If the credit card company told you that they would wipe away your entire debt by making a five-minute visit to a bank officer, and that no matter how much you owed, the bank would forgive your debt if you only asked, would you make a visit? Sure you would. Banks that performed this service for their customers would have a line out the door every day.
Banks don't do that, of course; they're in business, not charity. But there is a place where you can go to have your debt forgiven and that forgiveness is free for the asking. It's your local Catholic church.
That’s right. Your priest waits patiently for people to come in each Saturday evening before Mass. He waits for his flock to come to confess their sins to Jesus through him, and to allow him to forgive those sins in Jesus' name. There ought to be a line around the block.
I think the reason there isn't a line at many places may be that some people don't fully appreciate the need or the power of this wonderful sacrament. If we did, there would be long lines at the confessional indeed.
The sacrament of reconciliation is where we are made right with God through the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. As the Catechism teaches, “only God forgives sins,” but our Lord in His great goodness provided for us to see Him in the flesh even after His ascension. The ordinary minister of the sacrament, a priest, acts in Jesus' name and with His authority to forgive sins. Jesus gave that authority to His Apostles, and they have passed that authority down to their successors.
This commission to forgive sins is recorded in the Gospel according to St. John: “And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained'” (Jn 20:20-22).
In this most merciful action, our Lord affords us the chance to reconcile ourselves to both God and the Church (Catechism #1440). Why God and the Church? Because our sins usually affect others as well as ourselves. If we gossip, for example, we have wounded our relationship with God through our words, and we have wounded the person we gossiped about. By approaching our Lord in His infinite mercy, we can have our souls washed clean, and receive the grace to help repair what we have damaged on earth with our sin. The priest, then, represents our High Priest Jesus Christ, as well as the Church herself, and grants us absolution for our sins. After we are forgiven, we receive a penance to help us better orient our lives and hearts to God, and to give us the opportunity to make our relationships with each other right as well.
The effects of the sacrament also twofold: not only are our sins forgiven, but we receive the graces necessary to avoid sin in the future. This is a very important point for us to remember. As a wise priest recently told me, “We're not yet holy, but we're on a journey to holiness.” This sacrament is vital to keep us pointed along the narrow path to our Lord's side.
Finally, if the promise of new life within you and the chance for a clean slate with the Father do not motivate you to seek out the sacrament of reconciliation often, then let me leave you with the words of St. Paul on the subject. Here St. Paul warns the faithful in Corinth not to receive the Eucharist unworthily, and his warning should be a warning for all of us who present ourselves at Communion with the stain of sin on our souls:
Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. (1 Cor 11:27-29)
Before approaching the Lord's table to receive the Eucharist this Sunday, let us all seek His mercy in the sacrament of reconciliation.
Hurry there might be a long line.
Mickey Addison is a career military officer, and has been a catechist at the parish level since 2000. He and his wife have been married for 19 years and they have two children. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was previously published on the Rosary Army’s website and is used by permission.