Tag Archives: Penance

The Five Names of the Sacrament of Reconciliation

December 7, 2018

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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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It’s not Lent–do we have to give up meat on Friday?

August 23, 2013

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Photo/bitslammer. Licensed under Creative Commons

Photo/bitslammer. Licensed under Creative Commons.

It’s a warm summer evening and you’re sitting on your friend’s patio sipping a cold drink as he puts steaks on the grill. It’s Friday, finally, and steak is going to taste so good! You remember those meatless Friday dinners during Lent. Thank goodness Catholics don’t have to give up meat on the other Fridays of the year.

Or do they?

Contrary to what quite a few Catholics believe, Vatican II did not do away with most meatless Fridays. It’s no longer a sin to eat meat every Friday as it used to be, but the Church still asks us to abstain from meat or do some other form of penance each Friday because it’s a mini-Good Friday, an anniversary of Christ’s death.

We’re asked to do penance in order to suffer with Christ so that someday we will be glorified with Him. To remember our sins and those of the world and help expiate them in union with the Crucified Lord, according to the U.S. Bishops in their 1966 Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence:

Friday should be in each week something of what Lent is in the entire year. For this reason we urge all to prepare for that weekly Easter that comes with each Sunday by freely making of every Friday a day of self-denial and mortification in prayerful remembrance of the passion of Jesus Christ.

Canon Law states: “All Fridays through the year and the time of Lent are penitential days and times throughout the entire Church.” (§1250)

It is also a universal law of the Church to abstain from meat or another food, according to Canon Law which goes on to say, “It is for the conference of bishops to determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence and to substitute in whole or in part for fast and abstinence other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety.” (§1251, 1253)

What do the U.S. bishops say about Friday penance?

They have given the option to abstain from other things instead of meat that might be more penitential for some. They recommend additional penitential works:

It would bring great glory to God and good to souls if Fridays found our people doing volunteer work in hospitals, visiting the sick, serving the needs of the aged and the lonely, instructing the young in the Faith, participating as Christians in community affairs, and meeting our obligations to our families, our friends, our neighbors, and our community, including our parishes, with a special zeal born of the desire to add the merit of penance to the other virtues exercised in good works born of living faith.

During the Year of Faith, the bishops have asked Catholics to join them on Fridays in praying and fasting for renewal of a culture of life and marriage, and for the protection of religious liberty. They send participants a weekly text reminder and post on their website an intention for prayer, as well as a call for fasting and abstinence from meat on Fridays. Visit their website for more details or text “FAST” to 99000.

The Catechism offers more ideas:

These “intense moments of the Church’s penitential practice … are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works). (CCC 1438)

Steak might be the right thing on a summer Friday evening but maybe not in the future. England’s episcopal conference of bishops recently revised their law to return more completely to the universal norm of abstinence. Comments from USCCB President Cardinal Timothy Dolan point to the possibility the U.S. may do the same. For now, we need to make sure some form of penance is on the day’s agenda.

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Is Confession valid if we don’t do the penance?

April 30, 2012

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Forgetting to do your penance doesn't invalidate the confession but refusing to do it does. Photo/liquene. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Have you ever had to leave right after confession, intending to do your penance as soon as you could—but then you forgot? Or has a priest told you to do a charitable or self-sacrificial act for your penance instead of saying a prayer and because you couldn’t do it at that moment it slipped your mind? In both cases is the absolution valid?

The answer is, it depends.

As with many of the laws and norms governing the Christian life, your level of culpability depends on where your heart is. According to canon law, “the confessor is to impose salutary and suitable penances in accord with the quality and number of sins, taking into account the condition of the penitent. The penitent is obliged to fulfill these personally.” (Canon 981)

What makes a confession invalid

We’re obliged to do the penance, but what  if we accidentally don’t?  The conditions below make a confession invalid, according to a book co-authored by Cardinal Donald Wuerl:

  • No true sorrow for sins and lack of intention to avoid grave sin in the future,
  • Deliberately neglecting to confess all grave sins, or
  • Refusing to do an assigned penance.

