Reconciliation
Part 6 Theological and Pastoral Issues

Chapter 67 How to Teach about the Sacrament of Reconciliation

Preliminary Questions

Bibliography

Osborne on Reconciliation

A Parish Mission on Reconciliation

To Think About

The general information on teaching liturgy can be found in Chapter d38 Evangelization and Catechetics

Preliminary Questions

If you had to present this material to a group of catechumens, how would you go about it? What information would you select?

How does what you have learned during this course compare with the summary of the Church’s teaching on Reconciliation as given in the Catechism of the Catholic Church?

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Bibliography

"The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation," Catechism of the Catholic Church. Washington D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1994. nn 1422-1498. ISBN 1-55586-513-5.

Thomas Richstatter, "Liturgy and Life: Ten Things I Learned About The Mass," Catechist, 27:3 (November/December 1993), pp 42-47.

United States Catholic Conference. Guidelines for Doctrinally Sound Catechetical Materials. Washington, DC: Office for Publishing and Promotion Services USCC, publication No. 419-8. ISBN 1-55586-419-8

Thomas H. Groome. Christian Religious Education: Sharing our Story and Vision. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1980. ISBN 0-06-063494-4. $12.95.

Pierre Jounel. "La Liturgie dans le Catéchisme de l’Eglise Catholique," Notitiae 322 (Maio 1993:5) pp 265 - 284.

Michael Johcas. "The Sacraments of Healing in the Catechism of the Catholic Church." Modern Liturgy, Volume 22, Number 6 (October 1995), pp. 8-11.

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Osborne on Reconciliation

The following is reprinted under the "Fair Use Act."  It is presumed that each of the students reading the following have already purchased "A Companion to the New Catechism for Religious Educators" and therefore paid for the use of this copyrighted material.

The following is a summary of "Chapter 6: The Sacrament of Holy Reconciliation" of Sacramental Guidelines: A Companion to the New Catechism for Religious Educators, by Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M., (Paulist Press. 1995. $12.95 [Amazon.com – $10.36]), pp 90-108. Rev. Kenan Osborne is Professor of Systematic Theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley CA. In this book, Osborne sets out to help the catechist/preacher by listing the sacramental teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church according to the "hierarchy of truths" [e.g. Vatican II, Decree on Ecumenism, # 11: "...there exists an order or a ‘hierarchy’ of truths in Catholic doctrine, since their relationship to the fundamentals of Christian faith is diverse"].

A. Defined teaching

1. Reconciliation is a sacrament instituted by Christ. – Not defined: the integral relation between the sacraments of baptism and reconciliation; the precise historical moment when Jesus instituted this sacrament. 2. In the Church there is a power to forgive sins. – One of the most remarkable aspects we find in the lives of the saints is their personal expression of being sinful. – this teaching asks us to become more sensitive to the presence of a forgiving God throughout the entire fabric of church life... 3. An act of perfect contrition is the occasion when all serious sin is forgiven. Gaudium et Spes, #16: "Deep within one’s conscience, a person discovers a law which one has not laid on oneself, but which one must obey. Its voice, ever calling one to love and do what is good and to avoid evil, tells one inwardly at the right moment: do this, shun that. ... Conscience is a person’s most secret core and sanctuary. There one is alone with God, whose voice echoes in one’s depth. 4. Confession of one’s sins is a necessary part of reconciliation. – this means that "a sinner acknowledges that he or she is a sinner." There is no defined doctrine of faith that in the Roman Catholic Church that by divine law all serious sins must be confessed privately to a priest in species and number. This is church law only. 5. Acts of satisfaction are part of the process of reconciliation. – Trent is crystal-clear that there is an absolute gratuity to God’s grace. 6. All post-baptismal sins can be forgiven. – Evil is never greater than God. 7. The ordained priest through absolution is part of the process of reconciliation. – Priestly absolution as part of the process of reconciliation is a defined doctrine of the church; how priestly absolution fits into the reconciliation process has never been defined.

B. Teachings of the Ordinary Magisterium can be found in (for example)

1. The Rite of Penance.

2. Normae Pastorales Sacramentum Paenitentiae, Sacred Congregation of the Faith, 1972.

3. Letter of the Sacred Congregation of the Faith, to the bishops of the United States on pastoral norms for general absolution, January 14, 1977.

