As humans, we tend to categorize, confine, and neatly package our emotions, actions, and especially our religion. The above definition is a clear example of that. Reconciliation is so much more than humans can ever explain. Its power goes beyond what humans will ever understand, no matter how many labels are created. Reconciliation is representative of relationship, is present in every sacrament, and has the power to free society from the pains of sin. The first part of reconciliation that is forgotten is the emphasis on relationship. The sin, which too often has been the focus of penitential rites, is first within the self. It is called the sacrament of Penance, since it makes real the Christian sinner s personal steps of conversion, penance, and peace. A person must find the strength through God to come to terms with their sins. Only then will they be able to express their sorrow to others, specifically a priest. During the absolution, the person is now free to take action over their sins. They complete the cycle of relationship by apologizing to the person they have wronged or they may give back to others in another way that is appropriate to the situation. It is called the sacrament of forgiveness, since by the priest s sacramental absolution God grants the person “pardon and peace.” It is called the sacrament of confession, since the disclosure or confession of sins to a priest is an essential element of this sacrament. In a profound sense it is also called “confession” acknowledgment and praise of the awesome power of God and of God s mercy toward sinful person. Those who approach the sacrament of Penance are reconciled with the Church which has been wounded by their sins, and which by charity, by example, and by prayers, works for their conversion. It is called the sacrament of conversion because it makes Jesus call to transformation immediately present, which is the first step in returning to a relationship with God. It is called the sacrament of Reconciliation, because it gives the person the love of God who reconciles. This last part of the cycle is the most important to me. This is the part that remembers and celebrates the relationship that was broken. This is the part that many Christians forget and it is the most crucial. If this action over sin is not taken, then the other two parts were in vain. This is the most rewarding part, but as Kathleen Hughes reminds us, many stay away from the sacrament because of bad childhood experiences and the overwhelmingly negative attitudes to confession that these occasionally humiliating or fearful experiences generated (120). The beautiful act had been given a name with extreme negative connotations: penance. The element of relationship was lost in its label, its definition.
As Megan McKenna states, Reconciliation in Greek literally means to walk together again (128). This perfectly describes the element of relationship that is so crucial to this sacrament, and for once does not limit the meaning of the action. Let us walk together in peace with ourselves, others, and ultimately, God. Reconciliation is unique because it is an integral part of every other sacrament. Baptism celebrates the washing away of original sin. The Eucharist makes it clear that reconciliation within Christian community is most deeply a matter of that group becoming truly the body of Christ (Cooke 218). Confirmation strengthens our power to forgive and also to take courage when faced with sin. Marriage commits two people to recognize, accept, and forgive the other person s faults in a most intimate way. Holy Orders enables the ordained to help others recognize and work through their sins. Finally, Anointing of the Sick heals us in both a spiritual and physical sense. In each case, reconciliation reaffirms the relational aspect of the sacrament. It binds us to each other and God in the image of the body of Christ. I find no other sacrament to have this universal power. And yet, our society still finds ourselves in pain. Discouraged with our lives, helpless in our relationships with family and friends, and torn from our God, we commit the deepest and most terrible sins. We hurt ourselves, others, and especially God. The relationships have faded; we are no longer walking together. Sin isolates us from each other. Other sacraments are void of forgiveness, and reconciliation is all but forgotten. When we are wronged, our first reaction is revenge, not love. When we wrong others, we seek to justify our actions instead of taking responsibility for them. We have forgotten that forgiveness is far more powerful than hateful actions. We have limited our idea of reconciliation and glorified our ideas of violence, anger, revenge, and ultimately, sin.
Certainly we can always turn to God the moment we are conscious of sin, and ask forgiveness. And we should; God will give us grace. But it is not always that easy to repent sincerely, especially in an age with such glorification of sin. It is very easy to say, “God, I’m sorry,” without really changing our attitude. And although confession is not a sure guarantee of sincerity, the fact of having to admit our sins to another human being is what makes this sacrament important and reinstates the value of relationship. At the same time, our society makes it difficult to recognize God s healing power, especially for sins of which we are very ashamed. Our hearts receive a powerful reassurance when one authorized to speak for Christ declares, “God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the world to Himself. He has sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of our sins. Through the ministries of the Church, I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Why isn t that in the dictionary?