Penance & Reconciliation

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 1420-98:

  • Although Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist instill grace within us, they do not erase the weaknesses of our fallen human nature, and our inclination to sin, called concupiscence; thus conversion is an ongoing process in the Christian life.
  • Sin is an offense against God that damages our relationship with Him as well as with Christ’s Body, the Church; sin causes a cascade of detrimental effects that hurt us.
  • The Holy Spirit prompts us to recognize our sins, and gives us the grace of repentance and contrition – being sorry for our sins and resolved to change our lives with the help of God’s grace.
  • Christ provided for our need by instituting the sacrament of Reconciliation, to pick us up when we fall, restore our friendship with Him, reconcile us with each other and within ourselves, and strengthen us in our struggle.
  • Only God forgives sins, but as recorded in the New Testament, Christ gave this power to forgive sins, and the authority to bind and to loose, to His apostles; He therefore entrusted the Church with the ministry of reconciliation.
  • This sacrament is known by several names, depending upon which aspect is being emphasized; while the precise manner of celebration has varied over time, its fundamental structure remains, along with the inviolable seal of absolute confidentiality and secrecy.
  • The penitent confesses sins to the priest in order to be healed and rid of them; each and every grave (mortal) sin must be confessed, and although it is not strictly required to include lesser (venial) sins, the Church strongly encourages us to mention them too, for our spiritual health and well-being.
  • In so doing, we anticipate the particular judgment that takes place at our death; by judging ourselves honestly now, and casting ourselves upon God’s mercy, we receive absolution from the priest acting in the person of Christ; our sins are forever blotted out by His Blood, and we will not be liable for them at judgment.
  • Absolution takes away sin, but does not repair the damage left by it; the penitent must also try to make amends by doing penance, first and foremost the penance assigned by the priest; while we cannot make sufficient reparation ourselves, our penance serves to unite us with Christ, Who alone expiates our sins.
  • The Church also helps by means of indulgences: obtained through certain prayers and works, indulgences apply to us the merits of Christ and His saints, thereby freeing us from the lingering after-effects of sins that have already been forgiven.

Live Your Faith

It is often asked, why confess sins to a man when you can go straight to God?

Just as we go to a doctor to treat a physical illness, out of concern for our mortal bodies, so we seek the sacrament for the far more important health of our immortal souls. Sin is a spiritual cancer that requires God’s healing grace, or it only metastasizes.

God, Who created and redeemed us, knows us better than we know ourselves, and in His Wisdom, established this forum as the ordinary means for the forgiveness of sins. Instead of thinking that we can manage our own spiritual lives better than God, why wouldn’t we want to use the very means the Lord has given us to free us of our burdens?

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