It’s time to ask forgiveness of God and community

| Father Michael Van Sloun For The Catholic Spirit | March 17, 2011 | 0 Comments

Jesus embraces a sinner in stained glass at St. John the Baptist in New Brighton. Photo by Father Michael Van Sloun

This holy season of Lent is a time to repent and turn away from sin. One highly recommended way to do that is through the sacrament of reconciliation.

Lent is a penitential season, a special time to acknowledge the reality of sin in our lives, specifically to admit our sins, confess them and be absolved of them.

Jesus named this concern at the beginning of his preaching ministry when he said, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). Another translation of this verse is used for the signing with ashes on Ash Wednesday, “Turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel.”

Jesus wants to forgive us. He was extremely compassionate and merciful to sinners. Jesus said, “I have come to call sinners” (Mark 2:17).

He was even a friend to sinners (Luke 7:34). He welcomed them and ate with them (Luke 15:2). When the sinful woman washed his feet with her tears, Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48).

As Jesus hung on the cross and looked down upon those who accused and tortured him, he prayed, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). When the repentant criminal said, “Jesus, remember me,” Jesus replied, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42,43).

After the apostles abandoned and denied Jesus, his first words to them were, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19). As Jesus forgave them, he also wants to forgive us.

Sacrament for forgiveness

Jesus instituted the sacrament of reconciliation to make his forgiveness accessible to the generations to follow.

When Jesus commissioned Peter, he said, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19).

The keys represent the authority of Peter and his successors, bishops and priests, to absolve sins.

Jesus stated this more explicitly when he appeared to his disciples in the Upper Room. “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them” (John 20:22, 23).  Jesus instructed his disciples to be his agents in dispensing his forgiveness.

It is necessary to go to a priest and confess one’s sins to receive sacramental absolution, and there are many reasons for this.

First and foremost — Jesus commissioned his disciples to forgive sinners, and today priests, alone, carry out this apostolic role (Canon 965). It is consistent with our Jewish heritage in which a priest offered a sacrificial lamb as a sin offering on behalf of the sinner, and served as a go-between to help secure God’s pardon.

The sacraments are not self-administered, but rather mediated by a priest who serves as a conduit between God and the penitent, a channel of God’s grace. The priest acts in persona Christi, in the person of Christ. With faith, we believe that when the penitent speaks to the priest, the penitent speaks to Christ, and when the priest speaks, the priest speaks on behalf of Christ.

The priest gives Christ a human face and voice, and when the priest says, “I absolve you,” it is Christ who absolves. The priest also acts in persona ecclesia, in the person of the church.

Our sins not only offend God, they also harm others, and if fully disclosed, they might cause scandal and more extensive damage, so when a penitent admits their sins, the penitent also seeks the pardon of the community.

When the priest absolves, he acts on behalf of the church to grant the community’s forgiveness.

Finally, the priest gives the sacrament a personal touch. It provides the opportunity for individualized advice and a penance specifically tailored to the penitent’s situation to help in the healing process.

Lent is an ideal time to approach the sacrament of reconciliation. Each Catholic is asked to observe the Easter Duty, to receive the Eucharist at least once a year, preferably during the Easter season (Canon 920).

In order to receive the Eucharist worthily and to be in the state of grace, if a person is guilty of mortal sin, it is necessary to approach the sacrament of reconciliation first.

Also, “Each member of the faithful is obliged to confess his or her grave sins at least once a year” (Canon 989).

Lent is the perfect time to fulfill this obligation so a person can celebrate Easter absolved, unburdened and full of joy. Although it is not required, it is beneficial to confess less serious or venial sins, because their forgiveness also leads to a more joyful celebration of Easter.

There is a strong human tendency to procrastinate, to put off what we should have been doing already. We avoid. We delay. We excuse.

Lent is the right and acceptable time to repent and turn away from sin. These 40 days are what the doctor of our souls has ordered, a time to approach the sacrament of reconciliation to receive grace, pardon and peace.

Father Michael Van Sloun is pastor at St. Stephen in Anoka.

Tags: , ,

Category: Featured, The Lesson Plan