Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sacrament of Mercy, Part IV

Each Catholic priest and bishop, by virtue of Holy Orders, is the minister of the Sacrament of Penance. We again recall that Jesus gave this power to absolve from sins to his Apostles when He said: "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them...." (John 20:23). The bishops are the successors to the Apostles, and priests are their assistants. It is the bishop who commissions his priests to administer this sacrament.

Jesus said: "...there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance." (Luke 15:7) For this reason every bishop and priest is happy when he absolves a person. God is happy; his priest is happy. It is a major reason why God calls men to the priesthood. It is inextricably part of a priest’s life.

While a priest makes judgments regarding the nature of sins, whether they are serious or not, he does not judge the character of the person confessing. In fact, the priest admires each penitent. Why? Because he or she is doing the right thing. The person confesses, receives absolution and the grace of God which heals and makes him stronger. This sacrament increases grace in the soul of the penitent.

Priests do not get tired of the same old sins. Jesus said to forgive seven time seventy-seven times (Matthew 18:22). In the mentality of Our Lord’s day, seven was a perfect number. "Seven time seventy-seven times" is like saying an infinite number of times. Therefore, the confessor willingly hears and absolves the same sins he has heard countless times before.

A priest can hear confession anywhere although the usual place is in a church’s confessional. This underscores the seriousness of the matter of having sins absolved. As long as the person is sincere and there is a need for the absolution sins, the priest will hear the confession in the rectory, on the street, etc.

Finally, each priest is bound under very strict penalties to keep absolutely secret the sins he hears in the Sacrament of Penance. There have been cases in totalitarian countries where priests have been imprisoned because they would not reveal a person’s confessions. The seal of confession is so sacred that there can never be a reason to break it.

The Church wants to assure us that we should never be afraid or hesitant about making good confessions. The important thing is the health of one’s soul. What can be better than to be in the state of sanctifying grace? Then, we are joined with God in intimate friendship. Moreover, we are reconciled with the Church. This sacrament:

...has also a revitalizing effect on the life of the Church which suffered from the sin of one of her members. Re-established or strengthened in the communion of saints, the sinner is made stronger by the exchange of spiritual goods among all the living members of the Body of Christ, whether still on pilgrimage or already in the heavenly homeland... (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1469)

Next week will be the final part concerning Penance.

Father Stanley