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Why Go to Confession? (Part 3)

Pastoral Letter of Archbishop Bruno Forte

CHIETI, Italy, FEB. 22, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is the third part of a pastoral letter, written by Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, a member of the International Theological Commission, on the theme "Reconciliation and the Beauty of God."

Part 2 appeared Friday.

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5. Stages of the encounter with forgiveness

Precisely because it was desired by a profoundly "human" God, the encounter with mercy that Jesus offers us takes place in several stages, which respect the seasons of life and of the heart. At the beginning, is listening to the Good News, in which you hear the call of the Beloved: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel" (Mark 1:15).

Through this voice the Holy Spirit acts in you, giving you docility to consent and believe in the Truth. When you are docile to this voice and decide to respond with your whole heart to Him who calls you, you undertake the journey that takes you to the greatest gift, a gift that is so valuable that it leads Paul to say: "We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God!" (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Reconciliation is precisely the sacrament of the encounter with Christ who, through the ministry of the Church, comes to help the weakness of the one who has betrayed or rejected the Covenant with God; he reconciles him with the Father and with the Church, he re-creates him as [a] new creature in the strength of the Holy Spirit.

This sacrament is also called of penance, because in it is expressed man's conversion, the way of the heart that repents and comes to invoke the forgiveness of God.

The term confession -- used normally -- refers instead to the act of confessing one's faults to the priest but it also recalls the triple confession that must be made to live in fullness the celebration of the reconciliation: the confession of praise ("confessio laudis"), with which we remember the divine love that precedes and accompanies us, recognizing its signs in our lives and thus understanding better the gravity of our fault; the confession of sin, with which we present our humble and repentant heart to the Father, acknowledging our sins ("confessio peccati"); the confession of faith, finally, with which we open ourselves to forgiveness that liberates and saves, which is offered to us with the absolution ("confessio fidei").

In turn, the gestures and words in which we express the gift that we have received will acknowledge in life the wonders realized in us by the mercy of God.

6. Celebration of the encounter

In the history of the Church, penance has been lived in a great variety of ways, communal and individual, which nevertheless have maintained all the fundamental structure of the personal encounter between the repentant sinner and the living God, through the mediation of the ministry of the Bishop or the priest.

Through the words of the absolution, pronounced by a man who is a sinner who, however, has been chosen and consecrated for the ministry, it is Christ himself who receives the repentant sinner and reconciles him with the Father and in the gift of the Holy Spirit, renews him as living member of the Church.

Reconciled with God, we are received in the vivifying communion of the Trinity and receive in ourselves the new life of grace, the love that only God can infuse in our hearts: The sacrament of forgiveness thus renews our relationship with the Father, with the Son and with the Holy Spirit, in whose name we are given absolution from our faults.

As the parable of the Father and the two sons shows, the encounter of reconciliation culminates in a banquet of tasty dishes, in which one participates with a new robe, a ring and shoes on one's feet (cf. Luke 15:22f): images that express all the joy and beauty of the gift offered and received. Truly, to use the words of the Father in the parable, "let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found" (Luke 15:24).

7. Return to the Father's House

In relation to God the Father, penance presents itself as a "return home" (this is in fact the meaning of the word "teshuva" which the Hebrew uses to say "conversion"). Through becoming aware of your faults, you realize you are in exile, far from the homeland of love: You feel ill at ease, sorrow, because you understand that sin is a rupture of the Covenant with the Lord, a rejection of his love, it is "unloved love," and because of this is also source of alienation, because sin uproots us from our true dwelling, the Father's heart.

It is then that we need to remember the house in which we are awaited: Without this memory of love we would never have the necessary confidence and the hope to make the decision to return to God. With the humility of the one who knows he is not worthy of being called "son," we can decide to call at the door of the Father's house. What a surprise to realize he is at the window scrutinizing the horizon because he has been waiting for a long time for our return!

To our open hands, to the humble and repentant heart responds the free offer of forgiveness with which the Father reconciles us with himself, "converting us" in some way to ourselves: "While he was still at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him" (Luke 15:20). With extraordinary tenderness, God introduces us in a renewed way in the condition of sons, offered by the Covenant established in Jesus.

[To be continued]

_________________

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