Reconciliation in the Christian Life – Patricia McNally
Reconciliation as described in the dictionary is : The restoration of friendly relations, reuniting, reunion, resolution, settlement, resolving, mending, remedying, a restoration of harmony, agreement, compromise, understanding, peace, an end to hostilities.
The word which stands out from the rest here is ‘peace’. Reconciliation brings peace. It is what our world today hungers for. There are so many wars and conflicts happening in lots of countries all around the world. We only have to click a button on our phones, computer screens, televisions and radios to see and hear of the destruction and terrible loss of life that these wars and conflicts are causing. Newspapers both local and national pour out daily reports of the darkness that exists in our society. When someone hurts or betrays us, we feel angry and bitter and we are reluctant to trust again. If we hold on to these feelings of anger, resentment, bitterness or hatred they will affect our life and effect our relationships.
Dis-unity and dis-harmony upsets us, it upsets our peace. The longer an argument or a dis-agreement goes on, the more it escalates into something bigger, until it reaches a stage where it has gone too far, it has consumed us, and for some, the hope of a resolution is either very slight or non-existent. Forgiving the person who has wronged us is not something we as humans find easy to do, and it is probably one of the most challenging parts of being a Catholic. Jesus says “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”[Mt. 5:23-24].
According to the Catechism of the Catholic church, sin ‘is an offense against God as well as a fault against reason, truth and right conscience. Sin is a deliberate thought, word, deed or omission contrary to the eternal law of God’ (1849, 1853). Sin is when we reject good and choose evil. Sin can be both interior (choices of the will alone) or exterior (choices of the will carried into action). There are lots of different kinds of sins, some mortal and some venial.
Mortal sin ‘destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law. The Catechism emphasizes that ‘to choose deliberately – that is both knowing it and willing it –something gravely contrary to the Divine law and to the ultimate end of man is to commit a mortal sin. This destroys in us the charity without which eternal (happiness) is impossible. Un-repented mortal sins bring eternal death’ (1874) The eternal death we call Hell. It is when people have died having not repented of mortal sin and because of this they have become separated from God and suffer the loss of eternal happiness with him for eternity.
Venial sin according to the Catechism ‘does not destroy the divine life in the soul, as does mortal sin, though it diminishes and wounds it’(1855)Venial sin is a failure to observe necessary moderation, in lesser matters of the moral law, or in grave matters acting without full knowledge or complete consent’(1862) Deliberate and un-repented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin’(1863) What the Catechism is saying here is that if we allow venial sins to go un-repented then one by one they will chip away at us and lower our resistance to committing a mortal sin. They weaken our soul and they can prevent us from shining the full light of Christ in our lives.
These would be the kind of sins that we can easily fall prey to on a daily basis and that is why it is important for us to go to Confession regularly. Pope Francis advocates regular confession and says that he himself goes every two weeks. Even the “just man falls seven times a day” (Prov. 24:16). There is something nice about the ability to say that we are sorry. It means that we have realised that we have done something wrong, or have hurt someone in some way. When we hurt others either physically or hurt their feelings, God wants us to make it up with that person as soon as possible and he wants us to turn our hearts back to him and be restored to his friendship. Reconciliation with one another involves humility and self-denial.
In the Catechism we are reminded that the Sacrament of Confession is also called the sacrament of forgiveness because God grants the penitent ‘pardon and peace’ (1424) by the priest’s sacramental absolution. The disclosure or confession of sins to a priest is an essential element of this sacrament (1424). The church believes in the forgiveness of sins and is fully aware that only God forgives sins. Jesus won the battle against sin when he died for us. ‘It was when he gave the Holy Spirit to his apostles that the risen Christ conferred on them his own divine power to forgive sins: ‘‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any they are retained”
(976, John 20:22-23).
Forgiveness of sins brings reconciliation with God and with the Church. Forgiving and being forgiven sets us free and, as God forgives us we in turn are asked to forgive one another. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32) We can never underestimate the power of forgiveness.
Taking the Journey back to God
An inner journey, has already occurred for a person who presents themselves for Confession. They have already taken the first step on the road home. Confession is the Sacrament of new beginnings. It is about conversion and a turning back to God. Most practising Catholics go to confession regularly, but for some it could well be many years since they have experienced it. For them it is the home-coming that they long for on many levels, but they don’t realise it. Like the father in the story of the prodigal son, Jesus wants to embrace us with his love and forgiveness. The Father in this story was just so happy that his son came home, he forgave him completely for everything he had done. In the same way, Jesus waits for us to come home and be reconciled with him, with the church and with everyone around us.
When we take a stained garment to a dry cleaners they will usually make it clear to us that they cannot guarantee the removal of the stain. When we go to Confession we get a full guarantee that our sins are removed from our soul, we are forgiven and our sins are forgotten by God. The priest says the words ‘through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit’. It is amazing! We come out with a ‘clean slate’. We feel lighter in ourselves, we feel renewed and we are forgiven.
‘Jesus, who died for all desires that in his Church the gates of forgiveness should always be open to anyone who turns away from sin. There is no offence, however serious that Jesus cannot forgive, and the church cannot forgive in his name. Our God is a God of mercy, slow to anger and abounding in love’ – Fr Billy Swan, - Creed of Love.
If we are sick we go to the doctor who listens to us and who prescribes the medication we need to make us better. A doctor cannot take one look into his/her waiting room and prescribe the same medication for everyone without an individual consultation. We are individuals and God knows our individual needs. God is our physician. Through individual confession, the priest is able to give good Counsel and advice to the penitent. The priest has the skills to give good direction to the person by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the words that the priest uses could be the turning point for someone in their life and they could be words that will stay with them forever. I recall a time in my own life when I unintentionally strayed away from my Catholic faith. The Sacrament of Confession was my link back in to the church and to feeling close to God again. The words of the priest reached me in the distant place where I was at in my life and as Jesus says "My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me". I heard his voice and I returned to the fullness, truth and light of the Church.
"Everyone say to himself: 'When was the last time I went to confession?' And if it has been a long time, don't lose another day! Go, the priest will be good. And Jesus, (will be) there, and Jesus is better than the priests - Jesus receives you. He will receive you with so much love! Be courageous, and go to confession," – Pope Francis (Feb 19th 2014).