So it seems that forgetting to do a penance doesn’t carry the same weight as willfully refusing to do it, and therefore doesn’t invalidate the absolution. But Father John Hardon points out that through centuries of Church teaching, the following have been required of those who receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation:

  • They must be truly sorry for their sins, at least out of fear of God’s punishments;
  • They must confess their grave sins, or (if there are no mortal sins) at least some venial sin(s) from their past life; and
  • They must perform the penance which the confessor gives them.

Importance of the penance

Receiving absolution isn’t the whole story, however. When it comes to making amends for our sins, the penance given in confession plays an important role.

The Catechism states: “Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused. Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must ‘make satisfaction for’ or ‘expiate’ his sins. This satisfaction is also called ‘penance.’” (CCC 1459)

I’m not quite at the point where I’m tying strings around my fingers to remember things like Uncle Billy in It’s a Wonderful Life but I have forgotten to do a penance – or worse, done it half-heartedly. I guess in those cases it might be good to think about why we’re going to confession and who we’re apologizing to.

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Confession – Penance – Reconciliation: Call it what you will, it’s not that hard to go back

February 21, 2012

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An examination of conscience made easy

You don’t rob banks. You haven’t killed anyone. You go to Mass weekly.

This Lent, try going to confession anyway. Or the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Or Penance if you’re an old fogy like me. No matter what you call it, you’ll be glad you got up the courage.

Let’s even make it easy — here’s a quick list of questions to ask ourselves — you remember, an “examination of conscience.” These are some good things to talk to the priest about. Think of them as places in your life’s journey you want to improve, and your conversation with the priest is inviting him to help you do that.

  • Have I made time for my relationship with God — for Mass and prayer?
  • Have I failed to forgive?
  • Have I shown others anger way out of proportion?
  • Have I been a gossip, spread rumors, been critical of others without really having all the facts?
  • Have I been jealous or envious of other people?
  • Have I been a bad influence on others, even an enabler of other’s sins or addictions?
  • Have I failed to use the talents God’s given me because I’ve been lazy?
  • Have I made excuses for my own addictions or over-indulgences?
  • Have I given in to temptations that I know are sinful?
  • Have I missed chances to use my gifts and talents to help others?
  • Have I failed to see Jesus in the eyes of others?

The grace of the Sacrament of Reconciliation will do you good, and you’ll feel a weight lifted off your shoulders, even if the total of your sins don’t add up to much.

And need a daily tug on your sleeve? Click here to sign up to get one e-mailed every day during Lent.

 

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10 questions to increase your Catholic IQ

August 26, 2011

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question marks

Image by Valerie Everett. Licensed under Creative Commons.

A newly-ordained priest said during a homily recently that when he left seminary he realized he didn’t know everything.

He was speaking tongue-in-cheek, but his comments made me think about how much there is to know about the Catholic Faith.  No matter how many questions we answer, I think we’ll always have more because ultimately, God is a mystery.

Here are 10 intriguing questions about the Faith–not in any order–that readers and other inquiring Catholics have sent in for this blog. I’m curious about which ones you’re most interested in or if there are others (and I’m sure there are) that didn’t make the list.

  1. What is a miracle?
  2. Why do we baptize babies?
  3. What is an indulgence?
  4. What does the Church teach about cremation?
  5. Why do we need to confess our sins to a priest?
  6. What is penance and is it just for Lent?
  7. What does the Church teach about polygamy?
  8. What is natural law?
  9. What is intinction?
  10. Why do we pray to saints?

I’d also like to know if anyone ever asks you questions about the faith–either other Catholics or non-Catholics. Are there topics for which you’d like to have an answer ready, in case they come up again? Do you ever wish you could engage Mormons or evangelical groups in conversation about faith when they come to the door, but don’t quite know how to express your beliefs?

These are good reasons to keep asking questions about the Catholic Faith. Look for answers to the 10 intriguing questions in future posts. And email in what you’ve been wondering about!

 

 

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10 benefits of Confession

July 12, 2011

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Priest hearing a Confession

Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, Director of Media Relations at the USCCB, compiled a list of 10 benefits you’ll receive when participating in the Sacrament of Penance.

Here’s my favorite:

2. Housekeeping for the soul. It feels good to be able to start a clean life all over again. Like going into a sparkling living room in your home, it’s nice when clutter is removed – even if it’s your own.

Nothing quite compares to the feeling you receive after having made a good Confession.

Read the whole list here.

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