Faith and the Sacrament of Reconciliation

By Guest Blogger Fr. Richard Schamber

The Theocentricity of Reconciliation

Every Monday night I pray Psalm 86 before retiring to bed.  It is just one of the many psalms that I pray in the course of celebrating the Liturgy of the Hours.  I cannot begin to fathom how many times I have prayed this psalm and not noticed the particular emphasis the psalmist lays on who the Lord is.

In this prayer of supplication the psalmist does not allow his spiritual impoverishment to turn into lamentation and self-loathing.  Rather, through a profound act of faith, he permits his desperation to transform itself into the voice of hope: “O Lord, you are good and forgiving, full of love to all who call.  Give heed, O Lord, to my prayer and attend to the sound of my voice.”  He focuses his attention on the attributes of the Lord as his sole cause for hope.

All-About-God

I am firmly convinced that this theocentricity, this “God-centeredness,” experienced in Psalm 86 is likewise necessary for an adequate renewal of the sacrament of reconciliation.  Unless God, who is “good and forgiving,” is experienced as such in the sacrament of reconciliation, the penitent will only be rehearsing his impoverished state, and will likely avoid the sacrament and any amendment of life.  In other words, unless the penitent views the sacrament as a privileged place to encounter and experience anew the beauty of divine mercy he will never take it seriously; the darkness of the penitent’s own shadow will not be wholly dispersed.  If his faith is weak, so too will be the frequency with which he seeks out the sacrament.  But if his faith in the God of Jesus Christ burns brightly, the victory of Christ will shine forth.  Thus, the image of God the Father’s face is paramount for the effective renewal of the sacrament of reconciliation.

Reconciled Humanity

In the parable of the prodigal son, St. Luke narrates an image of God the Father that reconciles not only the individual but also the human family.  When the wayward son is reincorporated into the glory of the household, the father pleads with his oldest son to join in this work of reconciliation: “But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found” (Lk 15, 32).  If this image of God the Father is at work in the sacrament of reconciliation, then it follows that the visible members of the Church must likewise see themselves as laborers in kind.  Here we are confronted with the global sense of reconciliation

St. Paul understood his apostolic ministry in this vein (2 Cor 5, 20).  After admonishing the Corinthians he exhorted them thus: “Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Cor 13, 11b).  In this way they were not only to build one another up, but also to declare in deed the very mission and identity of the Church.

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