It is the Holy Spirit who moves the follower of Christ who has sinned to come to the Sacrament of Penance. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, we seek deeper and deeper conversion to God. This process of conversion through the Sacrament of Reconciliation has four elements: contrition, confessions, penance and absolution.
In previous articles, I have examined contrition and confession. Now I would like to focus on the element of penance. Sin is destructive. It can harm self, others, the community and creation. When I was a child, the common act of penance the priest gave us was to pray three Hail Maries and one Our Father.
While prayer is always good, I often did not see the connection between what I confessed and the penance that was given. Today, the focus is on a penance that can really be a remedy for sin and a help to renewal of life.
Sin can easily become habit forming, even addictive.
A penance can help one break a bad habit by developing a good one. One can push against a sin by choosing to do the opposite. In suggesting a penance, I often give the opposite of a sin confessed. The penance can also help repair an injury sin has caused to another. Whereas sin is destructive, a penance can be constructive and bring healing to others harmed by one’s sin.
While the priest suggests the penance, the penitent has to agree to it. One can always ask for a different penance if the one suggested is impossible or too difficult to carry out. Sometimes the penitent even can suggest a penance they believe will be a true remedy for their sin.
This Advent, since we do not have permission to celebrate Reconciliation with a general absolution, we do have the opportunity to be more intentional in offering a penance that truly addresses the sins being confessed. The whole purpose of a penance is to bring healing. True conversion is completed by acts of penance.