In Luke's Gospel (15:11-24) we read the story of the Prodigal Son who took his share of the family inheritance and wasted it on foolish things. When he realized how empty his life was and he remembered the goodness and the love of his father he decided to return home and ask to be reunited with his family. His father saw him coming and ran out to meet him with a big hug. Then his father threw a big party to celebrate the return of his son who was lost.
From this story we learn that God always forgives us and welcomes us back when we have turned our back on God. There is no sinful action that God will not forgive. When we sin we too can be reunite with God in the sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation.
The sacrament of penance is part of our faith life of continual conversion and transformation. We are continually called to pass from the old to the new, from self-centeredness to selflessness, from sin to greater intimacy with God.
In the process of conversion, celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation is a sharply focused expression of the needs of persons called to growth and renewal. Sin distances us from God and from each other. It distorts our vision. It makes us loose sight of our baptismal dignity. Serious sin cuts us off from the very place where we can experience the life of Christ—the Church. The sacrament of penance, then, becomes the way of renewing our baptismal dedication and dignity. It becomes the opportunity to restore baptismal innocence— an innocence that has been marred by sin.
What is Sin?
We are profoundly loved by God, a love that is unconditional. God has given us life, and, through baptism, called us into union with Christ and with each other.
Sin can be seen as a rejection of God's love, as a refusal of an opportunity to accept his love and pass it on to others. And while many people would make the claim that "they don't do anything wrong," think about the things we have done that fail to develop us as persons, that fail to assist others. the can be the cause of hurt or pain to ourselves or another. Many of our personal failings could be named "sin" because they stand in the way of our becoming all that God has called us to be.
Sin is often referred to as a disorder or sickness. There are occasions when we are seriously ill, and other times when we have a cold. So, too, sin can be serious (mortal) or less threatening (venial). The connection between health and holiness and wholeness is helpful in discovering sin in my life. Where are those places, those areas, those situations that "simply do not feel right?" Where are those places where I could have done something, but choose to do nothing?
Sin is a personal act, in that it affects the individual person created in the image and likeness of God. Our participation is collective wrong doing gives rise to "social sin" —sin that gives rise to social situation and institutions contrary to the very nature of God.
How will I go about the business of healing and wholeness. Our God's mercy is everlasting and knows no limits.
Conversion and Contrition
Conversion means a turning around, a changing direction, doing a complete reversal of a former way. It is the light of the glory of Christ that calls us to change our hearts, to radically conform our living to the life of Christ.
The most important act of the penitent in the celebration of the sacrament of penance is contrition, which is heartfelt sorrow and aversion for the sin committed, along with the intention of sinning no more. We can only approach the kingdom of Christ by metanoia, or conversion. This is a profound change of the whole person by which one begins to consider, judge, and arrange his or her life according to the holiness and the love of God, made manifest in Jesus Christ. The genuineness of penance depends on this heartfelt contrition. For conversion should affect a person from within so that it may progressively enlighten him or her and render the person more like Christ.
Our God is ever calling us into deeper union with him, a constant call to change our hearts and conform them to the very heart of God, who is love.
The sacrament of penance includes the confession of sins, which comes from true knowledge of self before God and from contrition for those sins. However, this inner examination of heart and the exterior accusation should be made in the light of God's mercy. Confession requires in the penitent the will to open his or her heart to the minister of God, and in the minister a spiritual judgment by which acting in the person of Christ, he pronounces the forgiveness of sins.
The conversion is completed by acts of penance or satisfaction for the sins committed, by amendment of conduct, and also by the reparation of injury. The kind and extent of the satisfaction should be suited to the personal condition of each penitent so that each one may restore the order which he or she disturbed through sin and through the corresponding remedy be cured of the sickness from which he or she suffered. Thus the penitent, forgetting the things which are past, again becomes part of the mystery of salvation and turns toward the future filled with hope.
Through the sign of absolution, God grants pardon to the sinner who in sacramental confession manifests a change of heart to the church's minister. In God's design the humanity and loving kindness of our Savior have visibly appeared to us, and God uses visible signs to give salvation and to renew the broken covenant.
In the sacrament of penance the Father receives the repentant son who comes back to him, Christ places the lost sheep on his shoulders and bring it back to the sheepfold, and the Holy Spirit sanctifies the temple of God again, living more fully within it. This is finally expressed in a renewed and more fervent sharing of the Lord's table, and there is great joy at the banquet of God's Church over the son or daughter who has returned form afar.