As we continue through the Lenten season, it is helpful to renew our focus on the call to conversion and upon the sacrament of continual conversion, namely, Confession. As the Catechism notes, the Church describes this sacrament in five ways; the sacrament of conversion, the sacrament of forgiveness, Confession, Penance, and Reconciliation; and each of those descriptions emphasizes an important aspect of this great gift. See Catechism 1423-34.
It is thus helpful to consider each of these as ways of understanding this celebration of God’s mercy. The first two descriptions focus upon our turning to God and the freedom He offers us. Conversion refers to turning away from the darkness and burden of sin into the light and freedom of the children of God. Conversion is certainly our action, but it begins with the grace and truth that God offers us and that we then respond to. See Catechism 1989.
And, when we convert from sins, we become open to the forgiveness, the freedom from sin that Jesus won for us. The question is not whether God will forgive sins; the question is our openness to that forgiveness, to that freedom. In the sacrament of Penance, we show the courage to be free children of the light. The three main names for this sacrament then reflect how we show the courage to be free. The term Confession indicates understanding and honesty, with ourselves, with the Church and with God, the courageous acknowledgement of the sins that hold us back. The alternative is an evasiveness, a vague uneasy feeling that enables sin to continue dominating our lives and our world.
Bringing the light to these sins is the first step in dissolving them and being clean and pure. And then there must be the struggle to overcome sins. And Penance is the term for that struggle, that sacrifice that unravels the bonds of sin and restores our lives and the world. In prayer, sacrifice and charitable works as well we unite our efforts with Christ to build that restoration. See Matthew 6:1-18; Tobit 12:8; Catechism 1434.
nd then, with that light and struggle, we come more and more into friendship with Jesus. Venial sins damage and lessen that friendship; mortal sins break it altogether. The name Reconciliation reflects how the grace of God and our cooperation restores friendship with Him and, by extension, with all of His people throughout space and time. It is certainly an obligation for Catholics to receive this sacrament at least once a year and if one has committed a mortal sin. And it is advised to confess about once a month. But, as with the Mass, it should not simply be an obligation but a celebration of the light, the freedom, the friendship that Christ offers us even on earth and one day beyond sin and death, in the realms of eternal love.