Misericordia et Misera 8: Sacrament of Penance

john-8At the conclusion of the Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis issued an apostolic letter. Follow this link for the full document, Misericordia et Misera. In this section, we look at the Church’s sacramental practice of reconciliation:

8. The celebration of mercy takes place in a very particular way in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. Here we feel the embrace of the Father, who comes forth to meet us and grant us the grace of being once more his sons and daughters. We are sinners and we bear the burden of contradiction between what we wish to do and what we do in fact (cf. Rom 7:14-21). Yet grace always precedes us and takes on the face of the mercy that effects our reconciliation and pardon. God makes us understand his great love for us precisely when we recognize that we are sinners. Grace is stronger than sin: it overcomes resistance, because love conquers all (cf. 1 Cor 13:7).

This is an important unpacking of the experience in Penance. It does not depend on human initiative. When grace precedes the sacramental celebration, it suggests that the Holy Spirit is active in believers who bring their impulse of regret and contrition to the Lord. By the time a penitent and confessor begin praying, the sacrament has already begun.

Another way forgiveness begins is when we practice it ourselves, an imitation of Christ:

In the sacrament of Forgiveness God shows us the way to turn back to him and invites us to experience his closeness anew. This pardon can be obtained by beginning, first of all, to live in charity. The Apostle Peter tells us this when he writes that “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet 4:8). Only God forgives sins, but he asks that we be ready to forgive others even as he has forgiven us: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Mt 6:12). How sad it is when our hearts are closed and unable to forgive! Resentment, anger and revenge gain the upper hand, making our lives miserable and blocking a joyful commitment to mercy.

This is simple, basic, undeniable Gospel teaching. Comments?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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