4. Sanctus Pontifex, joint declaration of the Sacred Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments and the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy which discusses first reconciliation prior to first eucharist

5. In quisbusdam Ecclesliae partibus, letter of the Sacred Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments and the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy clarifying Sanctus Pontifex.

6. Omnis utriusque of Lateran IV (annual confession)

7. Code of Canon Law.

A major norm was this: communal celebration of the sacraments is preferred to more private celebrations. This Conciliar norm, however, has been juxtaposed with almost opposing regulation by the ordinary magisterium which time and again stresses "private" confession.

C. Unresolved issues

1. General absolution. – "Even though the official ritual of the Roman Catholic Church has allowed a greater role for general absolution within the framework of church life, there remains a tendency on the part of current church leadership to restrict the use of general absolution.

a. debate over "case of necessity" – 30 days – one day – one minute?

b. when one validly receives general absolution, one has made an "integral confession." Since there cannot be a valid celebration of the sacrament that does not include "integral confession" the meaning of "integral confession" is not the same as "private confession of all serious sins to a priest in species and number." There is no agreement by theologians or by hierarchical leadership on the meaning of "integral."

c. the requirement to "confess" already forgiven serious sins to a priest in private confession is very difficult to substantiate...

2. Private confession to a priest.

a. The private confession of serious sins in species and number to a priest is not of divine law but only of church law.

b. Since perfect contrition by itself takes away all sin, what is the connection between perfect contrition and the absolution given by a priest?

3. The age for first reconciliation. – Lateran IV Council in 1215: A Roman Catholic, aware of serious sin, must confess to a priest if this is physically and morally possible. – There is no other time when a Roman Catholic, of any age, must confess to a priest. Consequently, on the one hand there is a rule that children must confess before first Eucharist and on the other hand there is neither a rule nor can there be such a rule.

4. The issue of frequent confession. – The primary task of the priest is to proclaim the gospel. Rite one takes about five minutes. Multiply by number of parishioners. Has hearing confessions replaced proclaiming the gospel?

5. Justification and the sacrament of reconciliation. – This is an enormously complex theological problem. Trent’s decree on justification made no effort to resolve this issue. How are we justified: Faith? Works?

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A Parish Mission on Reconciliation

Evening 1:  March 22, 2006 -- Reconciliation: A Style of Life -- St. Mary Catholic Church, Evansville IN

Lent
1. Old: Penance. New: Baptism
2. Baptism Old: water, baby, original sin. New: Paschal Victory.
3. Metanoia = Death to Life. Sarx to Pneuma. "Me first" to "Spirit-filled life of the Trinity"

Sin
1. Old: broke the law. New: failure to grow (think marriage)
2. Mortal Sin Old: 1) serious matter; 2) full knowledge; 3) full consent.
3. New: [think marriage] 1) little things mean a lot; 2) mostly unaware; 3) how free am I?
4. Story: Goldbrunner. Prodigal Son. Which boy had the more interesting stories? "You use even our failings as raw material for our holiness." (Opening Prayer)

Death
1. Old: Death is the end. New: Death is moving through to a new stage. – "Lord, for your faithful people life is
changed, not ended." (Preface, Christian Death I)
2. "Christ emptied himself, becoming obedient unto death on a cross"
3. What do we leave behind? resentments, prejudices, hatreds, grudges, vengeful memories.
4. Story: "You are the one who has been carrying her these past five miles."

Forgiveness
1. Progress in "forgiveness studies.
2. Maria Jaeger story. Susie (age 7) taken from tent.
3. Stages. Anger; hatred; (time); reframing; high road; forgiveness; (no reconciliation)
4. Take the high road; don’t let him continue hurting me; get on with other responsibilities.
5. We can control our thoughts. What do we keep thinking about?
6. Story: Navajo grandfather and the two wolves. Which one wins? The one I feed.
7. Reframing: look at the situation from a different perspective.
8. Story: Ralph and his GED. Dumb/Smart? All is GOD’S GIFT.

God
1. Story: "What is the most important thing about confession? What Jesus does!"
2. What has Jesus done? Paschal Victory. All sins have been forgiven.
3. Opening Reading: 2 Cor 5:17-21 "The old has passed away, everything has become new! God has
reconciled the world through Christ. God did not count our trespasses against us. And now, we are the Body of Christ and therefore, ministers of forgiveness, ambassadors of reconciliation."

