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 February 19, 2007VOL. 45, NO. 4Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column

Sacrament of Penance is indispensable for life of holiness

Dear Friends in Christ,

Already in my early years in grade school, I aspired to be a priest someday “when I grew up.” Of course, these were, like all such aspirations of the young, a mix of hero-worship, day-dreaming, and profound feelings welling up from the core of my heart.

And, like all such aspirations, mine led me to fantasize about the future, to picture myself as a priest. Almost always the pictures that came to mind were of my offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

This build-up of expectations underwent a significant change once I was ordained. Yes, I have always treasured the privilege of celebrating the Holy Eucharist; however, from the first days of my priesthood even until now, it is in hearing Confessions that I feel myself most caught up into the heart of my priestly identity.

Celebrating the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation is for me perhaps the most powerful experience of what it means to be a priest. Priests exist to reconcile sinners with God so that they may be happy with Him forever in heaven. That’s the very heart of the matter.

As we move into the 40 days of Lent, all of us need to consider once again the great gift that Christ has given us in the sacrament of Penance. Everybody needs healing in the multiple dimensions of life. In Penance and Reconciliation, Christ heals us at the most profound and significant dimension: He heals us of our sins.

Lent is a time for repentance to “turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel” (Ash Wednesday Liturgy, quoting Mk 1:15).

And so, Lent should be for all of us a time for a fervent and heartfelt Confession, made after an examination of conscience in which we look deeply into our own hearts to see where we need Christ to forgive our sins.

It is not, in fact, a strict law of the Church that every Catholic must go to Confession during Lent or he Easter Season; that law for the “Easter duty” specifically concerns receiving Holy Communion during those days.

However, it is very good for us to celebrate the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation as part of our Lenten preparation for the Easter feast. It’s so important that everybody should do it.

Christ died for sinners, to take away the sins of the world. At this season, when we commemorate his death and victory in the Resurrection, each of us should take hold anew of that forgiveness of sins for which the Lord shed his blood.

Our Lenten Confession in preparation for Easter is also an excellent occasion to see whether we are celebrating the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation frequently enough throughout the year. Many Catholics have gotten into the pattern of Confession only twice a year – before Christmas and Easter. Yes, the sacrament of Penance is a very important way to prepare for these great feasts, but we all need the grace of this sacrament more frequently.

Not so long ago, many Catholics went to Confession once a month. I believe that such frequency is still a commendable practice in the struggle to grow in that holiness to which all of Christ’s disciples are called. Becoming a saint, the Second Vatican Council reminds us, is the vocation of every Christian. This is a universal call to holiness.

Regular celebration of the sacrament of Penance is indispensable for answering that call. In this great sacrament, Christ acts specifically to free us from our sins and give us the strength and grace to put aside our faults and grow more like him day by day.

Please pray for me every day this Lent, and be assured that I am praying for you. Let us ask our merciful Father to increase the strength of His Son’s Spirit in us, so that we will together come to the Easter feast with hearts and minds made new.

P.S. I offer prayerful best wishes to all who are celebrating the Asian New Year in these days. May this be time of great joy in your homes.


Previous "In His Light" Columns by Bishop Allen H. Vigneron

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