The Gift of Reconciliation
It is a common practice to perform an examination of conscience, often based on the Ten Commandments, in preparation for celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In preparation for our parish Advent Reconciliation night on Wednesday, December 18, at 7 p.m. in the Church, here are some other things to think about that can help you open your hearts and minds to this special gift.
- Focus on what’s most important
Many Catholics miss the real point of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It’s what Jesus does! The examination of conscience, sorrow for sin, telling the sins to the priest—these are all important. But you will have a more positive experience of the sacrament if your focus is on what Jesus does. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation Jesus announces to us, through the Church and its ministers, that our sins are forgiven and that we are loved by God. This is what Jesus does. This is his gift of reconciliation.
- Name it “Reconciliation”
Names are important. Your experience of the sacrament will be enriched if you name the sacrament—and think about it as—”Reconciliation.” “Confession” only names one part of the sacrament. The word reconciliation suggests the gift of God’s forgiveness and the removal of the barriers we place between ourselves, our community and our God. Reconciliation means the rebridging of the gap between God and us and between ourselves and others.
- Know what you want
There are many reasons why you might want to talk to a priest: You might want advice, counseling, moral guidance, help with your marriage, spiritual direction, or you might just want to talk to someone. However, none of these things is the principal focus of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The sacrament is the proclamation of reconciliation with God and with the Church. Many Catholics have become dissatisfied with “confession” because they wanted it to do something it was not intended to do.
- Talk about sin—not just “guilt”
Many of us learn as children that sin is “not keeping the rules” set down by the adults. As we grow and mature we gather more and more “should’s” and “ought’s.” Whenever we break one of these rules, intentionally or not, we feel guilty. Guilt is not the same as sin. For the mature Christian, sin is understood in relation to love. God has loved us
so much, and we have so often failed to return that love. Sin is the failure to respond to the love God has shown us in Christ Jesus.
- Examine your life in the light of the word of God
Formerly we came to church for confession knowing ahead of time what our sins were and what we were going to say. This might not always be such a good idea. It’s important to come with an open mind. Don’t decide on your sins until you participate in the celebration. Let the readings and the liturgical season, and the rite itself, help you to come to see what your sins are. During Advent, confess Advent sins (for example, how have I blocked the coming of God’s reign?); during Lent confess Lent sins (for example, how have I failed to live my baptismal promises?).
- Experience reconciliation in a variety of ways
The reconciliation found in the sacrament is improved when you experience reconciliation in various ways. Catholics report that the most common ways in which they experience reconciliation apart from the Sacrament of Reconciliation are: by receiving the Eucharist (84%), by personal prayer (78%), by making an act of contrition (64%), by talking with a friend (52%), by helping someone in need (45%) and by reading the Bible (45%) (Reflections on the Sacrament of Penance in Catholic Life Today).
- Be open to receiving a gift
Peace is the “gift” of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This is why we can speak of celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Too few people really hear what Jesus is doing for them. Too few people actually hear and experience “Go in peace, your sins are forgiven.” But those who do hear receive a gift. Why do we “go to confession”? To receive the gift of Reconciliation. The gift is offered to all of us. It’s there for the asking.
– Adapted from “Ten Tips for Better Confessions—The Gift of Reconciliation” by Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M., S.T.D.