The moment I mentioned that the doctrine of sin and reconciliation were the lessons for the week, my students did not miss a beat in their medley of expressions. Shock, horror, disbelief, relief, defiance, and the all too common, “oh no you don’t” were unleashed. As only a teacher can imagine, when the herd is tempted to deviate from the prescribed path many interesting things can happen especially when the topic of sin and confession are up for discussion.
If we are willing to recognize the nature of our own human condition, the last thing we want to admit is our sins let alone confess them to a Priest. The reaction of my students did not surprise me one bit because in an uncanny way, each student knew they would be placed in the uncomfortable position to address their own personal sins whether venial or mortal.
I detest my sins
The nature and identity of the sacrament of penance is predicated on its author Jesus Christ. This very important Divine characteristic is often overlooked because of the sacraments association with sin which tends to take precedent over its Divine author Jesus Christ. All seven sacraments are intimately united under Christ who is the author of the sacramental life. Christ unveils the sacramental life in order to guide us toward the Father. When the opportunity to sin was introduced to the world, its effects on man was to fracture and ultimately damage his relationship with God.
One particular student, upon hearing how the devil slowly and gradually attempts to separate you from God through a person’s act of the will to commit sin commented; if this is what truly happens when we sin then “I detest my sins.” This student was so moved when I presented the doctrine of redemptive suffering and how we are called to embrace the suffering Jesus endured in order to prepare us for our final state of rest in Heaven, he called his father that afternoon and urged him to go to confession. The father subsequently called me and said: “stop what you’re doing, my son will not stop hounding me to go to confession.” I simply said: “that’s great, it’s about time!”
How do I make amends?
Openness to the sacrament of penance is not solely confined to the confession of sins and absolution though these are the primary and efficacious signs of the sacrament. The journey to relieve oneself from the danger of sin and its effects first involves a humble admission that you and I are sinners and are in need of healing. Preparation and reception of the sacrament of penance involves detesting your own sin, confessing sin and submitting your sin to the authority of the Church, act of contrition-resolution to sin no more, and absolution-forgiveness for your sins:
God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son had reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church, I grant you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Once a person becomes aware of their gravity of the sins either venial or mortal, freely decides to seek penance for their sins and is repentant of these acts against God’s love, an intimate bond with God begins to develop one that can withstand the inclination to sin. When a person makes a firm purpose of amendment to sin no more, he declares that he loves Christ more than himself. This also means God’s love is more valuable than any act of self-gratification.
St. Augustine provides us with a clear and cogent insight into his metanoia toward Christ as he dismisses his previous way of life and seeks to make amends;
Is not Thy hand powerful, O God almighty, to heal all the diseases of my soul, and with more abundant grace quench the lascivious motions even of my sleep? Thou, O Lord, wilt more and more increase Thy gifts in me, that my soul may follow me to Thee, utterly freed from the hold of concupiscence: so, it may not be in revolt against itself, and even in dreams may not commit, much less consent to, such baseness of corruption, by means of sense images, unto pollution of the body . . . But now I confess to my good Lord what I still am, in this way of evil; rejoicing with trembling in what Thou hast given me and grieving that I am not yet made perfect, hoping that Thou wilt perfect They mercies in me unto the fullness of peace: the peace which my inward being and my outward shall have with Thee when death shall be swallowed up in victory.
St. Augustine’s firm purpose of amendment affirms several things; he admits that he is a sinner, his past offenses against God wounded his relationship with Him and blinded him from experiencing God’s love and mercy. He freely submits his will to the Father opening the spiritual door of healing and amending his relationship with God. He vows to avoid the near occasion of sin and not be in revolt against God’s love. He rejoices in God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ in the sacrament of confession.
The Catechism describes that the power of the sacrament of penance restores us to God’s grace and joins us with him in an intimate friendship. We experience a true spiritual resurrection, a restoration of the dignity and blessing of the life of the children of God. St. Paul reminds the people of Rome that as one man introduced sin into the world, another came to destroy sin and the works of the devil. An act of condemnation is destroyed by an act of righteousness. Thus, where sin abound, grace abounded the more.
All this leads to the importance of a firm purpose of amendment or the process of making amends for one’s sins. The act of amendment involves the persons detest of his own sins and becomes aware of the potential consequences of the loss of heaven. This is why the Act of Contrition is so important in rite of penance because as it said prior to reception of absolution the penitent openly and honestly declares his disgust for sin and the intention to sin no more and instead submit to the mercy of God and serve Him faithfully.
O my God I am heartfelt sorry for having offended thee. And I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell. But most of all because they offend you my Lord who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve with the help of your grace to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin.
The prophet Jeremiah provides context to the act of contrition and the importance of making amends to God for our sinful ways. It is important to recognize that an intimate relationship exists between the penitent as son and God as Father and the mercy showered by God to the penitent who makes amends for his sins;
Now therefore amend your ways, and your doings, and hearken to the voice of the Lord your God: and the Lord will repent him of the evil that he hath spoken against you.
St. Augustine, pray for us!