Celebration
1. How do we celebrate this Wonder, this Forgiving God? Come next week.
2. Old: Confession. New: Reconciliation – And the following week we’ll do it: Celebrate Reconciliation.

Closing Prayer
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light
and where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand,
to be loved as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

 

 

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To Think About

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church find Five areas where the emphasis of the Catechism is the same as the emphasis in this course and find five areas where the emphasis of the Catechism is different from the emphasis in this course:

Have you learned anything new about teaching the sacrament of Reconciliation? Would you be able to critique a traditional presentation? Regarding the treatment of the sacrament, how does the Catechism of the Catholic Church differ from the Catechism of Trent? From the Baltimore Catechism? What do you think will be changed in the next Universal Catholic Catechism?

1. Outline a one hour presentation on the Reconciliation for a group of catechumens.

3. Read the appropriate sections in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Examine the sources (footnotes) of the presentation and answer the following four sets of questions in the light of your study of Reconciliation:

a. Scripture references:  What theology of reconciliation emerges from these sources? Which passages of Scripture are quoted? Is Scripture used to "prove" the text of the Catechism? Are the passages used in harmony with what you have learned of their meaning in your Scripture courses?

b. Citations from the Early Church Writings: What theology of reconciliation emerges from these sources? Are the sources used in harmony with the author’s meaning or are they cited to solve problems the author had not envisioned?

c. Citations from the Council of Trent and Canon Law: What theology of reconciliation emerges from these sources? Which liturgical and theological topics are most supported by these citations? Which sections of the Catechism uses these sources less frequently? Compare/contrast these sections of the Catechism with those which rely more heavily on the Second Vatican Council.

d. Citations from the Documents of the Second Vatican Council: What theology of reconciliation emerges from these sources? Which liturgical and theological topics are most supported by these citations? Which sections of the Catechism uses these sources less frequently? Compare/contrast these sections of the Catechism with those which rely more heavily on the Council of Trent. Is the emphasis in the quotation the same as in the original text?

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© Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made, to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 04/01/11 .  Your comments on this site are welcome at tomrichs@psci.net.

 

 

 

I confess...there have been changes under my iceberg!

Recently I read an article in a Catholic Newspaper, which as the title of the article suggests -- "Go to Confession This Lent" – wants to encourage Catholics to "go to confession."

The author points out that nobody seems to do this anymore – at least nearly nobody.

There was a time within the memory of a high percentage of our readers when such encouragement wasn’t necessary. Most Catholics went to confession at least once a month, many every two weeks. Today, according to the Center of Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, only 2 percent of Catholics in the United States avail themselves of the sacrament of reconciliation once a month or more. Seventy five percent say they go to confession less than once a year or never.

This should be our first clue that something is wrong here. In any other field--sales, for example– when 98% of your potential customers don’t want what you are selling, you’d say it is time to get out of the business! Sell something else! Here in the town where I live, the last of the video stores closed. People simply don’t rent video’s any more. There are so many other easier ways to get movies – Netflix, Red Box, etc. – the Video store simply couldn’t make it. [But no one is particularly sad. I have not read any articles "Rent a Video This Lent."]

Going to Confession / Celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation

First of all, I no longer "go to confession" nor do I encourage others to do so. I "celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation", and once you have experienced the sacrament celebrated well, there is no need to "encourage" you to do it again, it is something you eagerly look forward to! This change in verb is one (small) part of the change under my iceberg.

Catholics my age were never taught to associate the verb "celebrate" with the noun "sacrament". My catechism taught me that sacraments were "things" that the priest "administered" and that I "received". I received baptism, I received Holy Communion – which was separate from Mass

(and treated in a separate chapter by the catechism) – I went to Mass, or heard Mass, or attended Mass. I did not receive Mass (because Mass was not a sacrament). Like Mass, I "went to" Confession. The priest administered – and I received – absolution. In so far as confession was a sacrament at all, the sacrament part was simply the priest’s absolution formula – which I never heard because he said it at the same time I was saying the Act of Contrition. In the Roman Ritual that I received as an ordination gift (the book which contained all the prayers I needed to administer the sacraments) there was a chapter on each of the sacraments; but there was no chapter on the Sacrament of Penance. The formula for absolution was printed inside the front cover. That’s all the priest needed to know. Absolution and "the sacrament" were pretty much identical. The rest was "devotional" not a Sacrament.

