Tuesday 18th January 2022

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A Beacon Of Light… Peace And The Sacrament Of Penance

January 11, 2022 Frontpage No Comments


(Editor’s Note: Fr. Richard D. Breton Jr. is a priest of the Diocese of Norwich, Conn. He received his BA in religious studies and his MA in dogmatic theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Conn.)

  • + + We continue our survey of the Catechism on the sacraments, in particular, Penance and the Anointing of the Sick. This week’s article will focus on the Sacrament of Penance.
    In order to fully understand the significance of this sacrament, we need to return to the Garden of Eden. The fall of Adam tarnished humanity with original sin. Through the unconditional love of God, however, the process of redemption would begin. This involved the lifesaving sacrifice offered through Christ, the Son of God. Jesus took on our human nature, the very nature that was lost by original sin, restoring us to His Grace once again.
    We were left, however, with the effects of original sin. These effects include death and suffering, concupiscence, and the absence of sanctifying grace. The effects of death and suffering are linked to the death of the body, which is the punishment of sin and the death of the soul.
    The effect of concupiscence leaves humanity with an Inclination to sin. This is seen in our struggle with temptation. The father of darkness continually attacks us, beating us down, trying to draw us away from God. Baptism erases original sin, but the inclination to sin remains.
    Another effect of sin is the absence of sanctifying grace. This is the consequence of Adam’s sin. Adam, having received holiness and justice from God, lost it not only for himself, but for all of humanity. Baptism confers sanctifying grace, lost through Adam’s sin, thus eliminating original sin.
    We need God’s mercy and forgiveness in our lives. Where do we find it? We find it in the Sacrament of Penance. The Sacrament of Penance is a beautiful encounter with Christ. When a person approaches this sacrament, he opens himself to the healing and merciful love of God. Within the Sacrament of Penance there are four important moments the penitent participates in.
    The first part is contrition. Contrition is the most important part of this sacrament. Through contrition the penitent shows, or demonstrates, heartfelt sorrow for the sins he committed. This is seen in their resolve to sin no more. Contrition enables the priest to ascertain the genuineness of the penitent’s resolve to sin no more.

Venial Sins And Mortal Sins

The second part of penance is confessing one’s sins. In this part of penance, the penitent verbalizes, or confesses, his sins to God. The confessing of sins includes two kinds of sin. First we confess venial sins. These are sins like impatience, gossip, stealing, lying, selfishness, not forgiving others, and laziness. These venial sins, if not confessed, can lead us into committing the next kind of sins, which we call mortal sins. Mortal sins separate us from God’s love and can cause us to forfeit everlasting life.
A mortal sin is defined as a grave infraction of the law of God that destroys the divine life of the soul, and by doing so, constitutes a turning away from God.
There are three criteria necessary for sins to be mortal and these are: 1) the sin is of a grave matter, 2) we have full knowledge that the act is evil, and 3) we fully consent in our will to perform the act. Basically, the sin is of a grave matter, we know it is wrong, and we do it anyway! Some examples of mortal sins include: murder (including the abortion of a child in the womb), premarital sex (of both heterosexual and homosexual nature), masturbation, the use of contraception, missing Mass on Sundays and holy days, and any sin against the Holy Spirit.
The action of confessing our sins requires us to properly prepare ourselves by performing an examination of conscience. An examination of conscience is time we put aside, hopefully daily, to see where we have failed in living our faith by loving God and our neighbor. This examination is usually done by looking over the Ten Commandments as a guide. Every penitent should be fully prepared to confess his sins.
Sometimes we may forget some of our sins. In this case, we should end confessing our sins by adding a phrase like: and for all the sins I cannot remember at this time. In confessing our sins, we must make sure to mention the kind of sin (by saying what we did) and the number of times we committed the sin.
The third part of Penance is the act of penance itself. The act of penance is a sign of true conversion from the heart. The action of performing a penance for our sins is a remedy through which we are healed. When the priest gives us a penance, we are required to do it. Sometimes a penance can be either a prayer to say, or an action we are asked to perform. In any case, the penance is our way of making amend for our sins. After fulfilling our act of penance, we can forget the past and focus on the road ahead.
The fourth, or final, moment of the Sacrament of Penance is absolution. The action of absolution belongs solely to God Himself; however, the priest is the minister through which forgiveness is imparted. When we are absolved we hear these words: “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and Resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of our sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
The words of absolution are so important for us to hear! This is because they help us to know we have been truly forgiven. With these words the sacrament is concluded, and we are reminded to go in peace and sin no more.
So often penitents are afraid of confessing their sins. They fear that the priest will think differently about them. Sadly, this absurd mentality has caused a decrease in the number of people who make use of this sacrament.
When we come to the Sacrament of Penance, we are sitting or kneeling before Jesus Himself. The priest acts in the person of Christ, but it is Christ who is there in our midst as we confess our sins. Whenever I go to the Sacrament of Penance, I feel the loving hand of Jesus on my shoulder as I confess my faults and failings. I feel Jesus there helping me to make a good Confession of my sins. I don’t hear the voice of the priest, but, the voice of Jesus!
Reminding myself that it is Jesus speaking comforts me. As I admit my failings and confess my sins, I feel a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. Then it happens…I hear those beautiful words: I absolve you from your sins! When I hear those words, I feel like crying because I feel the warm embrace of Jesus as He reminds me of His merciful love. Why should we fear the Sacrament of Penance? It is Jesus we encounter!

Jesus Is Waiting

In our earthly lives we see various doctors who help us to stay healthy. Many of us have a primary care physician who tends to our medical needs. In the spiritual life we also have a physician. Jesus is the physician on our spiritual journey. Everyone needs to be seen by the spiritual physician. Jesus is the remedy for healing our souls! Jesus touches us with His healing hand, and we are healed.
In the Sacrament of Penance, Jesus heals our souls from the grip of sin and restores us to sanctifying grace.
Through the comforting voice of the priest, we hear Jesus absolve us of our sins. If you have been away from the Sacrament of Penance, now is the time to return to the fount of mercy. Now is the time to seek out the love and mercy or Jesus!
Feel His healing touch! Hear His comforting voice! Listen as He says: Your sins are forgiven — go in peace! Jesus is waiting!

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