The Sacrament of Penance is Not For Losers

Year of Faith 2012 to 2013 logoReaders will know that I am rather keen on the Sacrament of Penance (Confession, Reconciliation), which is as it should be, since individual confession was originally a monastic practice which spread to the whole Church. It also means that I am for once ‘on trend’ since we are all being encouraged to revisit the sacrament during this Year of Faith, and it is my hope and prayer that we shall rediscover its spiritual benefits. We won’t do so, however, unless we are clear about what is involved. Catholics of my generation will be able to name the essential elements for valid reception of the sacrament: contrition, confession, absolution and satisfaction (reparation) — see The Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos 1422 to 1523. Of these, reparation is often overlooked yet it seems to me so fundamental that I find myself wondering how we can have forgotten it.

The truth is probably that we find it difficult and therefore try to have forgiveness on the cheap, so to say. Reparation, seeking to make amends for what we have done, brings home to us the ugliness of sin and reminds us that absolution and performance of the penance given by our confessor are really only the first steps in putting things right. Having to apologize to someone we have treated badly; having to admit that we are responsible for some failure or other; having to put right an injustice, these are not easy options. It becomes much worse when we feel we cannot right a wrong because the person or persons we have injured is dead or in some way unreachable. Then we must rely on prayer and the grace of God to effect what no amount of human striving can achieve.

In the end, of course,  everything depends on God, from the first movement of contrition to the final act of reparation. Only he can make right what we have done wrong, but while we rely on his grace, we must never fall into the sin of presumption. The Sacrament of Penance treats us as responsible human beings and invites our co-operation in grace. It is definitely not for ‘losers’.


3 thoughts on “The Sacrament of Penance is Not For Losers”

  1. I have to agree whole heartedly with the thoughts expressed here. While not a Catholic, as an Anglican, we to have the Sacrament of Healing and Reconciliation within our Liturgy and it is used wider than often thought by many.

    My thoughts on reparation as a little mixed. Sometimes it’s impossible to make reparation if those you may have hurt or damaged are unwilling to accept your reparation or expression of sorrow, in whatever form it’s offered. They may be in need of healing and reconciliation themselves before they are able to move to the point needed to accept it.

    How do you deal with that situation? Surely, if your intention in offering reparation is pure and authentic, than God will recognise that and the Holy Spirit of forgiveness will allow the grace of God to be given, despite the lack of reparation. Your contrition has to be enough in these cases.

    Prayer for the other party that they will accept the reparation offered will be part of that perhaps forgiveness, which as God’s mercy is unlimited will be unconditional.

    Sometimes the hardest part of healing and reconciliation is recognising that self-forgiveness is also necessary. We can be very hard on ourselves and carry guilt with us as a burden lifelong, which can separate us from God in ways we haven’t imagined. It’s only when we can overcome our own burden and lay that suffering at the foot of the cross will we receive the peace and grace and healing of that Sacrament, which is so needed in the world today.

  2. I don’t think we are seriously disagreeing about reparation, Ernie. The important thing is to TRY to make things right. Of course, the other may reject our efforts, or, as I said in my post, be unreachable through distance or death, etc. We rely wholly on God, who gives both the will and the attainment to us.

    Guilt is a very crippling emotion, but to accept God’s forgiveness is sometimes beyond our strength. That is why the Lord’s Prayer is so important: it inserts us into the dynamic of God’s forgiveness.

  3. Great post Sister! As a Catholic who was rarely taken to Confession as a child, I have come to love this blessing that Our Lord gave to the Catholic Church (John 20) as an adult. Knowing my own sinfulness and weaknesses, I try to go to Confession once a week. It’s my hope that in this Year of Faith that more of our brothers and sisters come to realize the importance of this truly beautiful sacrament. I know so many Catholics that have not been in many years out of fear. We need to catechize them better.

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