Quick Lessons from the Catechism: The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation

Although I’ve written in the past here about the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I felt the need today to share with you what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches on this beautiful sacrament given to us by Our Lord Jesus Christ through the authority He gave the Apostles to forgive sins. It’s on my mind today because last night in RCIA and Adult Confirmation, Fr. Will taught about Sacraments of Healing. The other Sacrament of Healing is Anointing of the Sick, which you can read about here.

These two sacraments assist us in the Christian life when we are subject to suffering, illness and death, which comes both spiritually and physically. It is through the Church that we receive the healing touch of the Divine Physician. Through his ministers (Priests) we receive his grace through the work of the Holy Spirit to heal and save our souls.

Personally, I love this sacrament and frequent it often. I find such contrition and consolation in the sacrament. If you are a baptized Catholic and haven’t been to Confession in a long time, I would highly encourage you to seek out Confession times and make a good confession. The Divine Physician is always waiting to heal us of our sins.

With this being said, let’s examine what the Catechism says for today’s QLC –

“On the evening of that day, the first day of the week,” Jesus showed himself to his apostles. “He breathed on them, and said to them: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained”‘ (Jn 20:19, 22-23. [#1485]

The forgiveness of sins committed after Baptism is conferred by a particular sacrament called the sacrament of conversion, confession, penance, or reconciliation. [#1486]

The sinner wounds God’s honor and love, his own human dignity as a man called to be a son of God, and the spiritual well-being of the Church, of which each Christian ought to be a living stone. [#1487]

To the eyes of faith no evil is graver than sin and nothing has worse consequences for sinners themselves, for the Church, and for the whole world. [#1488]

To return to communion with God after having lost it through sin is a process born of the grace of God who is rich in mercy and solicitous for the salvation of men. One must ask for this precious gift for oneself and for others. [#1489]

The movement of return to God, called conversion and repentance, entails sorrow for and abhorrence of sins committed, and the firm purpose of sinning no more in the future. Conversion touches the past and the future and is nourished by hope in God’s mercy. [#1490]

Pope Francis going to Confession

Pope Francis going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation with a Priest in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The sacrament of Penance is a whole consisting in three actions of the penitent and the priest’s absolution. The penitent’s acts are repentance, confession or disclosure of sins to the priest, and the intention to make reparation and do works of reparation. [#1491]

Repentance (also called contrition) must be inspired by motives that arise from faith. If repentance arises from love of charity for God, it is called “perfect” contrition; if it is founded on other motives, it is called “imperfect.” [#1492]

One who desires to obtain reconciliation with God and with the Church, must confess to a priest all the unconfessed grave sins he remembers after having carefully examined his conscience. The confession of venial faults, without being necessary in itself, is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church. [#1493]

The confessor proposes the performance of certain acts of “satisfaction” or “penance” to be performed by the penitent in order to repair the harm caused by sin and to re-establish habits befitting a disciple of Christ. [#1494]

Only priests who have received the faculty of absolving from the authority of the Church can forgive sins in the name of Christ. [#1495]

The spiritual effects of the sacrament of Penance are:

– reconciliation with God by which the penitent recovers grace;

– reconciliation with the Church;

– remission of the eternal punishment incurred by mortal sins;

– remission, at least in part, of temporal punishments resulting from sin;

– peace and serenity of conscience, and spiritual consolation;

– an increase of spiritual strength for the Christian battle. [#1496]

Individual and integral confession of grave sins followed by absolution remains the only ordinary means of reconciliation with God and with the Church. [#1497]

Through indulgences the faithful can obtain the remission of temporal punishment resulting from sin for themselves and also for the souls in Purgatory. [#1498]

To understand this sacrament completely, I highly suggest also reading paragraphs 1422-1484 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

To conclude, let’s see what Pope Francis has to say on the subject. In a Wednesday audience in late February 2014, the Holy Father said,

“’Everyone say to himself: ‘When was the last time I went to confession?’ And if it has been a long time, don’t lose another day! Go, the priest will be good. And Jesus, (will be) there, and Jesus is better than the priests – Jesus receives you. He will receive you with so much love! Be courageous, and go to confession…every time we go to confession, God embraces us.”

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The Sacrament of Reconciliation

It’s Monday night, late – in the 11 o’clock hour in Arizona. The film, Shrek Forever After is on FX. All night long I have had Confession on my mind (Sacrament of Reconciliation – for any non-Catholics). The reason it’s been on my mind all night is that I really want to go tomorrow. St. Daniel the Prophet in Scottsdale offers Reconciliation a few times during the week. The Pastor, Fr. Thaddeus McGuire, understands the importance of the Sacrament. He is a good and faithful priest. For me, Reconciliation is a place of great penance. I try to go every week or every other week depending on the severity of my sins. Realizing that I am weak and need God’s grace is not easy to admit, but I truly enjoy the Sacrament given to us by Jesus Christ (see Jn 20).

