Friday, April 21, 2006

Back to Basics: Penance

Catholics believe that the Holy Mother Church gives birth in the Sacrament of Baptism, nourishes in the Holy Eucharist, helps Catholics grow in Confirmation, and heals in the Sacrament of Penance.

Medicine and therapy can heal a wounded body, but Catholics believe that only God's grace can heal a wounded soul. That's why Jesus left the Sacrament of Penance to heal our spiritual wounds, which we call sin.

Often, people think of sin only as breaking God's laws. Sure, stealing, lying, and murdering break some of the Ten Commandments and are considered sinful. But Catholics believe that God said, "Thou shalt not," because he knew these sinful actions would wound spiritually.

Catholics think of sin like a bacteria or virus to the soul. When a person lies, cheats, steals, or murders, it's like being infected with millions of deadly germs. The longer the infection is left untreated, the more it spreads and worsens. It wounds and can even kill the life of grace that enables entry into heaven.

Just as tumors are benign or malignant, Catholics believe that sins are venial or mortal. In other words, some sins aren't considered as serious as others and merely inflict a slight wound to the soul, but others are so intrinsically evil that they're considered deadly. They're called mortal sins, because they can kill grace.

The Sacrament of Penance (also known as the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession) is for spiritual healing. According to the Gospels, after the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to the apostles, breathed on them, and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; whose sins you shall retain, they are retained," (John 20:22-23).

Because Jesus gave the apostles the power to forgive sins, he must have wanted them to use it. So the Sacrament of Penance has been the very will of Christ from day one.
Catholicism for Dummies by John Trigilio
This was really brought home to me the last time I went to Confession. The priest was giving me several steps to do ... he kept repeating, "to heal your wounded soul." I realized that I had been thinking in terms of having broken a rule but not of the consequence to me. It was very soothing to think of my "wounded soul" being restored.


  1. I can attest to the absolute peace after "confession" and absolution. However, isn't there reparation if mortal sins were confessed though forgiven? There's purgatory before Paradise; but reparation would take care of some of that, right? I realize my thinking is in terms of a ledger, but that's how I'm thinking. Help! And THANKS.

  2. Interesting question and I hadn't thought of it that way. Here's what the Catechism says, which I liked in terms of the complete summing up. :-)
    1496 The spiritual effects of the sacrament of Penance are:
    - reconciliation with God by which the penitent recovers grace;
    - reconciliation with the Church;
    - remission of the eternal punishment incurred by mortal sins;
    - remission, at least in part, of temporal punishments resulting from sin;
    - peace and serenity of conscience, and spiritual consolation;
    - an increase of spiritual strength for the Christian battle.

  3. Thanks for your response, Julie. I do understand being freed of eternal punishment; it's the "...remission, at least in part, of temporal punishments..." that I am curious about. So, I think reparation needs to be done here or in the "here-after" before entering into Paradise.

  4. That is my take on it. In my extremely simplistic way of thinking: I've gotta replace the broken window after I apologize for it. Whether now or later, it's gotta be done or the apology means very little.