Is the sacrament of penance an important part of your spiritual life?
The Cathedral was packed, I am told, for the inspiring conferences given by Matthew Kelly last month. In reading one of his books, “Rediscover Catholicism: A Spiritual Guide to Living Life with Passion and Purpose,” people will easily discover that at the heart of Kelly’s message is encouragement for all of us to “become the-best-version-of-yourself.” Perhaps putting it another way, we are called to become the person whom God created us to be. As Catholics, we are all a work in progress, meaning that we are moving in a positive direction. It means that we are growing in our relationship with God and others.
In this season of Lent, this season of grace, we will experience great grace if we choose to enter into the discipline of the season leading to conversion, a metanoia, a change of heart through fasting, prayer and almsgiving. To become the person who God created us to be requires effort — constant, sometimes painful effort. But our effort will be useless unless it is rooted in God and in Christ’s redeeming mercy which comes to us through the sacrament of penance. Is the sacrament of penance an important part of your spiritual life?
We will never become the person whom God created us to be without regular use of this gift of the church. One of the great tragedies in the Catholic Church today is that this gift of Jesus’ mercy and forgiveness is rarely received or experienced only seasonally. As a human race, we have lost the sense of sin. Our moral consciences have become desensitized, and we have become less aware of any rupture of communion with God. If the sacrament of penance is a personal, intimate encounter with Christ whereby he offers us his healing, merciful love, then why do so many Catholics not make this a regular discipline in their spiritual life or stay away altogether? If we truly believe that the sacraments are a personal encounter with Jesus and his love, what keeps us away? What are we afraid of?
All sin is a rejection of God’s love and therefore damages our relationship with him, whether we are aware of it or not. Sin also damages our relationship with the body of Christ, the church. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Sin is before all else an offense against God, a rupture of communion with him. At the same time it damages communion with the church. For this reason conversion entails both God’s forgiveness and reconciliation with the church, which are expressed and accomplished liturgically by the sacrament of penance and reconciliation” (CCC #1440).
In the Code of Canon Law we read, “Those who have committed serious sin are bound by church law to confess faithfully at least once a year (#989). It is strongly recommended that the Christian faithful also confess venial sins as well” (#988). Only when we truly accept our weaknesses as being harmful to ourselves and others, will we be able to begin the conversion process. Only when we are truly honest with ourselves about our lives and remove the masks we wear through confession will we encounter Christ’s deep love bursting forth in our lives.
Jesus never sinned, yet was crucified for us and our sins. If we fail to see ourselves as sinners in need of Christ’s mercy and forgiveness, the cross of Jesus then has lost its meaning for our lives. Jesus instituted the sacrament of penance because he knows that we all need it. He did not come to condemn the world, but to save it. (John 3:17) Jesus knows the benefits for those seeking this encounter with him. He loves us so much that he has given us this avenue for mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation, and love so that we might grow into “the-best-version-of-your- self.” Because the graces of the sacrament of penance help serve the purpose of the New Evangelization, Pope Benedict XVI speaks of the New Evangelization as beginning in the confessional.
“Now is the time for conversion! Lent is a sacred time to “free the longing that dwells in the heart of every human being so that it can reach its true height,” says the Holy Father. This season of Lent in the Year of Faith is the time to let go of the fears that keep you from receiving Jesus’ love, mercy, and forgiveness in this sacrament, and allow him to love you into holiness. Is there any good reason to continue to reject this free grace that leads to conversion and ultimately a deeper life in Christ?
It is my hope and prayer that the focus of Lent for each parish and the whole diocese in this Year of Faith is Christ’s love and mercy as experienced through the sacrament of penance. See page 22 in this issue, watch your local bulletins and the diocesan website (www.rapidcitydiocese.org) for opportunities to celebrate this sacrament of the Lord’s love.
May Mary, mother of mercy, refuge for us sinners and star of the new evangelization, accompany us on our way to the extraordinary grace of her Son’s forgiveness!