It’s also been on my mind from last night since that is when I read Proposition 33 from the Synod on the New Evangelization. Proposition 33 of 58 states that there should be a place of distinction (a church), in each diocese, where the Sacrament of Reconciliation is celebrated perpetually – everyday. You heard me right! Just like we have Perpetual Adoration, the synod proposes that we have Perpetual Reconciliation! What a message this would send to the secular world!

Can you imagine the conversions (Metanoia – change of heart) each diocese would have on a daily basis if the Sacrament of Reconciliation were offered daily, around the clock, during every week of every month – day or night???

The Catechism of the Catholic Church 1422 states, “Those who approach the sacrament of Penance obtain pardon from God’s mercy for the offense committed against him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by their sins and which by charity, by example, and by prayer labors for their conversion.”

If you have not been to Reconciliation in sometime, I encourage you to go soon! With the Year of Faith upon us, make that leap “of faith” and go. If you need encouragement from a friend who goes on a regular basis, then ask him or her to go with you. If you think God won’t forgive you of your sins, think again brothers and sisters. God’s mercy, his covenant fidelity, never ceases! Ask a priest and go today!

Today at the USCCB Assembly, Cardinal Timothy Dolan said that, “As we ‘come and go’ in response to the invitation of Jesus, we begin with the Sacrament of Penance. This is the sacrament of the New Evangelization.” (Bold is mine)

The powerful video below (seen by 50,000 teens and young adults this past summer during the Franciscan University of Steubenville High School Youth Conferences) hopefully inspires you. Don’t wait another second to receive God’s abundant Grace. Here is the schedule for Confessions in the Diocese of Phoenix.

Psalm 25 – Make Me To Know Your Ways, O Lord…

Continuing with the same theme of sin and forgiveness, I wish to write a short reflection on Psalm 25. Since we are in Lent, this is theme that will continue through this desert journey. You should have heard Psalm 25 yesterday as the Responsorial Psalm for the First Sunday in Lent. Instead of focusing on the entire psalm, as I did with Psalms 41 and 51, I will only discuss the verses (4-5, 6-7, 8-9) that were read or sung yesterday during the Sunday Liturgy. Below is how the Responsorial Psalm is written in the Daily Roman Missal –

Response: Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.

Your ways, O LORD, make know to me; teach me your paths, Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior.

Remember that your compassion, O LORD, and your love are from of old. In your kindness remember me, because of your goodness, O LORD.

Good and upright is the LORD, thus he shows sinners the way. He guides the humble to justice, and he teaches the humble his way.

Psalm 25 begins as the psalmist lifting up his soul to God and not to graven images as happened in the previous psalm (Ps 24:4). The psalmist continues to say the just man who fears the Lord will be allowed to enter the temple. We must understand that “fear of the Lord” is not fear like you are afraid of God or fear in a horror movie, but “fear of the Lord” means that we are in awe of God’s presence.

In Psalm 25:4-7, the psalmist is seeking how the Lord will instruct him in all his ways because salvation only comes from God. He wants God to lead him in his laws and teach him how to act accordingly. The psalmist asks God to forgive him and to have mercy, love and goodness upon him. The translation that we use in the Roman Liturgy comes from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament. In this translation, we read the phrase – “Remember that your compassion, O LORD, and your love are from of old.” In the Revised Standard Version – Second Catholic Edition, the same verse is translated as “Be mindful of your compassion, O LORD, and of your merciful love, for they have been from of old.

The psalmist is still seeking forgiveness, however, he is hoping that the Lord will not take away his merciful love or hesed from him. As I discussed in Psalm 51, the term hesed means covenant love or covenant fidelity. When God established his covenants [covenant – an extension of kinship by oath] with Adam, Noah, Abram (Abraham), Moses, and David, he sets the foundation of the covenants with hesed – covenant fidelity. This is such an important idea since it will come to fulfillment when Jesus Christ establishes the New Covenant with Apostles and all of us in Luke 22: 14-23 at the Last Supper. For a detailed account of these covenants, read the book – A Father Who Keeps His Promises by Scott Hahn.

In Psalm 25:8-9, the term “sinners” and “the humble” are seen as the same for it’s the humble man that admits that he is a sinner. It is Our Lord Jesus Christ who teaches us truth, shows us mercy (hesed) and brings us peace. St. Augustine says, in the New Testament, we see Jesus forgiving sins and speaking truth and judging both by their actions. In Jesus’ teachings we see both mercy and judgment. The man that follows the Lord’s ways and knows that his actions don’t contribute to his own salvation; is the man who will come to the Lord and be close to him. As he draws closer to the Lord, he will know the Lord’s path and avoid the harsh judgment that will fall upon those who don’t engage and draw near to the Lord. The man who keeps his covenant will remain in the hesed of God.