As news began to come from Rome in the mid-1960s, I (a seminarian at the time) began to hear rumors that in the future sacraments would not be "administered" but "celebrated". I began to imagine what this might mean. I thought of ways in which one could celebrate the Eucharist, ways in which one could celebrate baptism, but I was stumped when it came to the Sacrament of Penance. How can one celebrate Confession?

My suspicion turned out to be correct. We cannot celebrate Confession. However we can, and must, celebrate a God who is all merciful and all loving. A God who simply (and literally) loves us to death. This is the intention of the current ritual (which you might not have experienced yet; it was only published in the USA in 1975 and changes in the Church don’t happen overnight).

How to encourage people "to go"?

One way, is to tell them that "they have to." Guilt works for some people (but apparently not for 98% of Catholics!) and the article I was reading quotes the law.

There is, of course, that precept of the Church that says that we must confess our serious sins at least once a year. The trouble is that many people seem to no longer believe that they have committed a serious sin. We have lost our sense of sin.

A couple of comments – actually 3 – one for each sentence.

What actually is the current law? What do we find in the Code of Canon Law ?

(Canon 960) Individual and integral confession and absolution constitute the only ordinary means by which a member of the faithful conscious of grave sin is reconciled with God and the Church. Only physical or moral impossibility excuses from confession of this type; in such a case reconciliation can be obtained by other means.

According to this law, Rite One and Rite Two are the "ordinary" forms for the sacrament currently for those in "grave" sin. Rite Three is excluded as an "ordinary" form by this canon. [Some read the canon incorrectly and understand that it refers only to Rite One.]

The law states that this individual and integral confession of sin is required only for 1) Catholics, who are 2) conscious of grave sin, and 3) who are not excused by physical impossibility or excused by 4) by moral impossibility. [Note that the Code speaks of "grave" sin. The Rite speaks of "serious" sin. Neither speaks of "mortal" sin.]

The article "Go to Confession..." speaks of "serious sins" and comments that: "The trouble is that many people seem to no longer believe that they have committed a serious sin." This is, of course, a judgement call; no one can say how many Catholics have committed a serious sin. In actual fact, the more accurate judgement call – judging from the number of Catholics sharing in the Eucharist (and judging from what I hear in the confessional) – would be that serious sin is very rare.

"Serious sin" is not something we fall into and fall out of repeatedly. If "serious sin" is a complete rupture from our acceptance of God’s love, it is sort of like divorce in a marriage. And divorce is not something you "commit" frequently. But I will "reframe" my judgment of the author of the article and simply admit that he probably has a very different understanding of "sin" than that I find in the New Testament.

But in actual fact, by the law, no one ever needs to confess "I missed my morning prayers," "I was angry with my husband," "I ate meat last Friday," "I missed Mass last Sunday because I was sick" etc. etc. etc. These might be things you would want to discuss with a spiritual director, but you never have to mention them by name and number in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. For most Catholics, a simple "I am sorry for my sins" or "I am a sinner" is all one need tell the priest in the sacrament. In fact, the very fact of coming is sufficient.

And even in the (rare?) case where there is serious sin, you do not need to confess it in contexts of physical or moral impossibility. Today, confessing to a priest is morally impossible for many Catholics because of their past history with the sacrament. In a parish with only one priest, someone who has to work with him day by day (e.g. the parish secretary, the director of religious education, the janitor, etc) might consider it morally impossible to confess to "their boss" because of how that would shape their day to day working relation. Moral impossibility is real, and covers many more circumstances than most people think.

"We have lost our sense of sin." I wonder what that means. And I wonder if it is a good thing or a bad thing.

"Humble Yourself Before the Lord...."

Sometimes when I hear some preachers and catechists use the word "humility" in relation to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I get in an easy feeling that something is not right under the iceberg (in the subconscious understanding of the word humility and its relation to reconciliation).

The dictionary describes humility simply as "the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people." If this is the case, no more humility is required of us when we are celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation than is required of us when we order a meal at a restaurant or cash a check at the bank. Reconciliation is not "an exercise in humility."

But I suspect that sometimes when I hear the word "humility" used in relation to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the speaker is thinking of the humility of a condemned prisoner standing before the judge as the judge pronounces sentence. "The court has found you guilty of public intoxication, aggravated assault, resisting arrest, and injury to a policeman. Therefore I sentence you to 10 years in prison." And the prisoner stands there, with his head bowed, in shame and guilt. I suspect this is the under the iceberg image that they have when using the word "humility".

