The Five Names of the Sacrament of Reconciliation

December 7, 2018

The Pastor's Page

Sacrament of ReconciliationConversion. Conversion is to switch from one thing to another. Jesus asks us to “Repent” (Mk 1:15), to make a metanoia, a change of heart and direction, a conscious choice to quit doing one thing and start or resume doing another. Conversion is the shift from sin to grace, evil to good, wrong to right, vice to virtue, deception to truth, darkness to light, the flesh to the spirit, indulgence to self-control, and from personal gratification to pleasing God. Conversion admits an evil deed and makes a firm commitment never to repeat it, or breaks a bad habit and replaces it with a pattern of good decisions and behaviors. It is common to say, “I am sorry for this sin,” and then commit the same sin over again, because the person prefers the sin. True conversion is not only to stop the sin, but to detest the sin, and consider it unthinkable now and in the future.

Penance. Penance is to make “satisfaction” for sins that have been committed. There is nothing “satisfying” about sin. In this context, penance is an expression of sorrow for sin, a sign of a change of heart, an attempt to make up for sin, to make right a wrong, or to repair the damage. Peter wrote, “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pt 4:8). So does almsgiving (see Tb 12:9; Sir 3:29b). The four penitential practices are prayer; fasting, self-denial, and sacrifices; almsgiving; and acts of love, charity, and service.

Reconciliation. Sin causes alienation. Trust is broken. Relationships are weakened, damaged, and sometimes shattered. Sin separates a person from God, who has been disappointed, offended, or angered; from other people, who have been harmed or misled; from the community of the Church, that has been let down, and if the sin were known, would be shocked, scandalized, upset, or saddened; and from one’s self, estranged from one’s authentic goodness, blemished, and diminished by self-inflicted wounds. Reconciliation is to reconnect what has been separated, reunite what has been apart, settle differences, heal wounds, and restore wholeness; it is to make amends, restitution, and reparation.

Confession. Confession is the disclosure of sin. We are prone to make excuses, dodge responsibility, and go easy on ourselves. Sometimes we are so mired in our sinful ruts that we become blind to our wrongdoing, grow callous and insensitive to our own sin, and fail to be honest with ourselves. The apostle John writes, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” (1 Jn 1:8). Honesty and humility are indispensable. Each of us has greatly sinned, in thought and in word, in what we have done and what we have failed to do. Once we realize our sins, it is necessary to take them to God through a priest, confess them, contritely acknowledge and name them out loud, and humbly ask for pardon.

Forgiveness. God forgives sins. God is “gracious and merciful … slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment” (Jl 2:13). Even though our sins are scarlet, God makes them white as snow (Is 1:18b); though they be crimson red, God makes them white as wool (Is 1:18c). God wipes away our offenses, and our sins he remembers no more (Is 43:25). It is by Jesus, the Lamb of God, and the Blood that he shed on the Cross, that the sins of the world are taken away (Jn 1:29). Jesus asked his apostles to mediate his forgiveness when he instructed them, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them” (Jn 20:23). It is through the Holy Spirit that God absolves sins and grants pardon and peace. Forgiveness is an unmerited and undeserved grace granted by God out of his infinite love and mercy.

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