The Catholic Faith in Slow Motion (no. 22)
The Sacrament of Reconciliation (part 1)
The unexamined life is not worth living. (Aristotle, 350 B. C.)
To those who have been far away from the sacrament of Reconciliation and forgiving love,
I make this appeal: come back to this source of grace; do not be afraid! Christ himself is waiting
for you. He will heal you, and you will be at peace with God! (John Paul II, September 13, 1987)
“For the sake of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20 ) . . .
The Sacrament of Confession, of Penance, of Forgiveness: the Church calls this sacrament by several names. However, “the Sacrament of Reconciliation” is especially useful in helping us to understand the central mystery that takes place in the confessional. It helps us to understand that the sacrament is about our relationship to God, to others, and to ourselves.
The word “sin” is a relational term. Sin is not simply the breaking of a rule; it is the injuring of love. Certain sinful actions (“grave” sins) by their nature entail the complete betrayal of God's love, spiritual adultery, estrangement from God. In truth, any persistent sin, committed knowingly and pretentiously, can land us, like the prodigal son, in that “far country,” far from the “Father's house.” It is not that God abandons us, but that we abandon God.
Examination of Conscience . . .
Like all the sacraments, Confession is not simply a ritual to be enacted. It is a truly human action, involving the whole self. It is a true spiritual initiative of the will and of the heart, a self-giving in response to Christ's prior initiative of sacrificial love. Barring dire emergencies, a hurried sacrament is a contradiction in terms. Receiving God's forgiveness is hardly a matter of a crisp business transaction!
Just so, we must take time to prepare for making our confession by an honest examination of our lives. This must involve listening to God's word, looking into the mirror of God's law; our consciences have to be trained and sensitized to God's will before we can recognize our sins. Guides for “making a good confession” provide helpful methods of self-examination. I find most useful the ones that help me focus on my relationships – to God and his Church, to family and friends and those among whom I work, to myself (my vocation, my money, my habits, fears, compulsions). And it is crucial to honest self-examination that we confront the sins of omission as well as those of commission: it is often by “what we have failed to do” that sin's power, in our lives, is revealed.
Placing Ourselves Under the Cross of Jesus . . .
Christian self-examination will always take place in the shadow of the Cross. It is in the dark light of the Cross that we begin to understand what sin actually is: the crucifixion of innocence and love. While at the same time, it is the Cross that reveals to us the depths of God's love for us and the extremes to which God has gone to reconcile us sinners to himself.
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