Monday, October 17, 2005

An Abused Sacrament: Penance and Reconciliation

One of the problems many non-Catholics have with their Catholic brothers and sisters is in regard to the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. The thrust of their argument goes something like this: “Catholics think they can do anything they want, whenever they want, no matter what the sin, and all they have to do is go to Confession to get forgiveness. Then, the next week, if not the very next day they are out doing the same things again”.

I hate to be the one to say it, but...far too often they are right. Now, I am not saying all Catholics think and believe this way, mind you. No, I think the majority of true Catholic believers take all the Sacraments of the Church seriously, and see all Sacraments as a public expression of Faith, and more importantly, as rites instituted by Jesus Christ, by which invisible grace and inward sanctification are communicated to the soul. Yet, there are also many, who from their actions and words fail to fully grasp the importance and necessity of what the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation really entails and means. For the sake of both brevity, and clarity to non-Catholics unfamiliar with the term “Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation”, I will from this point on refer to this Sacrament by its more popularly known and understood name, “Confession”.

Whenever a person sins, his or her sins : a. hurt themselves; b. hurt their neighbor; and c. wounds the Body of Christ, the Church. Thus, our sins have a far reaching affect, more so than most people want to realize or to admit. As our sins have such an impact on ourselves, on others, and on the Body of Christ, we are duty bound as true believers in the Mercy of Christ, and as sons and daughters of the Church, to confess our sins, both venial and mortal as completely as possible, as well as soon as possible.

We should have “contrition” for our sins. Contrition being, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: Sorrow of the soul and hatred for the sin committed, together with a resolution not to sin again. Contrition is the most important act of the penitent, and is necessary for the reception of the Sacrament of Penance (1451). Thus, we should have deep sorrow for committing the sin, wishing we had never committed the sin. We should detest the sins, grieve for having committed the sins, and make a determination to never sin again. It means that we have the desire to regain friendship with God, that has been lost or injured by sin.

We should give a full and complete confession, as explained in “The Pocket Catholic Dictionary” by Father John A. Hardon, S.J., : “It must be objectively complete in that the penitent confesses every mortal sin according to number and kinds that he has committed since his last worthy reception of the sacrament of penance. In extraordinary circumstances a subjectively complete confession is sufficient, that is, when circumstances prevent a person from accusing himself of all his grave sins. He is nevertheless obliged to confess all his mortal sins in a later reception of the sacrament. When there are no mortal sins to confess, it is sufficient to confess any previous sins from one's past life or any present venial sins of which a person has been guilty, in order to obtain absolution and the grace of the sacrament of penance”.

Now, if we go into Confession, and confess a sin, our confession is not valid if our intent is to make a confession for a sin or sins, and we know that we will be committing this very same sin or sins again! If we know in our hearts (and you do know) that tomorrow, or next week, or next month, we will be committing the same sin or sins again, then we have not lied to just another man by lying to the priest. We have lied to Jesus Christ Himself, as the priest is standing in Christ's place before us when we make our confession! Then, when we take the Holy Eucharist, we have then bought condemnation upon ourselves for having received the Body and Blood of Our Lord unworthily!

Further, The Catholic Encyclopedia states (emphasis in bold italics is mine): It is not true that for the Catholic the mere "telling of one's sins" suffices to obtain their forgiveness. Without sincere sorrow and purpose of amendment, confession avails nothing, the pronouncement of absolution is of no effect, and the guilt of the sinner is greater than before.
While this sacrament as a dispensation of Divine mercy facilitates the pardoning of sin, it by no means renders sin less hateful or its consequences less dreadful to the Christian mind; much less does it imply permission to commit sin in the future. In paying ordinary debts, as e.g., by monthly settlements, the intention of contracting new debts with the same creditor is perfectly legitimate; a similar intention on the part of him who confesses his sins would not only be wrong in itself but would nullify the sacrament and prevent the forgiveness of sins then and there confessed.

Let us always keep in our minds and in our hearts, to make our confessions as completely and as sincerely as possible, and that we be determined to not commit sin again. Let us also keep in mind, that as Catholic Christians, no matter where we are, no matter what we do, no matter what we say, to those non-Catholics who know us as Catholic Christians, WE represent the Church and what the Church is to THEM!

1 Corinthians 11:26-30: For as often as you shall eat this bread and drink the chalice, you shall show the death of the Lord, until he come. Therefore, whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord. But let a man prove himself: and so let him eat of that bread and drink of the chalice. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord. Therefore are there many infirm and weak among you: and many sleep.

Copyright © 2005 Steve Smith. All rights reserved.


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