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 | By Father John G. McDonald

‘His mercy endures forever’

The Sacrament of Reconciliation

A Seven-Part Series on the Sacraments of the Catholic Church

Isolation is a terrible thing. It is used as one of the most cruel punishments, and we continue to see how shunning, excluding, and now “canceling” people effectively isolates them from others and is intended to inflict pain. Much isolation, however, is self-inflicted. Many people turn away from others, separate themselves from communities, and turn inwards. They think that, somehow, life will be easier that way — easier if they simply do not have to “deal” with anyone else. That isolation, that solitary confinement is the goal of the evil spirit. Just like any predator, he wants to separate one of the members from the flock, isolate him/her, and then go in for the kill.

In a wonderful way, the sacrament of reconciliation defeats the evil spirit because it strengthens the individual through the power of the “little flock.” The Book of Acts teaches us that in the midst of their fear and confusion, the newborn Church gathered together for strength. And so it is, when one member of the Body, one penitent, goes into the confessional to confess his/her sins to the Lord, the entire Body of Christ is healed and strengthened. That action which seems so individual is actually an action of the whole Church, “clasping a sinner to its bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification ...” (Lumen Gentium 8)

The individual penitent receives absolution, but every member of the Body of Christ is strengthened and made more whole.

In the movies, perhaps one of the most commonly depicted “Catholic” images is of someone going to confession. Almost always, the typical Hollywood scene is set in a dark church with flickering candles in the background and someone’s grandmother sitting alone in the church praying the rosary. The scene itself is often dark and complex, but seldom does Hollywood ever show the light and glory of Christ’s absolution. Even less do they show the exhilaration of emerging from the sacrament with new and renewed purpose to pursue holiness and charity as a member of Christ’s Mystical Body. It remains for each of us to present that image to the world.

Belonging to the Church certainly has its responsibilities, but more touching and moving are its glories. It is a glory and an honor to belong to something which so lovingly purifies its members and leads them on the right path. Often, at the end of the sacrament of reconciliation, one will hear the priest say, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.” Our confident response as penitents sums up our Savior’s faithfulness to the members of His flock: “His mercy endures forever.”

Father John G. McDonald is currently pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Anniston. He was principal and then president of John Carroll Catholic High School from 2008 to 2016, and he served as the Carl J. Peter Chair of Homiletics at the Pontifical North American College in Rome from 2016 to 2019.