The Sacrament of Reconciliation
By Father Frank Bartel
Most parishioners are unaware that in the late 90’s I celebrated mass and reconciliation at Cooper Creek Elementary School, the temporary place of worship for St. Thomas More Catholic church. In 2010, when I retired as pastor of St. Elizabeth’s in Sun City, Fr. Jim Turner was gracious and kind to invite me to return to part-time ministry here.
Like most priests, I have celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation not only at many different parishes and institutions but also under some extraordinary circumstances and in unusual places. However, it is in the Reconciliation room (Confessional) of a church building where priest most often meets penitents.
But wait! The Sacrament of Reconciliation begins long before a person steps into a room and says, “Bless me Father….” The Holy Spirit moves us to seek not only forgiveness but also reconciliation. It is the Holy Spirit that initiates the process and is with us throughout the experience and encounter. The spirit makes us temporarily uncomfortable before we are given comfort and peace. And Jesus is Waiting.
All the sacraments have a communal aspect and a personal dimension. The personal side of the Sacrament of Reconciliation can be deep, soul-searching and life changing. But we must be cautious of a “selfish peace,” that my sin is completely personal or private. Sin can be a blemish or a severe wound to the body of Christ (the Church) and even beyond. Restoring our right relationship with God can give us great peace and many blessings. But remember Jesus’ words, “If you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and first be reconciled with him.” Matthew 5: 23-24
As I mentioned before, Reconciliation begins before the approach to the Church but it also can and should continue long after we’ve said or done our penance. Stained or broken relationships with family, friends, parishioners etc., must be addressed and it can take time, much effort, and involve others. Every parish is a Ministry of Reconciliation. We are all sinners. So we are best qualified to help each other. St. Augustine of Hippo wrote: “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future. Praise God! We both young and old need to be reconcilers not revilers. Amen!
Allow me to focus now on two aspects of the process. To continue to have remorse and guilt even after we have been absolved is to separate ourselves from God and neighbor. Yes! And it is a waste of time. Actually, it is a big mistake. Healing is delayed and reconciliation is difficult and sometimes impossible. The same goes for the flip side of reconciliation withholding our forgiveness. We need to remember that even in serious sin(Mortal), we are never totally contaminated nor are we ever completely separated from God, “Nothing cam separate us from the love of God.” Romans 8:35 He is waiting and still loving.
Our God is the God of second chances, but we must not delay. The gospel demands and enables us to turn from sin, take up our cross, die to self and follow Jesus by God’s grace. And we are reconciled not just to be forgiven and give the gift of eternal life but we are reconciled to know God better and to be drawn into a personal loving relationship with Him (Communion).
God’s power and grace provides us with unlimited unforeseen resources to build up the kingdom of God. Love it the key. It turns the lock and swings open the Door of Mercy.
As a priest, I have never hesitated to respond to, ”Father, would hear my confession”. But let’s reflect on the words of absolution… they summarize the Sacrament and place it within the realm of the Paschal Mystery and the mission of the Church.
“God the Father of Mercy through the Passion and Death of your Son you have reconciled the world to yourself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. Through the ministry of the Church, may God grant you pardon and peace and I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” Amen
The Sacrament of Reconciliation ultimately takes place within the community of the Most Blessed Trinity of which we are still an unpolished reflection.
And so, it is.
Rev. Franklin L BartelOctober 19, 2017