Confession properly called the Sacrament of Reconciliation has long had a central role in the season of Lent. If one looks to our Lord on the cross, who took on our sins that we might be free of them, we naturally sorrowfully reflect on our sins. This should not produce a sense of hopelessness or a conviction of the depravity of humanity. Rather it should call forth the love of our God in our hearts.
Oral confession is a later expression of Jesus’ mandate to the Church, “whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, whose sins to retain are retained.” In the early centuries the Lenten season was often the time for those who had been excommunicated for sins of adultery, murder and apostasy (the total repudiation of the Christian faith) might be reconciled with God and the Church.
Before the practice of confession of lesser sins developed in Ireland and spread to Europe, it was not possible to receive repeated absolution of any sin or even a singular confession of venial sins. The Church used the broad grant of the power to remit sins in the name of God, to offer that forgiveness to ordinary sinners. It did so not to burden the People of God but to make them know and experience God’s mercy, (cf Catechism of the Catholic Church #1447).
We also know that “Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults, (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended… indeed regular confession of our venial sins helps us to form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies , let ourselves be heled by Christ and progress in the Life of the Spirit, (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1458).
Grace builds on nature and we know that when we do something wrong, we deal with it best by opening it to the light of day with a friend or the one we may have offended. If we never own our sins, we may never experience being freed of its burden. As the Catechism says, “The confession ) or disclosure) of sins, even from a simply human point of view, frees us and facilitates our reconciliation with others. Through such an admission one looks squarely at the sins he is guilty of, takes responsibility for them and thereby opens himself to God and to the communion of the Church in order to make a new future Possible,” (CofC # 1455).
In his first major teaching document Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis wonderfully addressed the role of confession in renewing our lives of faith. Moreover, pastors and the lay faithful who accompany their brothers and sisters in faith or on a journey of openness to God must always remember what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches quite clearly: “Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors”. Consequently, without detracting from the evangelical ideal, they need to accompany with mercy and patience the eventual stages of personal growth as these progressively occur. I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy which spurs us on to do our best. A small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties. Everyone needs to be touched by the comfort and attraction of God’s saving love, which is mysteriously at work in each person, above and beyond their faults and failings.
Take advantage of God’s offer of forgiveness and mercy this lent. If we own our sins, we can better know God’s mercy and develop confidence in the face of future temptations.
Reconciliation — Giving up Guilt for Lent 2016
We often speak of guilt being particularly associated with certain groups of people. Garrison Keillor has made Lutheran guilt famous and humorous. We may be more familiar with Irish guilt or more generally Catholic guilt. Of course there were our religious forbearers known for Jewish Guilt. So why is religion so identified with guilt? Is Guilt the point of religion? Does God want us to feel beaten down and evil? Did Jesus come to make us feel guilty?
The guilt which is usually the butt of jokes is an excessive sense of our own moral responsibility for many things some of which are not even wrong. That kind of guilt is neither healthy nor pious. Guilt is however as old as humanity and like some pain serves a purpose. Pain can tell us when there is something wrong physically, which if we listen to it can lead us to proper medical care and health. A pain in our conscience should lead us to see what is wrong and do something about it.
Guilt is simply the awareness that we have done something morally wrong, or that we think we have. It is of course important to know whether it indicate a real or imagined fault. Unfortunately pain that helps us to discover a disease of the body, does not always lead to health, sometimes it is too late or incurable. Real moral guilt should lead us not to death but life. First we have to recognize that the cause of the guilt is real and then we must address that cause. Can we make up for the hurt we have caused, can we return what was taken, or can we at least demonstrate contrition for what we have done if the situation is beyond fixing? Because a religious sense of guilt rests ultimately in an awareness of offending God, we need to seek God’s forgiveness. God came into our world to bring us forgiveness we need to accept that forgiveness and by so doing give up our guilt. Revisiting long since forgiven sins is not spiritually healthy. We should learn from our mistakes and God’s mercy, but holding onto guilt ignores God’s transforming love. As we have noted before the Sacrament of Reconciliation does not exist to dredge up guilt, but to release us from sin and guilt, so that we can again experience the love of God without fear as God’s children.