Catholics learn from an early age the importance of the seven sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Holy Orders, Matrimony and Anointing of the Sick); we understand that they are rich symbols and more. That through our participation in them, we are permanently changed as we accept God’s grace in our lives.
Some we receive once, others we repeat. Many will participate regularly in the Eucharist as it becomes part of our routine; we go to Mass each Sunday and that offers us the chance to repeat. It’s easy. But is it too easy?
Penance, or Reconciliation, is something we have to go out of our way to do. And it’s hard… and awkward. Hard and awkward if we haven’t been in a while, that is.
Penance offers us a chance to have our sins absolved. It also helps us to confront those sins, to name them. Out loud. To another person. This is markedly different from the also important task of asking forgiveness in private prayer. It requires a certain level of responsibility, of needing to confront that in ourselves of which we are not proud and which needs to change. We are all sinners… but fortunate is the person who is willing to state aloud that fact, however embarrassing or awkward it may be. This is often the first step to forward progress… to declare clearly that you are stuck and need help.
Reconciliation also serves as a form of accountability. Older Catholics remember the comfort of anonymity, offering up sins in a darkened booth where you could not see the priest and he could not see you. Wisely, the Church changed the nature of Reconciliation to include the option of face-to-face Penance. This allows for relationship, interaction. To have a regular Confessor (the priest with whom you receive the sacrament) allows for an ongoing dialogue, which can be essential for overcoming sin.
Reconciliation has, unfortunately, become an out-of-sight-out-of-mind sacrament. Some participate in the sacrament once and in preparation for their first Eucharist and then never again. Sadly, they will never experience the considerable benefits associated with it.
Consider this forgotten sacrament. Consider that it can be transformative. It is gift and grace.