Mar 4, 2017

First Week of Lent


Defining Terms of Engagement

Grace:  the power of God working through our body to reshape the contours of our thoughts, words and actions, guiding us towards total harmony with His life. We have the freedom to cooperate with or to resist this divine power. (Christ was full of grace by His very nature. Mary was full of grace by God's generosity).

Sacrament: God's Word created the world. We can therefore see, touch, feel and embrace it's goodness. A sacrament is an outward, visible sign chosen particularly by Christ to communicate God's life and grace during our journey towards heaven.

So, let’s see how grace and sacraments are infused together -

God's life and grace is born in the waters of Baptism,
is sealed with oil by Confirmation,
restored by a contrite heart in Confession,
strengthened by the healing oil upon those who are ill.
kept alive by the nourishment of the Mass,
bears holy fruit through the sacrament of matrimony.
communicated through the lives of those ordained as priests and deacons.

The Sacrament of Confession
(also called Reconciliation and Penance)

And now we come to what we easily view as the "elephant in the room", the sacrament of confession!  

The question often asked, “Will God not forgive me my sins if I'm just sorry and tell Him in my heart I am sorry? If I want Him to, then He has to! He can't say He can't. He won't say He won't. So he will. Right?

But that is like saying, "God, forgive me on my own terms. And to make sure that you do, I will even quote you Scripture that backs up my expectation that You will forgive me."

As we discovered by listening to the Gospel today, even the devil, who knows every chapter and verse in the Bible, carefully quoted Scripture verses to justify his own beliefs in order to get Jesus to do his bidding. That's the devil's tactic which unfortunately can influence everyone who is tempted to go it alone or even start their own religious denomination. Let's not play that game!

So again, "Will God forgive me my sins if I'm just sorry and tell Him in my heart I am sorry?" Do I need the Sacrament of Confession?

All I can tell you is what Jesus Himself said and did during a particular event after
He offered His life on the cross and rose from the dead. It is this event, rather than picking and choosing my own salad bar of Scripture verses, that was translated into the daily life of the Church for two thousand years and what we today call the Sacrament of Confession.  

After His resurrection from the dead, Christ gathered the apostles He had carefully pre-selected. He breathed the Holy Spirit into them, telling them "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them."

Christ gave His apostles the authority and permission to assure a sinner, in His Name (not in their own name), that their sins be declared officially and irrevocably forgiven by God. The apostles didn't then go round tapping unsuspecting people on the shoulder and telling them, to their surprise, "You know what? In the name of Jesus, whether you know who He is or not, your sins, whatever they are, they are  all now forgiven. Shazam!! Have a nice day!"

Instead, it's the other way around. If I myself am sorry that I have sinned against God in my thoughts, words or actions - secretly, personally or publicly- out of my love for God, even my fear of hell, I will want to "seek" forgiveness. But most importantly, in order to live with myself, I will seek also the assurance that my sin is truly forgiven.

I have no grounds to presuming God's forgiveness or wishing it into reality unless I know in my mind, in my heart and in my actions, that it has in fact happened (period).  

In my heart of hearts I want to hear, I want to own, I want to embrace that divine declaration of forgiveness that Jesus Himself gave to His apostles, to assure me a repentant sinner, that my sin is forgiven. For the sake of the sanity of my soul I want to hear those words, "I absolve you from your sins", spoken authoritatively in the Spirit of Jesus, be it in English, Spanish, Latin or Greek!

Oh, then you might say, “But, you don't need a ritual or a formal declaration for this”. Really? So, it's okay, for example, to live with my partner and do everything a true husband and wife do without an official declaration that I am indeed married? Or that I don't ever have to say to someone the ritual words of  "I love you", or the ritual of holding hands, giving a birthday card, a gift, a hug - that instead, it's only the thought that counts?

More times than not, that's just an excuse do things on our own terms without holding ourselves accountable. We therefore make it up as we go along.

For this reason Christ Himself, our Savior, knowing that we need the strength of His grace throughout our lives, instituted the visible sacraments - to save us from trying to save ourselves on our own terms. It's not just the thought that counts. It's also the action, the event. Our heart might be in the right place, but so must our head, our hands, our feet and - our whole body!

So let's look at the event of the Sacrament of Confession where the repentant sinner (that's you and me) can be truly assured of the forgiveness of our sins by one who has the authority of an apostle to make this declaration in the Spirit of the merciful Savior.

It begins with an Examination of Conscience:  A courageous, humble and unhurried reflection on my thoughts, words and actions in the light of God's truth. (I’ve written a guide at the end of this entry)

What actually is Sin: Thoughts, words or actions that damage or contradict the life of God in whose image and likeness we are made. Every sin, no matter how secret, throws our relationship with God, with ourselves, others and the world, off balance.

We use the word “Contrition”, rather than just being sorry. In the pure light of God's love and truth, contrition is the sorrow one experiences, the regret one has and the owning of responsibility of intentional thoughts, words and deeds that have been sinful.

Confessing one's sins begins with the humble and formal acknowledgement to God, through the healing agency of the Church of intentional sinful thoughts, words and deeds.

