Monday 28th September 2020

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A Beacon Of Light . . . The Sacrament Of Penance: An Encounter With Christ

August 4, 2020 Frontpage No Comments


(Editor’s Note: Fr. Richard D. Breton Jr. is a priest of the Diocese of Norwich, Conn. He is currently the parochial vicar of St. Andrew Parish in Colchester and St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Lebanon. 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 reflection on the Sacraments as Portals of Divine Light. Today we will begin our discussion of the two sacraments of healing. These two sacraments are Penance and the Anointing of the Sick. This week we will focus on the Sacrament of Penance.
    After the fall of Adam, humanity would be forever tarnished with original sin. Through the unconditional love of God, however, the process of humankind’s redemption would begin. This process involved being saved by Jesus Christ, the Son of God. God took on our human nature, the very human nature that was lost by original sin, and God restored us to His grace.
    We were left, however, with the effects of original sin. The effects of original sin include death and suffering, concupiscence, and the absence of sanctifying grace. When we mention the effects of death and suffering, we mean the whole human race experiencing death of the body, which is the punishment of sin, and the death of the soul. The effect of concupiscence leaves humanity with the inclination to sin. 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 also for us. Baptism confers original sanctifying grace, lost through Adam’s sin, thus eliminating original sin and any personal sin.
    Because of the effects of original sin, we need a way to stay on the right path. This is where the Sacrament of Penance finds its place. We are constantly in need of God’s mercy and forgiving grace and we find it in this sacrament.
    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 parts that 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, his heartfelt sorrow for the sins he committed. This is seen in the sinner’s resolve to sin no more. Contrition enables the priest to ascertain the genuineness of the penitent’s resolve to sin no more.
    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 we call mortal sins.
    Mortal sins separate us from God. A mortal sin is defined as a grave infraction of the law of God that destroys the divine life in the soul of the sinner, and by doing so, constitutes a turning away from God.
    There are three criteria necessary for a sin 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 a heterosexual and a homosexual nature), masturbation, the use of contraception, missing Mass on Sundays and holy days (except when a dispensation has been granted by the local ordinary), and any sin against the Holy Spirit. All these mortal sins separate us from God by building up a wall between us.
    The act of confessing our sins also 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. We examine our conscience to see where we disobeyed God’s commands. Every penitent should be fully prepared to confess his sins.
    Sometimes we may forget some of our sins; in this case, we should conclude the confessing of 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 an act of penance. 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 amends for our sins. After fulfilling our act of penance, we can forget the past and focus on the road ahead.
    The fourth, or final, act 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.

The Divine Physician

So often penitents are afraid of confessing their sins. They fear that the priest, after hearing someone’s sins, will think differently about them. Sadly, this absurd mentality has caused a decrease in the people who make use of so great a 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! When I remind myself that Jesus is talking to me, it 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, when it is Jesus we encounter!
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 physician of 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 in 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 of 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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