The Sacrament of Forgiveness and Reconciliation is one of the Lord’s great gifts to us. It is a Sacrament of Resurrection by which the Risen Lord raises sinners from the death of sin and leads them forward on the path of holiness. It is a sacrament of liberation and healing, involving a deeply personal encounter with Christ the Reconciler through the priest in the community of the Church.
There is little doubt that Catholics in our country celebrate this sacrament much less frequently than was the custom in the past, but it is often celebrated today in a way which is more evidently a powerfully healing encounter with Christ the Good Shepherd. For many people, it is a sacrament of conversion, a vital part of our life-long journey from sin to holiness. For some, it is very much a sacrament of ‘return’ in which the Father welcomes back his prodigal sons and daughters with an embrace of love, replacing the cloak of holiness around them, putting a ring on their finger, and celebrating their return with joy.
This sacrament has many names: penance, confession, forgiveness. For all of us, whether our failings be great or small, it is a sacrament of reconciliation, making present the fruits of the great gift of Reconciliation between God and the world that Christ has achieved by his death and resurrection. Calling the sacrament ‘Reconciliation’ also reminds us that sin and holiness are never a private affair: sin impairs our relationship with others as well as with God; forgiveness reconciles us to one another as well as to the Lord.