How to Prepare
“Your sins are forgiven you.” These word of Jesus lifted the hearts of those who heard them. Acting in Jesus’ name and on behalf of the Church community, the priest proclaims this same Good News to those who come to say , “I am sorry for my sins”.
Whatever damages or strains one’s relationship with God or neighbor, e.g., failure to pray, lying, stealing or other such actions that fail to promote Goodness, Order (right relationships) or Life are called sin. Conversion is the process of turning away from sin and asking God for the strength necessary to follow Christ as his faithful disciple, grateful steward and active evangelist or witness. Reconciliation comes about through the confessing of one’s sins and doing Penance. Penance in this context means doing some external act such as a prayer or good deed which symbolizes and begins the process of recommitted to following Christ.
Now God certainly forgives those who express sorrow for their sins. But how to be reconciled to the human community? The priest who is the visible representative of Christ and the official representative of the Church Community assures the penitent that his or her sins are forgiven. Confession frees the person from carrying the burden of sin and lets them know that they have been accepted in love by God and their neighbor. Thus freed they can move on with their life. The Church is not alone in requiring confession for serious sins. Every twelve step program knows the value of having a person share his or her greatest weakness and failure with another.
To properly celebrate the Sacrament of Penance a person needs to:
> Examine one’s external actions, the patterns one experiences in day to day life and what is happening in the depths of one’s heart.
> Express sorrow for what one has done or failed to do.
> Reaffirm one’s desire to live more fully as Christ taught.
> Confess one’s sins to the priest. We must name our serious sins. In naming our venial sins we do not simply mention a “laundry list” of what we have done or failed to do, but we strive to name what is causing the pattern of our sinful actions and what we are struggling with deep within our heart.
Venial sins (less serious sins) do not turn a person away from God or neighbor but weaken one’s ability to develop right relationships. By sincere prayer and by good actions a person heals and strengthens what was once weakened and damaged by venial sins.
While only serious sins need to be confessed, a person can grow in their relationship with God and others through regular confession of their venial sins. Doing so on a regular basis can help a person discern the underlying pattern of their struggle.
>Perform the Penance given by the priest. This is both a real and symbolic action which expresses our desire to live more fully as Christ taught.
Penance is sometimes called Confession or the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The Sacrament of Penance is sometimes referred to as a second baptism. Because it is a sacrament, the sins one mentions also signify all of one’s past sins. In confession Christ, represented by the priest, forgives not only what one mentions but all of one’s past sins. Having confidence in the Lord’s mercy can enable on let go of the past and live differently in the future. It is as if one were to walk with Moses through the Red Sea leaving behind the slavery of Egypt and entering into the freedom of the Promised Land.