I had planned on writing on the Eucharist (or Holy Communion) next, but my nephew, Kenneth Beckman, posted a quote from the book “7 Secrets of the Eucharist” by Vinny Flynn that got me thinking about the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The quote, as posted on Ken’s Facebook page:
The sacrament of reconciliation: "there our misery meets His mercy, and we are restored to grace, so that we can now more worthily enter into Communion with Him through the Eucharist."
In this quote, the word “misery” caught my eye and sparked my thinking. If we approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation in a state of misery, then we might as well be wearing hair shirts and flagellate ourselves on the way into the confessional, that we might thereby best acknowledge our sinfulness and the breach we have caused in our relationship with God. Should we be miserable as we come to terms with our sinfulness and what hurt that causes in our relationship with God? I think so. Misery is an appropriate reaction to that realization and self-acknowledgment. If we stay in an attitude of misery once we attain that self-knowledge, then I think we short-change both God’s mercy and our own role in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
To Catholics, every Sacrament is or has an outward sign. Some are easy to recognize, e.g., the water of baptism and the bread and wine of Eucharist. The visible sign of God’s grace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the penitent. For the penitent to attempt to reflect God’s grace by reflecting an attitude of misery is certainly not what we, the people of God, would hope to see. Rather, the penitent is to adopt the attitude of the prodigal son, who, though very conscious of his sin and the consequences of that sin, nevertheless approached his father’s lands in an attitude of hope, even though he had no expectations of being offered anything more than a place as one of his father’s servants. He certainly had no expectation of the reception he did receive, but we do know what our Heavenly Father will do when we approach him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
He will forgive us. He will love us. He will embrace us and offer us His blessing. How can we maintain a state of misery when we know what will be the result of our reaching out with a firm purpose of amendment, seeking forgiveness and reconciliation with God? To do so would be to deny our knowledge of what will happen once we complete the act of Reconciliation. Should a state of misery precede our journey toward Reconciliation? I concede that’s a valid and licit state of mind, but one that should be but transitory. Let us approach our Father with all humility, and with full knowledge of our sinfulness, but also with the certain knowledge of His unending love and forgiveness and consign the hair shirts to the dustbin of a misguided past.