The sacraments are the center and core of the life of the Catholic Church. They provide us with a point of encounter with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and give us the grace and strength to move forward more effectively as we endeavor to walk in his footsteps. I recently talked about the Sacrament of the Last Anointing. I referred to the fact that when it is carried out in a proper liturgical manner (although sometimes that is not possible) it is truly a beautiful experience. That thought, however, got me to realizing that there is a very real symbolic beauty to each of the sacraments and each of them conveys in a physical or outward way the reality that is at the core or heart of the sacrament.
Today I would like to talk about reconciliation. That is the proper name for the sacrament that over the years most of us have simply referred to it as confession. Reconciliation is a much better name because it talks about the very essence of what is happening when this sacrament is celebrated. The act of confessing our sins is an important part of reconciliation but it is actually not of the essence. The essence is in the sorrow in our hearts and that is the absolute condition for reconciliation to be received.
But let’s describe the scene and meditate on it for a while. An individual –man, woman, or young adult, becomes conscious that he or she has failed in one way or another in living out their Christian life. When they become conscious of that failure they have a sense of sorrow and repentance. All of us have experienced this and when we do we are conscious of the fact that in some sense this failure, this sin has separated us more or less from our relation to our Divine Lord and for the Christian community that he has established, the community of faith which is the Church.
When all of this occurs we bring ourselves to the priest who symbolizes the presence of the whole Christian community. Then, in a position of humility, whether kneeling or sitting, we admit our failure, express that sorrow and receive the forgiveness of Jesus Christ which passes through the instrumentality of the Church into our own individual lives. The result is reconciliation. Our failures have been set aside, the grace of Christ is within us and we are prepared to move forward in a determined manner to live better lives. I love the fact that as we leave the confessional, the point of reconciliation, the priest always says, “Please pray for me.” There is reality in action.