confession, penance, sacrament, sin, reconciliation

Reconciliation: Sin and the Throne of Grace

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

Sometimes, in the course of daily life, we can feel as though we are being tested in some way. Paranoia notwithstanding, it seems like trials are thrust upon us by an unknown assailant. Jesus of Nazareth was “tested in every way, yet without sin,” knowing full well who his accuser was. We, as Disciples of Christ, undergo many temptations, and frequently fall into sin as a result.

It is important to note that even the biggest temptation is not a sin. It is how we react to temptation that is key. Temptation can precipitate sinful behavior, but can also provide the victory brought about by a virtuous response.

There is good news and bad news regarding life in Christ. The bad news is that we all fall short of God’s glory when we sin. The good news is that God ready to forgive us completely when we avail ourselves of his divine mercy by confessing our sins and receiving absolution.

The sacrament of reconciliation is, in fact, the throne of grace that God has made available to all Catholics here on Earth. The priest, acting in persona Christi, becomes a fount of mercy and grace to the penitent sinner. Approaching the throne of an earthly king is beyond the reach of all but a very select group. Approaching Christ the King, on the other hand, is readily accomplished by a visit to the Catholic church of your choosing, or the nearest Catholic priest who has the time to listen to your confession and grant absolution. The power to forgive sins is entrusted to the Church as stated in the following:

Since Christ entrusted to his apostles the ministry of reconciliation [cf. John 20:23; 2 Corinthians 5:18], bishops who are their successors, and priests, the bishops’ collaborators, continue to exercise this ministry. Indeed bishops and priests, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, have the power to forgive all sins “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1461)

It is the total and complete forgiveness of all sins confessed with a contrite heart that brings about the healing and restoration so necessary to the human soul. Throughout scripture, we are given examples of the merciful love of our Heavenly Father and his unconditional agapē Love for his children. God’s mercy always triumphs over justice (James 2:13), and is illustrated in the Catechism in the following:

When he celebrates the sacrament of Penance, the priest is fulfilling the ministry of the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep, of the Good Samaritan who binds up wounds, of the Father who awaits the prodigal son and welcomes him on his return, and of the just and impartial judge whose judgment is both just and merciful. The priest is the sign and the instrument of God’s merciful love for the sinner. (CCC 1465)

When the day comes when it is truly our hour, we will find ourselves standing before Christ, the Just Judge. For the Catholic that has experienced God’s mercy in the sacrament of Confession throughout their life, this will be a very familiar situation. Forgiveness, healing, love and mercy will flow in our last absolution. Those who arrive “mostly clean” will receive the foot washing of their lives and enter into Heaven. Those who need more cleansing will undergo a more complete scrubbing in the “mud room” of Purgatory. Those refusing God’s grace by “definitive self-exclusion” (CCC 1033) will go to Hell.

Let us thank God for gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the gift of spiritual consolation, and the ability to approach His throne of grace in our time on Earth and assurance of his amazing grace at the hour of our death. The “spiritual resurrection” referred to in the following paragraph anticipates the final resurrection to eternal life in Heaven.

“The whole power of the sacrament of Penance consists in restoring us to God’s grace and joining us with him in an intimate friendship” [Roman Catechism II:V:18]. Reconciliation with God is thus the purpose and effect of this sacrament. For those who receive the sacrament of Penance with contrite heart and religious disposition, reconciliation “is usually followed by peace and serenity of conscience with strong spiritual consolation” [Council of Trent]. Indeed the sacrament of Reconciliation with God brings about a true “spiritual resurrection,” restoration of the dignity and blessings of the life of the children of God, of which the most precious is friendship with God [cf. Luke 15:32]. (CCC 1468)