Teaching Our Faith – Sin, forgiveness and mercy

This series of teaching editorials will cover topics related to mercy as we celebrate the Jubilee Year of Mercy from December of 2015 to November of 2016.

henriksen-2015-fEveryone sins.

Everyone needs forgiveness.

And, our ever merciful and loving God is always ready to heal us of our sins.

In our contemporary culture, it often seems as if we have psychoanalyzed the idea of sin. No one sins anymore; they only engage in maladaptive behavior! We have “issues,” “stuff” and “errors in judgment” — although all three often lead to sin.

Let’s agree that sin is real and present for everyone, rather than treating the tendency to sin (concupiscence, to use a fancy theological word) as a disorder or a condition requiring medical treatment.

It has been said that we entertain sin as if it were an unwelcome guest at a party. And, indeed, indulging in online pornography, nurturing bad habits, as well as overlooking or ignoring the effects of our actions on others can lead us to host sin in our hearts and minds.

Recognizing our sinfulness does not require wearing sack cloth with ashes on our foreheads. It does, however, require us to be mindful of our weaknesses, proclivities and tendencies.

The church offers a special way of clearing out the clutter which can erode our souls: the sacrament of reconciliation (also known as penance or confession). Yes, my friends, this unique opportunity to experience God’s mercy and grace is still available at a parish near you.

And while the format and style of the sacrament might have changed a bit over the past several decades, celebrating reconciliation offers a tangible opportunity for (be)coming clean of sin-filled rubbish.

The sacrament consists of four parts:

  • The first is a “getting-to-know you” step. The priest will greet you, the penitent in church lingo, and you in turn may tell him a bit about yourself (most generally an indication of the last time you celebrated the sacrament).
  • The second part can be a bit more daunting: discussing the sins you have committed with the priest. Believe me, priests have heard it all from A to Z, or adultery to xenophobia. Considering the frequency, as well as severity, of the sin(s) committed is important. Is the sin in question one that occurs hourly, daily or weekly? Is the sin committed with your full knowledge and consent? Does it involve a serious matter (failing to wash the dishes is far different from taking a human life, for example)?
  • The third part is an Act of Contrition. To be contrite means to express remorse or regret. The church has prayers (even handy cards and pamphlets) offering suggestions on the words to use. The most important thing is to speak from your heart, acknowledging your sins and committing to sin no more.
  •  Finally, the priest will offer absolution or forgiveness. Pay special attention to the Prayer of Absolution, which states, “Through the ministry of the church, may God grant you pardon and peace, and I absolve you of all your sins in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

Notice the words, “may God grant you pardon and peace.” Our God seeks to be reconciled with us! He wants us to experience forgiveness! He is Mercy!
It is God’s mercy that we celebrate during this special jubilee year. This is a mercy without limits or preconditions … a mercy that heals us.

Mercy has been the hallmark of the pontificate of our Holy Father. Pope Francis tells us, “Mercy is the best thing that we can feel: It changes the world. A little mercy changes the world and makes it a bit less cold and more just” (Nov. 18, 2015 General Audience).

And in his proclamation for the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis stated, “Let us not forget that God pardons, and God pardons always. Let us never tire of asking for forgiveness” (March 17, 2013, Angelus address).

Yes, we sin.

Yes, we need forgiveness.

And let us never forget that God is always merciful!

The Rev. Steven D. Henriksen
Pastor of the Church of the Ascension.

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