Reconciliation: is the great gift of God’s love—His forgiveness and mercy—and ultimately of His restoration of us back into right relationship with Him, providing us with His friendship. Last weekend as Franciscan Mission Father Emmanuel offered his homily on the Lukan Gospel of the Prodigal Son, we heard of the father’s mercy, love and forgiveness for His wayward son—and we also heard the son asking for his father’s forgiveness.
Often times, those who listen to this familiar gospel parable hear loud and clear the message of the father’s (God) abundant mercy. They hear the father’s words as he commands his servants to put a ring on his son’s finger, sandals on his feet and dress him in a robe of finery, and to prepare for a celebration. All signs of the father’s unconditional love and mercy. And that is true. But many times we skip right over the younger son’s recognition and acknowledgement of his sinful ways; we don’t hear the young man asking for forgiveness from his father: “father, I have sinned against heaven and you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.” But this admission of sinfulness, of his guilt, is important.
In our modern culture some choose to believe that God is “O.K.” with everything we do. After all, He loves us unconditionally; we are his adopted sons and daughters, and so our heavenly Father wants only the “best” for us. That is true, very true. But it is how we define “the best for us” that is what we should carefully consider here.
Our culture defines “the best for us” as whatever makes us happy. But God illustrates to us in Sacred Scripture that “the best for us” is less about what makes us happy in the present and more about what will lead us into right relationship with Him, and thus enable us to become more like His likeness and image in this world in which we now live; that our words must proclaim His Good News and our actions should manifest His love to all so that we may be with Him forever in the life to come.
And so the Sacrament of Reconciliation: In this Christ-created sacrament (that’s right, Christ created the seven Sacraments, not a commission of priests or a Synod of Bishops). Created by Christ Himself who believes we need these Sacraments, He said: “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven…Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:18-19) or again in John (20:19-23) “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (John 20: 19-23).
In this Sacrament we receive both God’s forgiveness and His mercy. Mercy is something unearned; it is a freely given gift that bestows unconditional love. Forgiveness—in order to be given—must be asked for. Note in the parable in last weekend’s gospel, the wayward son acknowledges what he has done against his father and goes after him and says forgive me.
In the Sacrament of Reconciliation we privately meet with a priest. We acknowledge we have sinned; we profess our sins aloud to the priest, yet privately in the confessional, and then
the priest speaks to us briefly. We offer an Act of Contrition (a contrite heart He will not spurn) and then the priest offers the prayer of Absolution after offering a “doable” penance—meaning it must be something that the penitent can accomplish. Here at Saint Catherine of Siena Parish we have “cheat sheets” in the confessional to help guide an infrequent participant through the Sacrament of
Reconciliation—always offered after the penitent has been welcomed back into this Sacramental action.
Some Catholics have a concern with going to a priest for confession. I get it. Going to confession is not easy. Nobody wakes up in the morning saying, “I can’t wait to go tell Father what I did the other day.” But just because it is difficult or uncomfortable does not mean it does not have value for us. As a Catholic priest when I go to confession and if I am not known to the priest confessor, I am required to state that I am a priest. But for those penitents who might say, “Why can’t I just talk to God privately?” You can—and you should—often. But in the establishment of this Sacrament, Christ Himself determined the need for us to acknowledge to another—done one-on-one and not proclaimed publicly on the street corner (and remember that the priest is held to the sacramental seal of the confessional)—the Lord determined what would be most beneficial for our soul’s healing. Psychiatrists also note that public proclamation of and issue is a “good thing” in that when we publically acknowledge our issues (or sins) we are more able to take ownership and so move forward. After all, the first step in dealing with a problem is to acknowledge it.
The Church believes that Confession should be frequent, depending on our sins, and no less than once a year (Easter Obligation). For many, confession is monthly and for some it is quarterly. Pope St. John Paul II used to go once a week, as have more recent pontiffs. This frequency can be impacted by our definition of sin—noting that the Church teaches that “sin” is not a “mistake” but rather a “free choice to turn from God” in which we break our relationship of friendship by our words or actions—or by our lack thereof (the sins of commission and the sins of omission). Whatever the situation, let us remember that while God is a just God, He tempers His justice with Mercy. For He is Love!