Sin is the true root of our sorrows. It hurts because it weakens or possibly destroys the new life in Christ we received at Baptism. To restore this most important relationship, Christ has “willed that his Church continue, in the power of the Holy Spirit, his work of healing and salvation” through a sacrament called by five names in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC, 1421).
The Catechism teaches that the sacrament of Penance begins our “returning to the Father” (CCC, 1423). The Parable of the Lost Son shows a young man admitting sin against both heaven and his father while squandering his inheritance (cf. Luke 15: 18). Sin leaves us a lot like that proverbial young son turning away from God. Conversion, the first name for the sacrament, heals us because it starts our turn back to God.
May people know the sacrament by its second name, penance. St. Paul noted in the Second Letter to the Corinthians how God, through Christ, gave the Church the ministry of penance (cf. 2 Cor 5:18). Conversion seeks to rebuild our relationship with God. But it is also always important to recognize how in penance we appreciate that sin hurts our relationship with his Church.
Also widely used is the third name for the sacrament, confession, which acknowledges and praises the “holiness of God and his mercy toward sinful man” (CCC, 1424). Confession admits the guilt of sins, assumes responsibility for those sins, and accepts the possibility of a new beginning with God and the Church (cf. CCC, 1455). It is for precisely this reason that the Church cherishes the moment when a sinner fully discloses his sins.
The fourth name for the sacrament is forgiveness. It is in the healing encounter of a sacrament that one finds Christ, through the prayer and minister of the Church, absolving the sinner and granting him pardon and peace (cf. CCC, 1449). Forgiveness observes the true source of compassion in the tender mercies of a loving Father.
Reconciliation, the fifth name for the sacrament, expresses how forgiveness in love leads one to live more like Christ – anew, with merciful, responsive love toward others. Here we can recall the healing of the paralytic recounted in the Gospel of St. Luke. Christ asked the scribes and Pharisees: “What are you thinking in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” (Luke 5:23). Through the sacrament called by five names we know that “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Luke 5:24).
This week approach a priest in the privacy of a confessional. Christ, through the earthly ministry of the Church, calls for the conversion and penance of sinners. He invites you to take responsibility without fear, when you’ve acted wrongly, and at a place in your life where you feel crushed by burdens of sin. The sacrament called by five names proves such a burden can lead ultimately to greatest blessing if you “repent and believe in the Gospel” once again (Mark 1:15).
Jason Godin teaches United States history at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas.