The new rite now speaks of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This term better expresses what is at the very heart of the Sacrament – namely, that by forgiving our sins, Jesus reconciles us to the Father. He causes a healing within us. The emphasis is on God’s activity. Only God can do this. Our response is a contrite heart – sorrow for having disobeyed God’s laws – thwarted His love. Healing and conversion are effected through God’s activity in us.
In this Sacrament as in all of them, there is a meeting with the risen Jesus. It is good when preparing to receive this Sacrament to emphasize this encounter aspect. A simple act of faith, such as: “Jesus, I believe that I am about to meet you in this Sacrament,” will help us focus on this faith meeting. This prayer can be said often; its brevity allows for prayerful attention to its meaning.
The encounter aspect of this Sacrament brings to mind the encounters between Jesus and the needy. In a very real sense the Sacrament we receive today is an extension of the past healings of Jesus which are repeated in our time. Let us consider a few of these encounters:
– the paralytic
– the ten lepers
– the centurion
In these episodes and others as well, power went forth from Jesus and brought about healing, a change, a conversion of heart. This healing took place on all levels of the human person. We are not divided into parts; we are a whole, and sin affects us as persons, fracturing us physically, psychologically, and morally. Understanding the Sacrament of Reconciliation as an encounter, a meeting with the risen Jesus in the person of His priest, should make the encounter a happy one, filled with hope for His healing touch. Days after, such an encounter should reverberate in us with feelings of joy and gratitude. We may use short prayers such as: “Lord, thank You for the healing graces You gave me yesterday, or last week, when You touched me in Your Sacrament of Reconciliation!”
God, through His Church, has given us the awesome Sacrament of Reconciliation so sinners might meet with faith the forgiving Jesus Christ and walk away in peace. The stronger our faith, the clearer we view our sins, the more honestly we confess them, the greater our desire to improve, the deeper will be the inner joy and personal freedom we experience on those times we go to confession.
We suggest the five steps to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation well.
Step I Prayer for Light and Courage
We should begin by praying to the Holy Spirit to help us make a worthy confession. We should ask God to help us believe in His mercy, to see our sins as they are, to confess them honestly despite the pain that involves, to experience His peace, and to change our future lives.
Step II Trust in God’s Good Words about Forgiveness
In Sacred Scripture we have many stories and teachings about God’s limitless mercy, love and forgiveness. We should read one and reflect upon it before we go to confession.
Step III Look Into One’s Heart and Pray for Contrition
This step requires a period of reflection sufficient to look at the past (How long since you last received the sacrament?”) and to search your sins over that period. A good examination of conscience is most important here. Also true contrition (sorrow) must be at the heart of all holy confessions. The genuineness of penance depends on this heartfelt contrition. Conversion is only possible if one is sorry and truly wants to change to be more like Christ.
Step IV The Confession of Sin
We must tell our sins to the priest. The confession of sin comes from true knowledge of self before God and from contrition for those sins. We open our heart to the priest (whom represents Jesus Christ in the sacrament) and we humbly listen to his words of guidance and direction. Should one feel nervous or become forgetful, simply tell the confessor that and ask for his help. The priest is there to assist you, if need be.
Step V Act of Penance and Absolution
True conversion is completed by acts of penance or satisfaction for the sins committed. The confessor (the priest) will give you a penance, usually some prayers or an act of kindness towards someone. This is designed to repair the harm done and to heal the wounds caused by our sins. It also is intended to help one to improve in the days ahead. Finally, the confessor will offer the words of the church called absolution. God offers salvation and peace to the repentant sinner.