One challenging aspect of the pandemic that has afflicted the world in the past year and a half has been the curtailment of our Catholic sacraments. It has awakened many people to the value of practicing their faith and the reality of how much of our spiritual nourishment comes from the sacraments. So, as we try, in fits and starts, to get back to a semblance of normalcy and a regular practice of our faith, many Catholics are looking to immerse themselves more fully in the rich traditions we have available to us.
One of the most vital and life-affirming aspects of our tradition as Catholics is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The commission to forgive sins traces itself directly back to the person of Christ and the moment He visited the disciples after the Resurrection. He breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." (John 20:22-23).
In a recent video series for The Christophers, I was asked to address some of the complexities of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the hopes of helping people overcome common barriers that stand in the way of regular reception of this healing ritual. And I think some people might avoid Confession because they see it as an activity that promotes an attitude of guilt or self-loathing. On the flip side, others might find no point in going to Confession unless they have some long list of major sins. The key to understanding why both of these mindsets are flawed can be found when we ask: what is it we should be seeking to get out of the sacrament? What we are seeking, or what we should be seeking, is innocence.
In his book Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton wrote, "Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly"" In other words, the innocence of the angels is rooted in the fact that they have humility and are not weighed down by sin. This is the kind of lightness of spirit we should be seeking. It is the spirit of innocence that existed for humanity before the Fall, and it is the spirit Christ has made available for us again through His sacrifice on the cross. We are not expected to be racked by guilt over every minor fault we have, but we are expected to accept Christ's redemptive sacrifice with humility, to acknowledge we are not perfect, and that we need His saving grace to return to the lightness of spirit God intends for us all.
We might also ask: who are we trying to be, or what kinds of things are we called by God to do in this world? And the answers to such questions are so often found in how we treat others. Well, to be attentive to the needs of others, we need to be unburdened in our spiritual lives, and this is the great gift that Christ has given to the Church. He's given us a way back to the innocence that existed for humanity before the Fall. He's given us a way to unburden ourselves from the weight of sin through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And we should avail ourselves of this healing ritual on a regular basis so that we might become light in spirit, capable of looking outward from ourselves upon the world and applying all of our talents in service to God and others.
This essay is a recent "Light One Candle" column by Father Ed Dougherty, M.M., The Christophers' Board of Directors ; it is one of a series of weekly columns that deal with a variety of topics and current events.