By Rev. Marcus McFadin, D.Min
Acting Director, Office of Worship
In the Gospel of Luke, the story of Emmaus teaches how Christ is present sacramentally to the Church in word and symbol. Christ’s physical presence in the Gospels is now a sacramental presence. Christ is present in the actions and symbols we find in the celebration of the sacraments such as the Word, the bread and wine, the words of forgiveness. It is Christ who offers God’s mercy and pardon through the words and actions of the priest when we celebrate the Sacrament of Penance.
When Jesus began his public ministry, he called for repentance. He meant the complete transformation of the human person in light of the Good News. This was more than a change in behavior, it was a change in attitude, thought, all that influences human action and speech. The Lenten journey is a time to acknowledge where we fall short and need to repent, to be transformed in light of the Good News. We do more than give up candy or soft drinks, we give up, or take on, what is necessary to conform ourselves to Christ and his message, both as an individual and as one who lives in relationship with others. It is to understand the Good News as a way of life in which we mediate and share God’s goodness with others.
During the Lenten journey we are encouraged to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance, popularly referred to as Reconciliation. It is an important opportunity to acknowledge our limitations and shortcomings especially in the current climate in which acknowledgement of sin has been weakened. Secularism has created a denial that certain actions or attitudes are always wrong and sinful. Everything is relative, there are no absolutes and the individual is free of all responsibility.
We celebrate the sacrament by beginning with an examination of conscience. God speaks to the sinner through the conscience. The Catechism recommends Matthew 5-7, Romans 12-15, 1 Corinthians 12-13, Galatians 5 and Ephesians 4-6, for an examination and reflection on the Christian life. Simply: Have I loved God and my neighbor with all my heart? This is accompanied by an honest acknowledgement of sin followed by a sincere and genuine desire to change (conversion).
The examination of one’s conscience leads to confession of those sins to God whose forgiveness is certain. Confession requires honesty and courage that entrusts the penitent into the arms of God’s loving mercy. In our own individual way, we live the story of the Prodigal Son.
The final act of the sacrament of God’s mercy is the act of penance, also known as satisfaction. Absolution removes sin, but does not repair all the possible damages. Satisfaction is both justice and healing. To the person hurt by deed or speech, an outward physical act is needed to repair the relationship that has been hurt by sin. It also serves as atonement for past sins and a marker of growth in the Christian lifestyle on the part of the penitent. John Paul II said acts of penance “should not be reduced to mere formulas to be recited, but should consist of acts of worship, charity, mercy or reparation.”
Absolution is then given, through the gestures and words of the minister, God grants forgiveness. Blessed are those whose sins have been forgiven, whose evil deeds have been forgotten. Rejoice in the Lord, and go in peace.