Receiving absolution: The personal assurance of God, communicated by Christ through His priesthood, that our sins have been completely forgiven by God. And my soul can be at peace!

Does it stop there, that’s it? No. Whereas God is now interested in our future, we often can’t always forget the sins we committed in the past. Their memory can sometimes haunt us in the present.  

That’s why we do Penance: It can help make right the consequences my past sins have had in my own life and in the lives of others. A penance can be initiated by purposeful prayer and deeds with the intention of trying to restore, in some measure, the harmony we had affected by our past sins.

An Overview of Entering the Sacrament of Confession

Confession is not an automatic car wash. At best, it's more like talking to your car’s mechanic. The mechanic is your Examination of Conscience (given below).

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of timely preparation for Confession. Don't leave it to the last minute and you’re breaking out into a cold sweat! Every night get into the habit of reviewing your day, thanking God for particular blessings that happened and asking forgiveness for sins of word, thought or deed.

Learn by heart a formal Prayer of Contrition and say it every night before closing your eyes. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses in particular circumstances of the day can help us avoid the occasions to sin again when facing similar circumstances in the future.

Remember to breathe!

Do and say the following when you enter the Sacrament.

A. Begin by blessing yourself out loud, "In the Name of the Father, etc."

B. Say, "Bless me Father for I have sinned.  It has been (so many weeks, months, years) since my last confession. And these are my sins"

C. Simply confess the sins, particularly grave sins.

Keep it simple

Confessing one's serious sins in Confession, is relatively simple. For example: "For the sin of X, two times". For the sin of Y, once. For the sin of Z, five times." You don't necessarily need to go into all the details or circumstances- you have already done that with God in your preparation. The priest doesn't need to know the whole story. If he needs clarification, he always knows to ask.

Be careful about using the word "because" after confessing a particular sin. It can be easy to blame someone or something else for our own actions. Allow others to confess their own sins. You confess only yours!

Also, do not try to make yourself look good or even appear "humble" at the expense of someone else, regardless of their failings. It is easy to fall into the sin of pride. In other words, never bad mouth anyone in confession regardless of how bad they are or you think they are. Don't use confession to settle scores or to get things off your chest!

Confess actual sins, not disappointments, tendencies or struggles. There is a big difference between confessing sins and expressing personal disappointment at not keeping up to our own personal standards or expectations. Sin is "an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law." (CCC 1849). Keep that in mind.

Want some examples? The sin of pride, the sin of avarice (greed), the sin of envy,  the sin of wrath (destructive anger), the sin of lust, the sin of gluttony, and the sin of sloth (not using wholeheartedly your own particular God-given talents and abilities).

After confessing your sins, the priest might give some words of simple advice and ask you to say your Prayer of Contrition, during which he usually begins his Prayer of Absolution - the essential part of which is when he says "I absolve you from your sins, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." You respond "Amen".

The priest will ask you to accept a penance, usually it be an act of devotion or a particular deed.


Finally, pray for all your priests. Regardless who they are, God saves your soul through them. Remember that priests go to confession too. They have good days and bad days like you. So, be grateful that you only have to put up with one priest. Be mindful he has to put up with everyone! But God's grace triumphs despite us all.  

Thank God for that.



in preparation for Confession and for continual self knowledge and discipline
(can be simplified as needed)

Did I receive Holy Communion or other sacraments while ignoring my need to be repentant of my sins and seek the assurance of the forgiveness of God? 

Did I seriously seek to doubt my faith, or put myself in danger of losing it by viewing media hostile to my Christian faith or put myself under the influence of others who oppose the Church and her teachings? Did I engage in superstitious activities such as palm reading, fortune telling, horoscopes, trying to bribe God?

Did I utter the saving name of Jesus Christ without thought? Did I curse or take a false oath? Did I use impure language?

Did I miss Mass on a Sunday or a holy day of obligation through my own fault, without any serious reason? Did I accept penance willing, especially on the days when the whole Church does so?

Did I disobey my parents or lawful superiors in important matters?

Was I selfish in how I treated others, especially my spouse, my brothers and sisters, my relatives, or my friends? Did I hatefully, quarrel with anyone, or desire revenge? Did I refuse to forgive? I've I been instrumental in the physical or psychological injury of another? Did I get drunk or take illicit drugs? Did I consent to, advise, or actively take part in an abortion?

Did I intentionally seek to look at indecent pictures, go to pornographic websites or seek to be entertained by immoral movies or works? Did I engage in impure jokes or conversations? Did I 
intentionally entertain impure thoughts or feelings, either secretly or with others? Did I take contraceptive pills fearing motherhood or the gift of children, or use other unnatural means in order to prevent conception, not trusting in God's grace?

Did I steal or damage another's property or income? How much? Have I made reparation for the damages done? Have I been honest in my business relations?

Did I tell lies? Did I sin by slander? By detraction - telling unknown grave faults of others without necessity? Did I judge others rashly in serious matters? Have I tried to make restitution for any damage of reputation that I have caused?

(If you remember other serious sins besides those indi­cated here, include them also in your Confession.)

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