By Father Jacob Dankasa
Special to The Texas Catholic
Grace is defined as an unmerited favor we receive from God. It’s freely given through God’s benevolence, and God bestows His grace upon anyone He chooses. By our creation as God’s children, every human is potentially a recipient of God’s grace, especially those who draw closer to Him.
For us Catholics, one way to draw closer to God and receive His grace is through the sacrament of reconciliation, sometimes called the sacrament of confession or penance. The sacrament of reconciliation bestows the very important grace of forgiveness of sins, which reconciles us with God and places us back in our rightful positions as children of God, especially after we have committed a mortal sin. Each time we sin we alienate ourselves from the family of God, and when we commit a mortal sin we deprive ourselves of God’s grace. As a loving Father, God does not remove Himself from us but constantly draws closer to us, even in our sinful state, persuading us to return to Him. At that point the enemy, Satan, is also drawing closer to us, trying to be sure that we remain as distant from God as possible. Approaching the sacrament of reconciliation strengthens us to pull away from the Enemy and navigate our way back to God, whose hands remain wide open to receive us.
We must find a way to make the sacrament of reconciliation a life companion in our faith journey. It does not only make us feel good, but it opens the door to grace – the unmerited favor that restores us to our rightful place in God’s family despite our human weaknesses. Although we receive God’s gift of forgiveness in the sacrament of reconciliation, our confessions must be sincere and contrite for grace to abound. Before we approach the sacrament of confession we must have thought about our transgressions through an extensive examination of conscience, feel sorry for our sins, accept responsibility, and desire not to sin again. This is the contrition that a penitent needs to have as he or she approaches this sacrament. Without true contrition the sacrament of penance becomes a repetitive activity that has no value for the recipient.
The Catholic Church in its teachings encourages the faithful to utilize this sacrament as a free gift of God’s forgiving grace. Going to confession to receive absolution and forgiveness heals the soul of the penitent. In our Catholic teaching, anyone who is conscious of a mortal sin requires the sacrament of reconciliation before reception of the Holy Eucharist unless a grave reason prevents him from approaching this sacrament of confession. For a sin to be mortal, its subject matter must be grave (meaning that it’s an intrinsically evil and immoral act) and committed with full knowledge and complete consent. In a state of venial sin, however, a good act of contrition can be said before reception of Holy Communion.
But the sacrament of confession shouldn’t be used only as a preparation for receiving the Eucharist. The essence of the sacrament of penance is reconciliation with God and the resolve to live a holy life beyond the reception of Holy Communion. The main focus of confession is for the recipient to feel guilty for transgressions committed against God, to desire to be forgiven, and to intend not to sin again. When the reception of the Eucharist becomes the sole end of going to confession, these goals of the sacrament are lost. This misperception may lead the recipient to return easily to the same sin with the feeling that he or she can go to confession again before the next Sunday, and thus receive the Eucharist. The reception of the Eucharist is an important part of why we should go to confession, but it shouldn’t be the sole purpose. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1451) states that “among the penitent’s acts, contrition occupies first place. Contrition is sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again.”
The Church recommends that Catholics should approach the sacrament of reconciliation at least once a year. This does not prohibit frequent reception of the sacrament, especially when necessary, depending on one’s circumstances and, even more importantly, when one is conscious of mortal sin.
Our efforts to stay away from sin are also very important. As we seek the gratuitous mercy of God and are encouraged to approach the sacrament of penance, let us also make a renewed effort to avoid the occasions of sin that make us return to confession so often. Without the effort to avoid these sins, we may find ourselves abusing the sacrament of reconciliation — using it only as a pretext for remaining in our sinful ways.
Going to confession opens the door to grace and restores us to God through forgiveness of sin. I encourage you to see the sacrament of penance as a restoration. Let’s not hesitate or be afraid to approach this sacrament, even as we strive not to minimize or reduce its value to a mere routine practice that doesn’t lead to change and to becoming a better person.
The sacrament of reconciliation should lead to conversion.
Father Jacob Dankasa is the pastor of Holy Family of Nazareth Catholic Church in Irving.