Sacrament of Reconciliation prepares us to celebrate Easter Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013 -- 12:00 AM

Seeing with Jesus' Eyes, a column by Fr. Donald Lange

Somerset Maugham, the famous British novelist, once remarked, “I have done things that I am unable to entirely forget. If I had been fortunate enough to be Catholic, I could have delivered myself of them at confession, received absolution, and put them out of my mind forever.”

His statement makes us realize how blessed we are to have the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

God created us in the divine image. Since God is love, we image God best when we love.

Effects of original sin

But original sin wounded our ability to love God, self, and others.

God loved us so much that he sent Jesus, His Son, to redeem us from sin. After his resurrection, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to empower us to love as He loved. Sin hurts our ability to love.

In John 20:22-23 on Easter evening, Jesus breathed on his apostles and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit whose sins you forgive are forgiven them. Whose sins you retain are retained.”

Sacrament of Reconciliation

This was the institution of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, also known as Penance and Confession.

In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, bishops and priests act in the name of Christ who forgives our sins. They are not masters, but servants of forgiveness. They are signs and instruments of God’s merciful love.

Preparing for the sacrament

We prepare to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation by asking the Holy Spirit to help us recall our sins. The examination of conscience and confession of sins helps us to take responsibility for them.

Modern culture tempts us to avoid this responsibility. To be Christ-like, we must reject this temptation.

Next, we confess all the unconfessed grave sins we remember to the priest or bishop who represents Christ. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Church also strongly recommends the confession of venial sins. Sins such as lack of forgiveness, impatience, and gossip (just to name a few!) keep us from growing in Christ’s image.

Frequent confession

Going to confession frequently helps us grow in self-knowledge, humility, and virtue. It increases sanctifying grace in our lives.

Blessed John Paul II frequently received the sacrament. Doing so helped him become more sensitive to ways his actions offended the God of love.

To receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation worthily, we must be sincerely sorry for our sins and realize they hurt our relationship with God, Church, and others. When we receive the sacrament worthily, we are reconciled with God, the Church, and others.

Act of contrition

We make an act of perfect contrition when we are sorry for our sins because we have offended God, whom we should love above all things. In so doing, we resolve to amend our life, do penance, and sin no more.

In an act of imperfect contrition, we are sorry because we fear hell and other penalties that will befall us as sinners. Imperfect contrition disposes us to obtain forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation

Merciful forgiveness

Like John the Baptist, the priest or bishop helps prepare the way for the coming of the merciful forgiving Jesus. In no. 1466 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it says that the priest (or bishop) must pray and do penance for his penitents entrusting them to God’s mercy.

As our spiritual father, the priest or bishop gives advice, spiritual direction, and encouragement. In my youth, I recall two or three times when the confessor asked if I ever considered priesthood. This influenced my journey to priesthood.

Reconciliation is the sacrament of conversion. In no 1470 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it says, “In this sacrament (of Penance) the sinner by placing himself before the merciful judgment of God anticipates in a certain way the judgment to which he will be subjected to at the end of his earthly life. For it is only by the road of conversion that we can enter the kingdom from which we are excluded by grave sin.”

Wiping the slate clean

Jesus forgives us so thoroughly, it is as though he does not remember. Our slate is wiped clean. In Isaiah 1:18 it says, “Come let us set things right, says the Lord. Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow.”

Absolution gives us assurance that Christ has forgiven our sins and granted us “pardon and peace.” This is one of many reasons why I enjoy serving as a minister of Reconciliation.

Unlike Somerset Maugham, we can receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, receive absolution, and be assured of God’s forgiveness. In this Year of Faith, we are especially encouraged to do so during Lent.

Reconciled with God and each other, we can renew our baptismal promises and celebrate the good news of Easter with faith, hope, and joy.

Fr. Don Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.