Have you ever had that experience of walking away from the Sacrament of Reconciliation with an almost overwhelming sense of guilt? A sense of, “Do I really deserve to be forgiven?” Considering we are taught that those who believe in Christ commit a greater crime than those who wanted him crucified when we sin (CCC 598), this free flowing sense of guilt is almost to be expected. But such a feeling is misplaced and could only exist alongside an incomplete understanding of this great sacrament.
In order to understand this particular gift of reconciliation, we must first try to understand the effects of sin. In its most basic form, sin separates us from God, both physically and spiritually. In the case of mortal sin, “it results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace … it causes exclusion from Christ’s Kingdom and the eternal death of hell” (CCC 1861). You only need to interact with the world on a superficial level to see that sin “ makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence and injustice to reign among them.” Arguably the gravest consequences of sin lay in its proliferation: “Sin creates a proclivity to sin … [it] corrupts the concrete judgement of good and evil.” (CCC 1865). An often overlooked facet of sin, however, lies in the effect it has on the Body Of Christ: The Church.
Sin wounds the unity of the Body of Christ (CCC 817) and through our own individual actions we have the capability to directly wound The Church (CCC 1422). Have you ever considered that your sins could wound the entire Church? It’s one thing to acknowledge your actions have a direct effect on those near to you, but we are taught that our actions have a direct effect on the entire Body of Christ. Confessing your sins to a priest may seem the obvious way to reconcile yourself to God, and to remove the gulf of separation that prevents communion with God, but how could you possibly go about reconciling yourself to the entire Body of Christ? Is it even possible to heal a wound that you inflict on an organic entity consisting of millions of individual believers? The answer lies in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
“Reconciliation with the Church is inseparable from reconciliation with God.” (CCC 1445). Take a few moments to read this quotation again. When we are reconciled with God (through the Sacrament of Reconciliation), we are at that moment reconciled with the Church. Not just with our parish or with our local church community, but with the entire body of believers. A single individual is so intrinsically woven into the fabric of the Body of Christ, that when one approaches the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the entire Church prays for the sinner and does penance with him (CCC 1448). If this wasn’t enough (it should be), we as individuals, and the entire Church, actually walk away from the Sacrament in an inherently better state: reconciliation. We are spiritually made stronger by exchange of spiritual goods among all the living members of the Body Of Christ (CCC 1469).
We are brought back into communion with God and with the entire body of believers. All wounds are healed, and both the individual and the entire Church are made stronger as a result. We are “reconciled with all creation.” (CCC 1469). St Paul epitomized the above in his seemingly paradoxical statement to the Corinthians: “For whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
How could we ever walk away from this wondrous sacrament and feel anything other than “pardon and peace”? The Sacrament of Reconciliation is nothing other than a perfect expression of unadulterated love, and I pray that each one of us leaves our next confession with a desire to share this love with others.