The Humility of Being and Object of Love

If one is to speak of "humility" in relation to the Sacrament of Reconciliation it is more the humility of a man (the same example applies to the bride, simply change all the pronouns) – the humility of a man standing before the altar on his wedding day and looking into the eyes of his bride as he hears her tell him: "I love you more than any other man on the face of the earth. I will love you for ever, as long as I live. I will love you in good times and in bad times. I will love you when you are sick and when you are healthy. I will love you if you become rich or if you loose everything. No matter what you do, no matter how you treat me – no matter what! -- I will love you, and cherish you, hold you, and adored you above every other man on the face of the Earth for as long as I live. I give myself and all that I have totally to you!" And the groom standing there and hearing these words is overcome by the reality that although he is simply a man like other men (humility) this woman loves him – and he loves her -- as though they were unlike any other human beings on the face of the Earth!

That is the "humility" that we have when we celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Even though we are sinners like other men and women and we acknowledge that we are no better than anyone else in this regard (the dictionary describes humility simply as "the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people"), we stand at the altar and hear our beloved (God, in this case) tell us "I love you; I love you just as you are; I give myself totally to you. All that I have is yours. In the sacrament God says "I will love you in good times and in bad times. I will love you when you are sick and when you are healthy. I will love you if you are rich or if you are poor. I love you when you are sinning and when you are doing good. No matter what you do, no matter how you treat Me – no matter what!!! – I will love you, and cherish you; I will hold you to my breast as my own dear child."

It is This, this God, this Love, that we acknowledge and celebrate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is not a moment of standing condemned before the judge; it is a moment of being embraced by a Lover.

This configuration under the iceberg changes the way we catechize about the sacrament. No one "has to" being embraced by a lover, but once you have had the experience, it is something that you want to repeat, and repeat frequently, and look forward to eagerly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1215, the 4th Lateran Council stated, " Let everyone of the faithful of both sexes, after he has reached the age of discretion, devotedly confess in private all his sins at least once a year to his own priest. Let him strive to fulfill to the best of his ability [the] penance enjoined upon him."

The sacrament of penance and reconciliation has been around ever since Jesus said to the Apostles, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Who sins you forgive are forgiven them, and who sins you retain are retained. God has forgiven sins through priests ever since. The Didache, a first-century document sometimes called Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, taught those early Christians who assembled for the Eucharist. "First confess your sins, so that your sacrifice may be pure."

Most priests and bishops set a good example when it comes to confession. New York’s Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan recently wrote that on Saturdays he puts on street clothes and walks to one of New York’s churches to receive the Sacrament, his identity is unknown to the priest behind the grille. "In I go, contrite I am, forgiven I leave, gratefully I pray, renewed I walk back home," he wrote. We should do the same this lent.

 

 

"When you come to confession, to make a ritual proclamation of your sin, to symbolize that you know what you are, you are not coming in order to have your sins forgiven. You don’t come to confession in order to have your sins forgiven. You come to celebrate that your sins are forgiven. You come to put on the best robe and the ring on your finger and sandals on your feet, and to get drunk out of your mind, because your blindfold and blindness have gone, and you can see the love God has for you."

 

 

 

"Humble Yourself Before the Lord...."

Sometimes when I hear some preachers and catechists use the word "humility" in relation to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I get in an easy feeling that something is not right under the iceberg (in the subconscious understanding of the word humility and its relation to reconciliation).

The dictionary describes humility simply as "the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people." If this is the case, no more humility is required of us when we are celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation than is required of us when we order a meal at a restaurant or cash a check at the bank. Reconciliation is not "an exercise in humility."

But I suspect that sometimes when I hear the word "humility" used in relation to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the speaker is thinking of the humility of a condemned prisoner standing before the judge as the judge pronounces sentence. "The court has found you guilty of public intoxication, aggravated assault, resisting arrest, and injury to a policeman. Therefore I sentence you to 10 years in prison." And the prisoner stands there, with his head bowed, in shame and guilt. I suspect this is the under the iceberg image that they have when using the word "humility".

