The Sacrament of Reconciliation (Penance)

While reconciliation is what God does, receiving it and celebrating it are what we do. For Catholics, the sacrament of reconciliation is a most natural way to celebrate God’s reconciliation. We used to think of this sacrament as only about confession—it was like a dumping ground for our sins where we were forgiven and had to pay a toll. One of the great recoveries in our Christian history is the rediscovery of the meaning of this sacrament.


It is God who forgives sins. God forgives us the very moment we realize we need forgiveness, which itself comes through God’s grace. At that moment, we feel sorrow and a desire for forgiveness and healing, and we are reconciled with God. The reunion, the bond, the connection, and the joy are all there. Three more things remain: forgiveness and healing deep within our heart, celebration of that forgiveness, and participation in the healing process.


When I experience God’s forgiveness and love, I am touched deeply. Experiencing compassion, patience, understanding, and forgiveness is itself transforming. If I fail to appreciate what I have just received freely and undeservedly, then I will take it for granted and risk moving on without real healing.


We need to celebrate the reconciliation we have received. In the sacrament of reconciliation—individually or in common—we have the wonderful opportunity to ritualize that celebration. In the sacrament, our personal journey is joined with the mystery of God’s saving love, as seen in the Scriptures and in God’s desire to save us all. This is deeply personal. There, in ritual form, even if it is just us and the priest, we step forward and admit that we are sinners, express our sorrow, and name the places in our life where God is shining a light into what we have done and what we have failed to do. Then God’s forgiveness is proclaimed out loud for us to hear and rejoice in: “May God give you pardon and peace.”


Part of the sacrament of reconciliation is healing. Often that will simply be prayer. Often expressing our gratitude to God is one of the most important steps on the road to recovery from our independence from God. Sometimes, we will need to practice a therapy that is more carefully focused on making choices about what I can practice doing and what I can practice avoiding.

May our Lord grant us all the gift of reconciliation, and may we all receive it and celebrate it well in the holy days ahead.