All of us are touched in some way by the contagion of sin. It is an integral part of the truth about human beings. We are all sinners. "If we say, we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." (1 Jn 8:3). To those who wanted to stone to death the woman caught in adultery, Our Lord said, "Let him that is without sin cast the first stone". We are told that they all left, one by one (John 8:1-10).
To acknowledge that one is a sinner, capable of sinning and inclined to sin, is the essential first step in returning to God. David, having done what is evil in God's eyes, exclaims, "I know my transgression, and my sin is ever before me. Against you only have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight" (Ps. 50:3-4).
The prodigal son exclaims, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you" (Luke 15:18).
There cannot be conversion without acknowledgment of our own sin. There cannot be reconciliation without conversion. "For reconciliation with God, with oneself, and with others, implies overcoming that radical break which is sin. This is only achieved through the interior transformation or conversion which bears fruit in a person's life through acts of penance" (Reconciliation and Penance, 4).
Dear Brothers and Sisters, let us honestly recognise our sins and be reconciled to God, to the Church, and to our fellow men. We need to be sorry for our transgressions, to detest them, to make a complete turn and retrace our footsteps along the path that leads to the Father, our source and true centre. That is what the prodigal did. That is the purpose of Our Lord's coming to earth - to give a new orientation to humanity. In the words of an eminent writer: "The mystery of Redemption is the orientation of man and the universe, in Christ and by Christ, in the direction of man's final development, which is love." (Michel Quoist). This desire for a return to our true centre and source should be the mark of every Christian.
Only God pardons sins. God is love. In spite of our many transgressions He remains faithful in love. He is rich in mercy. He does not close His heart to any of His children. He does not distinguish between His children who love Him, and those who ignore Him. He makes the sun shine on the good and bad; sends his rain on the just and unjust. He waits for His sons and daughters to offer them His forgiveness, reconciliation, and love. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to be our peace and reconciliation, to free us from sin in all its forms (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1443). In Him, the Father reconciled man and the world to Himself.
My brothers and sisters, the sacraments of Penance and Eucharist are the precious gifts Our Lord gave us poor and weak creatures to purify and strengthen us on our way to the Father. We are in continual need of purification and reconciliation. Our Lord, who forgave the sins of the paralytic and restored him to bodily health, wished that His Church should continue His work of healing through the power of the Holy Spirit. The central mission of the Church is to heal and to reconcile. "Down through history in the constant practice of the Church, the ministry of reconciliation conferred through the sacraments of Baptism and Penance, has always been seen as an essential and highly esteemed pastoral duty of the priestly ministry, performed in obedience to the command of Jesus. "Through the centuries, the celebration of the sacrament of Penance has developed in different forms, but has always kept the same basic structure: it entails not only the action of the minister - only a Bishop or Priest who absolves, binds, and heals in the name of Christ - but also the action of the penitent: contrition, confession, satisfaction" (Reconciliation and Penance 4). The sinner returns to God by the mediation of the Church. Reconciliation is therefore a sacramental act entrusted to the Church.
The essential role of the Church is to lead people to penance and conversion - a true return to God. This commitment of the Church is more necessary today than at any other time, because contemporary man finds it extremely difficult to acknowledge his mistakes, to repent and change his way of life. Many Christians are living with a lax conscience and are accustomed to a way of life habitually estranged from delicate conscience. The restoration of a sense of sin, affirms the Pope, is the first step in overcoming the grave spiritual crisis of today. It is time to have a clear reminder of the principles of faith, the moral teachings of the Church about sins and their gravity. The distinctions between "mortal" and "venial" sin found in the Old and New Testaments are still valid. There every individual is urged by the voice of divine truth to examine his or her conscience, to recognise their sins, and be reconciled. The love and mercy of God for each of us are more powerful than our sins. In the Church and through the Church, we can have complete reconciliation with God.
Next: Our Reconciliation
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