The Humility of Being and Object of Love

If one is to speak of "humility" in relation to the Sacrament of Reconciliation it is more the humility of a man (the same example applies to the bride, simply change all the pronouns) – the humility of a man standing before the altar on his wedding day and looking into the eyes of his bride as he hears her tell him: "I love you more than any other man on the face of the earth. I will love you for ever, as long as I live. I will love you in good times and in bad times. I will love you when you are sick and when you are healthy. I will love you if you become rich or if you loose everything. No matter what you do, no matter how you treat me – no matter what! -- I will love you, and cherish you, hold you, and adored you above every other man on the face of the Earth for as long as I live. I give myself and all that I have totally to you!" And the groom standing there and hearing these words is overcome by the reality that although he is simply a man like other men (humility) this woman loves him – and he loves her -- as though they were unlike any other human beings on the face of the Earth!

That is the "humility" that we have when we celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Even though we are sinners like other men and women and we acknowledge that we are no better than anyone else in this regard (the dictionary describes humility simply as "the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people"), we stand at the altar and hear our beloved (God, in this case) tell us "I love you; I love you just as you are; I give myself totally to you. All that I have is yours. In the sacrament God says "I will love you in good times and in bad times. I will love you when you are sick and when you are healthy. I will love you if you are rich or if you are poor. I love you when you are sinning and when you are doing good. No matter what you do, no matter how you treat Me – no matter what!!! – I will love you, and cherish you; I will hold you to my breast as my own dear child."

It is This, this God, this Love, that we acknowledge and celebrate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is not a moment of standing condemned before the judge; it is a moment of being embraced by a Lover.

This configuration under the iceberg changes the way we catechize about the sacrament. No one "has to" being embraced by a lover, but once you have had the experience, it is something that you want to repeat, and repeat frequently, and look forward to eagerly.

 

****

 

It is very odd that people should think that when we do good God will reward us and when we do evil God will punish us. I mean that it is very that Christians should think that God deals out to us what we deserve.

It is not, I suppose, odd that other people [i.e. non–Christians] should [think that God deals out to us what we deserve]; I suppose it is the commonest way of thinking of God, for God tends to be just a great projection into the sky of our moral feelings, especially our guilt feelings. But I don’t believe in God if the that is what God is, and it is very odd that many Christians should [believe in that kind of a God], since there is so much in the Gospels to tell us differently. You could say that the main theme of the preaching of Jesus is that God isn’t like that at all. (p. 14)

[On the tenth anniversary of the death of the great Dominical theologian Herbert McCabe, a section of his book Faith Within Reason (Continuum Press, 2007. ISBN 0 8264 9547 8) was reprinted in The Tablet, March 5, 2011, pp 14-15, in an article entitled "Self-confessed Sinners." In the article McCabe explains that if a person is conscious that he or she has sinned, this in itself constitutes contrition and forgiveness.]

One of the effects of sin is that it changes our perception of God form a lover to a judge. "Sin is something that changes God into a projection of our guilt, so that we don’t see the real God at all; all we see is some kind of judge. God (the whole meaning and purpose and point of our existence) has become a condemnation of us. God has been turned into Satan, the accuser of man, the paymaster, the one who weighs our deeds and condemns us. (p. 14)

Sin matters enormously to us if we are sinners; it doesn’t matter at all to God. In a fairly literal sense God doesn’t give a damn about our sin. It is we who give the damns. We damn ourselves because we would rather justify and excuse ourselves, and look on our self-flattering images of ourselves, rather than be taken out of ourselves by the infinite love of God. (p. 14)

 

Never be deluded into thinking that if you have contrition, if you are sorry for your sins, God will come and forgive you - that he will be touched by your appeal, change his mind about you and forgive you. Not a bit of it. God never changes his mind about you. What he does again and again is change your mind about him. That is why you are sorry. That is what your forgiveness is. You are not forgiven because you confess your sin. You confess your sin, recognize yourself for what you are, because you are forgiven.

 

 

"When you come to confession, to make a ritual proclamation of your sin, to symbolize that you know what you are, you are not coming in order to have your sins forgiven. You don’t come to confession in order to have your sins forgiven. You come to celebrate that your sins are forgiven. You come to put on the best robe and the ring on your finger and sandals on your feet, and to get drunk out of your mind, because your blindfold and blindness have gone, and you can see the love God has for you."

 

To admit your sins is to proclaim your faith in God’s love for you personally. Telling your sins to the Church in the Sacrament of Confession is just a form of the Creed; you are saying, "I am really like this and all the same God loves me, God doesn’t care about my sins, he cares about me." God is just infinite, unconditional, unalterable, eternal love - and his love is for me and for all sinful people. That is the single statement that we make in the Creed.