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Penance: The Sacrament of New Beginnings
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that "Through the sacraments of Christian initiation, man receives the new life of Christ. Now we carry this life "in earthen vessels," and it remains "hidden with Christ in God." We are still in our "earthly tent," subject to suffering, illness, and death. This new life as a child of God can be weakened and even lost by sin".
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"The Lord Jesus Christ, physician of our souls and bodies, who forgave the sins of the paralytic and restored him to bodily health, has willed that his Church continue, in the power of the Holy Spirit, his work of healing and salvation, even among her own members. This is the purpose of the two sacraments of healing: the sacrament of Penance and the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick." (CCC #1420, 1421)
The sections which follow provide instruction on the origins, purpose, efficacy, and gift of this Sacrament, replete with references to the Bible, the Tradition of the Church and pastoral insights. Penance is a Sacrament of healing because it sets us free from the wounds of sin and makes us new, fresh. It is the continual invitation to begin again.
In the last chapter of his Autobiography, entitled "The Man with a Golden Key", GK Chesterton wrote: "When people ask me, or indeed anybody else, "Why did you join the Church of Rome?" - the first essential answer, if it is partly an elliptical answer, is, "To get rid of my sins."
He continues, "For there is no other religious system that does really profess to get rid of people's sins. It is confirmed by the logic - which to many seems startling - by which the Church deduces that sin confessed and adequately repented is actually abolished; and that the sinner does really begin again as if he had never sinned."
"When a Catholic comes from Confession, he does truly, by definition, step out again into that dawn of his own beginning and look with new eyes across the world to a Crystal Palace that is really of crystal. He believes that in that dim corner, and in that brief ritual, God has really remade him in His own image."
"He is now a new experiment of the Creator. He is as much a new experiment as he was when he was really only five years old. He stands, as I said, in the white light at the worthy beginning of the life of a man. The accumulations of time can no longer terrify. He may be grey and gouty; but he is only five minutes old."
How well I understand the insight expressed by this giant of our history. Chesterton was a convert to the Catholic Church. I am a â€˝revert", a term now often used to refer to people who returned, often on a circuitous route, to the Church into which we were Baptized.
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For me, this Sacrament of freedom, the Sacrament of Penance, was instrumental in my return to the Catholic Church as a very young man. As we approach the beginning of the 40 Days of penitence and conversion called Lent, we should take advantage of the opportunities we have to participate in this wonderful Sacrament of New Beginnings.
St. Josemaria Escriva, the wonderful saint who teaches us that living our ordinary life for the Lord makes it extraordinary, once wrote: "For a son of God each day should be an opportunity for renewal, knowing for sure that with the help of grace he will reach the end of the road, which is Love. That is why if you begin and begin again, you are doing well. If you have a will to win, if you struggle, then with God's help you will conquer. There will be no difficulty you cannot overcome.' (St. Jose Maria Escriva, The Forge, 344)
Penance, the Sacrament of New Beginnings, is an opportunity for all of us to begin again.