As human beings, we deal with the knowledge of our sins on a daily basis. We know that we are sinful and that we must repent of our sins accordingly. The Catholic Church, in her wisdom, establishes for us these 40 days that assist us in acknowledging our sinful ways and seeking means of forgiveness. During this Lenten Season, I would encourage you to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If you have not been in sometime, I would really encourage you to seek out this blessed and grace-filled sacrament. In his book, The Spirit of Catholicism, Karl Adam says about the sacrament of reconciliation – “In every good confession the holiest victories are won by the power of conscience, by love for purity and goodness, by desire of God and of peace of soul. Confession has given new courage and new confidence and a fresh start in life to millions of men.”



Psalm 41 – A Plea for Healing

As many of you will remember, Psalm 41: 2-3, 4-5, 13-14 was the Responsorial Psalm at the Roman Rite Liturgy yesterday – the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time.  I am choosing to write on this Psalm today because during Mass the words had a particularly strong impact on me. This is an important Psalm for us to investigate since the verses that were used at the Mass on Sunday are dealing with something that is not natural to our human condition – I am speaking of sin. When God created man in the Garden, sin was not created. The Catechism of the Catholic Church 413 says, “God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living…It was through the devil’s envy that death entered the world” (Wis 1:13 2:24).  It was the first man’s disobedience and pride that transmitted the rest of humanity to be conceived in Original Sin. I often reflect on Original Sin and the effects on my own soul, especially, concupiscence, which is the inclination to sin. Although Original Sin has been washed from my soul with the Sacrament of Baptism, it’s still the remnants of original sin that often tempt me or incline me to sin otherwise.

As we enter the Season of Lent, I challenge you, as challenge myself, to be coherent of those times when you are sinning and allow Our Lord to work on you during Lent – even if it is painful. You might want to read Psalm 41 (Psalm 51 is another great one!) during Lent as your morning or evening prayer.

The theme of sin runs throughout Psalm 41 and is referred to in the psalm as sickness. This makes perfect sense because when we sin, there is a feeling of sickness that goes along with that particular sin (that’s if our conscience is formed properly…see my posts on Conscience Formation). The greater the sin becomes or as the magnitude of the sin increases (mortal sin), we feel sicker and less like ourselves. When this sickness is present in our lives, we should make a conscious effort to pray more, put our trust in God, and get to Confession as soon as possible. I know when I have committed mortal sin and have not been to Confession (a.k.a. – Medicine Box), there is a feeling of just nastiness (as if influenza and pneumonia united as one) on my soul and it truly has an impact on my relationship with the Mystical Body of Christ.

Now let’s turn to Psalm 41. The Psalmist (more than likely David) A  is speaking in the first person (41:5) and asking for God to heal him of the sickness that is now upon him. This psalm is ideal for us as sinners because the psalmist seems to be speaking from personal experience – he knows what it is to sin and he seeks out the Lord for the forgiveness of that sin. There is a lot of lamentation and suffering that occurs in this psalm as well as in the entire first book of the Psalms (1-41).

Verses 2-5 are speaking of a true friend who is concerned for the lowly and the poor (weak), for he will help set the man free who is “on his sickbed.” It seems that the friend is the LORD. He will protect the man (David) from his enemies and from his infirmities (possible sins?, death?…we understand sin as death).

The enemy (Absalom – one of David’s sons) could be the one that is seeking to destroy the man. It further seems that the man is dealing with both friends and enemies, but not in the same way. The friends are pushing him one way and the enemy is pushing another way. In the life of Christ, we could relate this to Jesus at the Last Supper when he is eating with friends and an enemy – who is set to betray him. Also, think of St. Peter who rebuked Jesus shortly after he declared him the Messiah. What does he say? God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you…Jesus says…Get behind me Satan…you are a hindrance to me and nothing like God, but like men (Matthew 16: 22-23). In our lives, we can see this in our enemies who try to force our hands to sin against them or we can see our friends (as good as they are) who could lead us into sin.

Verse 5 states, Once I said, “O Lord, have pity on me; heal me, though I have sinned against you.”  The sick person (the one who has sinned) starts off by asking God for forgiveness. In the Old Covenant and for a Jew in the ancient world, physical sickness and pain was the starting point of the conscience to rethink its action and to repent of its sins. As Christians, we know this to be Metanoia – change of heart. Just like the words of Psalm 51, for us as Christians, these words should remain on our lips as a permanent reminder of the sins we commit.

Verses 12-13 give us a glimmer of hope when the man seems to pray to God and he knows that God will rescue him out of the hands of his enemies (they come to destroy him in verses 6-9). God will show his love to the man and deliver the man from those who seek to harm him. The man will receive hesed and will remain in the presence of the Lord.  In the Daily Roman Missal, the word used is pity, however another translation is mercy. In the Scriptures, when we see mercy we should understand that it’s the Hebrew term – hesed – covenant love or covenant fidelity.

After analyzing this short Psalm, we can now see the importance of this Psalm in our Lenten journey. As you reflect on these words in your life, put the same words on the lips of Jesus Christ as he suffers through his Passion, Death, and Resurrection (Paschal Mystery).  During Lent, we must emulate our Lord in his Passion. Remember this – Lent is not just about giving something up, but it’s about conforming our wills to that of Jesus Christ.