Spirituality for Today – March 2011 – Volume 15, Issue 8

Editorial – A Lenten Sacrament

By Rev. Raymond Petrucci

Certain liturgical seasons tend to highlight particular sacraments. Lent bears an emphasis on self-examination, sacrifice, and an awareness of the suffering and death of Christ for our sins. Thus, the Sacrament of Reconciliation comes to the fore during this time of the year. Curiously, the fear and anxiety attached to celebrating the sacrament is akin to that over the recompense for sin itself. The agony of the penitent was expressed aptly by the closing lines of an old novelty comedy recording, Ajax Liquor Store: "Well, that's quite an order. [Cases of liquor] Are you having a party? What was that? [Reply of the already inebriated man on the telephone making the order] Are you having a party? [Reply] No, I'm just trying to work up the nerve to go to confession." Why does the cure cause as much consternation as the disease? In truthfulness, all, I would think, harbor a degree of dismay over confessing one's sins before a priest. Even in the anticipation of the joy of receiving forgiveness, for many, entering a penance room is a daunting task.

A photo of palms in the shape of a cross

Perhaps, there is a solid source of comfort and assurance to be found by the hesitant and shaky penitent. In his book, I Will Come Myself, Father Kevin Scallon, CM cites a sermon from one of our most outstanding popes:

For such is the power of great minds, such the lights of truly believing souls, that they put unhesitating faith in what is not seen with the bodily eye; they fix their desires on what is beyond sight. Such fidelity could never be born in our hearts, nor could anyone be justified by faith, if our salvation lay only in what is visible. And so our Redeemer's visible presence has passed into the sacraments. Our faith is nobler and stronger because sight has been replaced by a truth whose authority is accepted by believing hearts enlightened from on high. Throughout the world women no less then men, tender girls as well as boys, have given their life's blood in the struggle for this faith. It is a faith that has driven out devils, healed the sick and raised the dead.

- Pope St. Leo the Great

The pope's words, "...our Redeemer's visible presence has passed into the sacraments." are most telling. While so much of the Faith, in order to be faith, is shrouded in mystery and must remain far beyond human comprehension, people search for indicators of God's presence in daily life. We see the effect of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the words and actions of others that are based in the love of God. There are certain happenings in life that the individual determines to be the influence of God. Here, the words of Pope Leo the Great affirm the fact of the loving encounter of God with his people in the context of the sacraments. Referring once again to Fr. Scallon, he writes about the impact of Confession: "When I went to Fr. Hugh, I thought I was talking to Jesus Himself. I know now, of course, that I was talking to Jesus, who through the ministry of Fr. Hugh revealed Himself to me. It was one of the first experiences of grace that changed me. In Fr. Hugh, I had met Jesus – the forgiving, loving and merciful Christ. The priest had certainly acted in personal Christi." Fear not this Lenten sacrament.