For by grace you have been saved through faith,
and this is not from you; it is the gift of God;
it is not from works, so no one may boast.
For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works
that God has prepared in advance,
that we should live in them.
My Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
We are His handiwork . . . such words of beauty and joy and great responsibility. Throughout our observance of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving this Lenten season, we become more aware of these words and how our daily living proclaims Christ in every moment. Pope Francis said in his Lenten message, “But we can only bear witness to what we ourselves have experienced. Christians are those who let God clothe them with goodness and mercy, with Christ, so as to become, like Christ, servants of God and others. Lent is a favorable time for letting Christ serve us so that we in turn may become more like him.”
One opportunity in which to become more like Christ during this holy season is to participate in the Sacrament of Penance. We are earthen vessels and we do sin. Our transgressions draw us away from God and we become wounded. The Sacrament of Penance is one of healing; by our participation in the Sacrament, we are able to reconcile the distance between ourselves and God, to heal these wounds. We begin again with a renewed spirit to bear witness to Him in every way possible.
In the Apostle’s Creed, we declare, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” The Sacrament of Penance is one of forgiveness; by our participation, we ask for forgiveness from Jesus. Forgiveness is a gift of the Holy Spirit who fills us with the wellspring of mercy and of grace that flows unceasingly from the open heart of the Crucified and Risen Christ. When we are reconciled with God, we have a great desire to reconcile with those with whom we may have hurt by our actions against God’s love for us, those of anger, indifference, silence, disregard, gossip or other sins against the Ten Commandments.
The Sacrament of Penance is one of conversion because by our participation, it makes sacramentally present Jesus’ call to conversion, the first step in returning to God. How many of us have acted unkindly and in our recognition of our action find a peace in our acknowledgement and our desire to not repeat our action? Because we confess our wrongdoing to the priest, entrusted with the ministry of Christ, the Sacrament of Penance is also known as one of confession. We acknowledge and praise the holiness of God and His mercy toward us.
Pope Francis said, “That is why it is not enough to ask the Lord for forgiveness in one’s own mind and heart, but why instead it is necessary humbly and trustingly to confess one’s sins to a minister of the Church. In the celebration of this Sacrament, the priest represents not only God but also the whole community, who sees itself in the weakness of each of its members, who listens and is moved by his repentance, and who is reconciled with him, which cheers him up and accompanies him on the path of conversion and human and Christian growth.”
Our parishes may offer the Sacrament of Penance at different times, Monday through Friday and on Saturday, or by special request. During this Lenten season, we celebrate the Sacrament of Penance diocesan-wide on Monday of Holy Week, March 30, when each parish will offer the Sacrament of Penance on this day. We are a community of faith. We are given the opportunity to experience the gift of Christ’s healing, especially as we accompany Him on the Way of the Cross. Check with your individual parish to find out the times when you might avail yourself to the Sacrament of Penance.
During the Sacrament, we meet the Lord, who wants to grant forgiveness and the grace to live a renewed life in Him. He prepares us to receive Him free from serious sin, with a lively faith, earnest hope, and sacrificial love in the Eucharist. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, we seek forgiveness and repentance, let go of patterns of sin, grow in the life of virtue, and witness to a joyful conversion. As we are purified by the sacred Sacrament of Penance, may God lead us in sincerity of heart to attain the holy things to come.
Act of Contrition prayed during the Sacrament of Penance
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended You. I detest all my sins because of Your just punishments, but most of all because they offend You, my God, 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. Amen.