The Sacrament of Conversion
In what has become a tradition during Lent in our parishes in the Archdiocese of Washington, as well as in the neighboring Diocese of Arlington, Wednesday evenings are set aside for the Sacrament of Reconciliation with The Light is ON for You campaign. These special moments to receive God’s mercy are in addition to the usual times for Confession at our parishes.
Reconciliation is integral to the season of Lent during which the Church enters into a period of penance and renewal. These forty days are also the final period of instruction for our catechumens, those men, women and children who will be welcomed into full membership in our Church at the Easter Vigil, with the sacraments of initiation – Baptism, Confirmation and first Communion. Since the time of the earliest Christian communities, the catechumens were (and are) an important part of the celebration of Lent. They vividly dramatize in their conversion and baptism the meaning of dying and rising with Christ at Easter.
Also welcomed into the Church at the Easter Vigil are candidates who have already been validly baptized in a non-Catholic Christian faith community. For many of them, Lent is also the time in which they make their first Confession so as to be properly disposed in a state of grace to receive Confirmation and first Communion. Because baptism forgives all sins, catechumens will make their first Confession sometime after receiving that gateway sacrament.
As you can imagine, the first time going to Confession is a source of anxiety for some. In preparation for the sacrament, they ask questions like – “Do I have to confess all the sins I committed in my whole life?” “What if I confess something and then I commit the same sin again?” “How often should I go to Confession?” And quite practically, “Are there tissues in the confessional?” “What constitutes serious sin and should be confessed?” “What about those sins I seem to commit over and over again?”
Their questions reflect the concerns of many of us with regard to the sacrament. Confession is not easy for any of us. The feelings of these candidates and catechumens following their first Confession are a beautiful reminder of the grace of this sacrament.
When asked about their experience of their first Confession, many say things like – “I feel like I have set things right.” “I feel like I have a chance to start over.” “I didn’t expect that I could really feel like I have been forgiven.” All of these sentiments point to the grace in which we find new life in Christ.
For many coming into the Church, the celebration of this sacrament makes real for them the experience of conversion and the gift awaiting them in the celebration of all the other sacraments. The opportunity for regular confession is one of the things they are most looking forward to in being Catholic.
A sobering and sad fact of real life is that we all make mistakes. None of us is perfect. We do not always live as we should. Our Lord knows this and comes to us as a healer. Aware of our human frailty, Christ the divine physician of our souls and bodies, has willed that his Church continue the power of the Holy Spirit to bring about his work of healing and salvation.
It is this healing that we wish to offer in a special way through The Light is ON for You initiative. The joy of a person’s first experience of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the same joy for all of us who receive the sacrament. We are once more made new in Christ. We can set things right and resolve to address what it is that makes us fall repeatedly into the same pattern of sin. As Pope Francis says so beautifully, “The Lord never tires of forgiving” (Angelus, March 17, 2013).
The light is on in our churches on Wednesday evenings in Lent for you to visit and allow the Lord to heal you of all your sins for which you are truly sorry. With the help of his grace, may you commit to finding new patterns that keep you from recommitting those sins. To help you make your plan, parish Confession schedules may be found at thelightison.org.