Ash Wednesday is February 22 this year. As Lent approaches, perhaps we can reflect a bit on conversion, reconciliation, and the Sacrament of Penance.
In the Gospel of John Jesus gifts His Church with the ministry of reconciliation.
[Jesus] said to them again “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” John 20:22-23
The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults states:
“Not only does it [the Sacrament of Penance] free us from our sins but it also challenges us to have the same kind of compassion and forgiveness for those who sin against us. We are liberated to be forgivers. We obtain new insight into the words of the Prayer of St. Francis: ‘It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.’
“Jesus entrusted the ministry of reconciliation to the Church. The Sacrament of Penance is God’s gift to us so that any sin committed after Baptism can be forgiven. In confession, we have the opportunity to repent and recover the grace of friendship with God. It is a holy moment in which we place ourselves in his presence and honestly acknowledge our sins, especially mortal sins. With absolution, we are reconciled to God and the Church. The Sacrament helps us stay close to the truth that we cannot live without God. ‘In him we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28).”
Again, the mission of mercy is given to all of us. “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.” Lc 6:36.
Human sinfulness and God’s never-ending forgiveness are central themes of the entire Bible, Old and New Testament alike. As the International Theological Commission observed in its 1982 statement on penance and reconciliation, “It is not that we reconcile ourselves with God; it is God who through Christ reconciles us to him.”
Beginning with the sin in the garden in Genesis 3:1-7, through God’s mercy towards Cain, on through the histories and prophets, and then into the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, the story remains the same: We sin, and God calls us back with forgiveness. “The blood of his son Jesus cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7).
And as 1 Jn 2:1-2 puts it, “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.”
From Pope Francis:
“Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instils in us the courage to look to the future with hope.” “When one finishes Confession one leaves free, grand, beautiful, forgiven, candid, happy. This is the beauty of Confession!”
From The Catechism of the Catholic Church:
1430 Jesus’ call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, “sackcloth and ashes,” fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance.
1431 Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart).
Next week a little on how to make a good Confession.