Reconciliation: The sacrament of mercy

By Bishop David Ricken | April 8, 2020

Editor’s note: During Lent, many of us choose to go to confession (the sacrament of reconciliation). But, it may have been a while since your last visit. It may seem a bit daunting. And there are questions: “Why do I have to go, doesn’t God already know?” “How can I confess that face to face? The priest knows me.” Even people who receive the sacrament regularly have questions. With that in mind, The Compass asked some local priests and others involved in pastoral ministry to give tips about going to confession. We will feature a different writer each week during Lent. See if they answer your questions.


When I first heard about this series on the sacrament of reconciliation, I was so excited! As a priest, I have had the privilege of hearing confessions and witnessing the healing power of God’s mercy in a person’s life. Yet, too often, people avoid this sacrament and the grace it offers. So I was glad to hear that we could share some of the beauty of this sacrament especially during the season of Lent, which has traditionally been a time when Catholics are encouraged to receive the sacrament of reconciliation.

Little did I know how much things would change for our world and our church in just a matter of weeks. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak and the need for social distancing, we have had to significantly reduce the opportunities for people to go to confession. At a time when we need it most, the sacrament of reconciliation is less available. The sacrament is still available on a limited basis in most parishes at certain hours and with physical separation.

Thankfully, this situation will not be forever. When we receive permission for larger gatherings, we can do more to make this sacrament available. In the short-term, though, we must be prudent. This is an incredibly powerful virus and we must do our part to reduce its spread. I want to thank all of you for keeping physical distance, despite the sacrifice this requires.

Reconciliation is the sacrament of mercy. The risen Jesus is filled with merciful love and offers it to us. The sacrament of reconciliation is one very important way he freely dispenses his love through the ministry of the priest. He is present in a very special way through this sacrament. This gift of Christ’s love is incredibly powerful and calls us to surrender our helplessness into his hands.

During this time, you can still receive that merciful love by reaching out to him in prayer and opening the door of your heart to his powerful love. His love is not confined to the confessional only. Once you realize your sins and repent, the flow of God’s love, which really is the Holy Spirit, is free to move in your soul. It is powerful and melts your heart, purifies and burns away the effects of sin and gives you a greater desire to grow closer to Jesus. Go to him!

The key to open the door to his merciful love is to forgive anyone who has offended or hurt you. That, too, needs the help of God’s grace, but it takes a decision not to be in slavery to the lack of forgiving someone. This memory is holding you hostage and keeping the love of God from flowing into your life, your person and your family.

It is important to remember that the sacrament of reconciliation is the ordinary way the church provides for us to complete the cycle of forgiveness. When we sin, we hurt the Body of Christ. This sacrament helps us to be reconciled to the church, which is his body present in the world today, and completes the forgiveness cycle with absolution and the fulfillment of our penance.

In danger of death the church provides a special Apostolic Pardon without the confession of sin. Every priest has the authority to grant this pardon, through a special prayer provided in the Rite of Anointing of the Sick. Additionally, if a priest is not available, our church provides an indulgence to the dying as long as they are properly disposed and have regularly prayed throughout their lives. Know that no matter what you have done, Christ desires to reconcile you to himself. Go to him and ask.

This week, we will celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus. It is the Resurrection that makes it possible for us to receive the mercy of God through the sacrament of reconciliation. If you are reading this and haven’t yet received the sacrament, pause right now. Place yourself in God’s presence and humbly ask for his mercy to heal the areas where sin has affected you. Your merciful Father is waiting to wrap you in his love!

 

Bishop David Ricken

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