest is very different from doing so in the secret of one’s heart, exposed to so many uncertainties and ambiguities that fill life and history.
It is He who instituted the Sacrament so that you could hear the words:
God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; 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
There is a human voice to say and assure you that you are forgiven and made new in the Spirit given.
To encounter the compassion of God. Innumerable episodes in the life of Jesus demonstrate the compassion and empathy of God to us, from the meeting with the Samaritan woman to the healing of the paralytic, from the forgiveness of the adulteress to the tears in the face of the death of his friend Lazarus. … We have immense need of this tender and compassionate closeness of God, as a simple glance at our existence also shows: Each one of us lives with his own weakness, goes through sickness, draws near to death, is aware of the challenge of the questions that all this poses to the heart.
Confession is the encounter with divine forgiveness, which is offered to us in Jesus and transmitted to us through the ministry of the Church. In this effective sign of grace, meeting with endless mercy, we are offered the face of a God who knows like no one our human condition and comes close to it with very tender love.
To know the embrace of returning to the Father’s House. In relation to God the Father, penance presents itself as a “return home” (this is in fact the meaning of the word “teshuva” which the Hebrew uses to say “conversion”). Through becoming aware of your faults, you realize you are in exile, far from the homeland of love: You feel ill at ease, sorrow, because you understand that sin is a rupture of the Covenant with the Lord, a rejection of His love, it is “unloved love,” and because of this is also source of alienation, because sin uproots us from our true dwelling, the Father’s heart.
It is then that we need to remember the house in which we are awaiting: Without this memory of love we would never have the necessary confidence and the hope to make the decision to return to God. With the humility of the one who knows he is not worthy of being called “daughter” or “son,” we can decide to call at the door of the Father’s house. And there to realize the experience of the “Prodigal Son” when he realized that his father was ever and always on the outlook for his return: “While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).
And so it is with the Sacrament of Reconciliation – and why you should celebrate this wonderful moment of God’s grace and mercy.