It is fitting that the first precept, to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, should be listed first, as it is the most important. By it we, the Body of Christ, join together throughout the world rendering praise and thanks to God.
The second precept, though, is of particular value, because it prepares us to worthily fulfill the first. The second precept calls the faithful to “confess one’s sins, receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation at least once a year.” To some of us, this might be a surprise. If we are not in the habit of regularly confessing our sins and receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, it can be easy to let, not only months, but even years go by without experiencing the grace of this Sacrament.
That is, in part, why the church has created the precept. To remind us of the importance and the beauty of this Sacrament. In Baptism, we were washed completely of all our sins and filled with the Holy Spirit. Our soul becomes new, pristine. Shouldn’t this cleansing be something we desire on a regular basis? We wash our bodies daily to experience the cleansing effect of water; should we not also desire to experience the same cleansing of our soul?
Of course, we know that Baptism can only be received once, but that same cleansing, restorative grace we received in Baptism can be renewed through a different Sacrament; it is renewed through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Once again we are washed completely of all sin (small and great) and the Holy Spirit fills us more completely, as any barrier to his activity is removed from our soul.
This cleansing and restorative grace allows us to more worthily and completely worship God as we join together at Sunday Mass. Though the primary effect of Reconciliation is the forgiveness of sins (especially serious sins), its fruitfulness in our lives does not stop there. Indeed, the grace of the Sacrament of Reconciliation are manifold. Here I will only mention three of the additional fruits of the sacrament.
One of the greatest fruits of Reconciliation is the gift of peace. Virtually everyone approaches the sacrament of Reconciliation with a certain degree of anxiety. But, everyone who has worthily received the sacrament will tell you that, after experiencing absolution, they encountered an abiding sense of Christ’s peace.
Additionally, the sacrament certainly fosters the virtue of humility. No one, myself included, relishes the experience of sharing, not just our ‘accidents’ or ‘mistakes,’ but those evil things we knowingly and willfully chose. It requires a great deal of humility to openly and honestly reveal the ways in which we are not really “pretty good persons,” but are sinners in need of a savior.
Finally, another benefit of the sacrament is the way in which it challenges us out of complacency. In order to receive this sacrament well, we have to shake up our routine. We have to carve out an opportunity during the week to receive the sacrament. We must take sufficient time to thoroughly examine our lives. The very act of sharing our brokenness drives home the areas in which we must seek God’s help to grow. Occasionally, we might receive helpful advice from the priest confessor. Then, following the confession, we have a penance that is directed toward helping us grow in those areas in which we are weak. In all these ways, receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation helps to break us out of spiritual complacency and continue our soul’s journey with new vigor, until we finally attain the prize— life forever with Christ Jesus our Lord.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!