reshaping his views, attitudes and entire being. It would appear impossible to undergo true repentance and conversion without both experiencing a desire for penance as well as manifesting visible signs of it.
Penance: When It Is Authentic And Effective
John Paul II explains in his apostolic exhortation Reconciliation and Penance that the "term and the very concept of penance are very complex." If penance is linked with the "metanoia (profound spiritual transformation) which the synoptics refer to, it means the inmost change of heart under the influence of the word of God and in the perspective of the kingdom.
"But penance also means changing one's life in harmony with the change of heart, and in this sense doing penance is completed by bringing forth fruits worthy of penance: It is one's whole existence that becomes penitential, that is to say, directed toward a continuous striving for what is better. But doing penance is something authentic and effective only if it is translated into deeds and acts of penance. In this sense penance means, in the Christian theological and spiritual vocabulary, asceticism, that is to say, the concrete daily effort of a person, supported by God's [grace], [to] lose his or her own life for Christ as the only means of gaining it; an effort to put off the old man and put on the new; an effort to overcome in oneself what is of the flesh in order that what is spiritual may prevail; a continual effort to rise from the things of here below to the things of above, where Christ is. Penance is therefore a conversion that passes from the heart to deeds and then to the Christian's whole life" (RAP, 4).
Advent: To Prepare And To Acknowledge
To cry out, "Come, Lord Jesus!" in sincerity from the depths of our being is made possible only by acknowledging the reality of who we are. It is therefore, at the same time, to exclaim, "I am a sinner: O God, my Savior, treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers." John Paul II explains that this acknowledgement is an essential first step in returning to the Father:
"To acknowledge one's sin, indeed -- penetrating still more deeply into the consideration of one's own personhood -- to recognize oneself as being a sinner, capable of sin and inclined to commit sin, is the essential first step in returning to God. . . . In effect, to become reconciled with God presupposes and includes detaching oneself consciously and with determination from the sin into which one has fallen. It presupposes and includes, therefore, doing penance in the fullest sense of the term: repenting, showing this repentance, adopting a real attitude of repentance -- which is the attitude of the person who starts out on the road of return to the Father" (RAP, 13).
The Desire To Obtain Forgiveness: Conviction And The Sacrament Of Penance
We read of determined conviction in the parable of the Lost Son: after coming to his senses, the son tells himself, "I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, 'Father, I have sinned . . .'" This is precisely what Catholics do in bringing themselves to the feet of Mercy in the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, as they contritely confess their sins to Christ through his ordained minister, the Catholic priest. Penitent Christians therefore "get up," they "go to" Christ, saying, "I confess to almighty God . . ." (see Rite For Reconciliation Of Individual Penitents, No. 44).
For Christians the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation is necessary in order to lead a fruitful life of holiness in full communion with Christ's Mystical Body, the Church: "Sin is before all else an offense against God, a rupture of communion with him. At the same time it damages communion with the Church. For this reason conversion entails both God's forgiveness and reconciliation with the Church, which are expressed and accomplished liturgically by the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation" (CCC No. 1440). John Paul II further explains that the sacrament of Penance is the primary way of obtaining forgiveness of grave sin:
"The first conviction is that for a Christian the sacrament of penance is the primary way of obtaining forgiveness and the remission of serious sin committed after baptism. Certainly the Savior and his salvific action are not so bound to a sacramental sign as to be unable in any period or area of the history of salvation to work outside and above the sacraments. But in the school of faith we learn that the same Savior desired and provided that the simple and precious sacraments of faith would ordinarily be the effective means through which his redemptive power passes and operates. It would therefore be foolish, as well as presumptuous, to wish arbitrarily to disregard the means of grace and salvation which the Lord has provided and, in the specific case, to claim to receive forgiveness while doing without the sacrament which was instituted by Christ precisely for forgiveness" (RAP, 31).
Utilizing the principle of Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi ("as we pray, so we believe"), let us this Advent, in ardent preparation, reflect on the following prayer taken from Chapter IV of the Rite of Penance and Reconciliation, for within it is contained the meaning of repentance, conversion, penance and renewal:
Father of mercy, like the prodigal son I return to you and say: "I have sinned against you and am no longer worthy to be called your son."
Christ Jesus, Savior of the world, I pray with the repentant thief to whom you promised paradise: "Lord, remember me in your kingdom."
Holy Spirit, fountain of love, I call on you with trust: "Purify my heart, and help me to walk as a child of the light."
F. K. Bartels is a Catholic writer who knows his Catholic faith is one of the greatest gifts a man could ever have. He is a contributing writer for Catholic Online. Visit him also at catholicpathways.com
- - -
Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: advent, penance and reconciliation, penitential, penitent, sacrament of penance, sacrament of confession
Rate This Article
Leave a Comment
More Christmas / Advent News
- A Layman's Plea for Tolerance of Catholics
- A Question For The Christmas Season: Do You Want To Become A Saint?
- Every Leader Supporting Abortion is Herod, Every Child Killed a Holy Innocent
- Feast of St. Stephen, Proto-Martyr, Calls us to Reflect on the Gift of Deacons
- Fr. Sly on the Feast of St John in the Octave of Christmas
- Welcoming the Birth of the Redeemer in the Womb: Jesus was an Embryonic Person
- Merry Christmas: Love is Born on Christmas Morn and the World is Born Anew
- Pope St Leo the Great: Christian, Remember Your Dignity
- Pope Benedict XVI: If God's Light is Extinguished, Man's Divine Dignity is also Extinguished
- Fr. Paul Schenck: Finding Living Faith on Catechetical Sunday
- The Movie Yellow: Incest as 'Normal' and Cassavates's Slides Into the World of Woes
- The Chicago School Teachers Strike Reveals the Need For School Choice
- The Sexual Barbarians and the Dissolution of Culture
- The Happy Priest Challenges Us to Ask: Who is Jesus to Me?
- Michael Coren on Canadian Public Schools: Teachers, leave those kids alone
- We Cannot Ignore Our Consciences: Cardinal Dolan On Religious Liberty
- In the Face of Danger, Successor of Peter Travels to Lebanon as a Messenger of Peace
- Reflections on the Dignity and Vocation of Women: Who or What?