Ave Maria Mediations
The Communion of Saints and the Sacrament of Penance:
In the Sacrament of Penance man is reconciled with God and with the Church. It is one of the most intimate and personal of human acts, and brings about many fundamental changes in the sanctuary of each man’s conscience. Yet at the same time this Sacrament also possesses a deep and inseparable social dimension and also brings about many changes in the family circle, the studies, the work, the friendly relationships etc., of the person who goes to Confession.
The greatest tragedy in any man’s life is sin, because the result of sin is a far-reaching disorder which starts in the very centre of his being and spreads outward to affect all those around him. In the Sacrament of Penance Our Lord sorts out all those misplaced elements; in addition to pardoning the sins, he restores to the soul its lost order and harmony.
A well-made confession brings much good to all those who live and work with us. What is more, it is of benefit to very many other people with whom we come into contact in the course of the day. The grace that we receive in this sacrament means that we say and do everything in a very different way.
Not only that, but when a Christian goes to Confession, the whole Church receives an incalculable benefit. Every time a priest pronounces the words of absolution, she rejoices and is mysteriously enriched, because every Confession, through the Communion of Saints, sends blessings which resound through the whole Mystical Body of Christ.
In the intimate life of the Church – whose cornerstone is Christ – every member supports all the others his good works and merits, and is at the same time supported by them. We all need to be, and in fact we all are, continually receiving a share of the spiritual benefits which are common to us all. Our own merits are helping our fellow men in every part of the world. In the same way sin, lukewarmness, venial sins and self -satisfied mediocrity weigh down every member of the pilgrim Church: If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
This is the other aspect of that solidarity which, on the religious level, is developed in the profound and magnificent mystery of the ‘Communion of Saints’, thanks to which it has been possible to say that ‘every soul that rises above itself raises up the world’. To this ‘law of ascent’ there unfortunately corresponds the ‘law of descent’. Consequently one can speak of a ‘communion of sin’, whereby a soul that lowers itself through sin drags down with itself the Church and, in some way, the whole world. In other words there is no sin, not even the most intimate and secret one, that exclusively concerns the person committing it. With greater or lesser violence, with greater or lesser harm, every sin has repercussions on the entire ecclesial body and on the whole human family. Whenever anybody makes a sincere and repentant Confession it is a moment of rejoicing not only for the penitent but for everybody.
The saints in Heaven, the holy souls in Purgatory, and the Church which is still on pilgrimage through this world rejoice together every time an absolution is given. To loosen the chains of sin is at the same time to tighten the bonds of brotherhood. Ought we not to go to this Sacrament more joyfully and more regularly when we know that by the very fact of making a good Confession we are helping so many other Christians, and especially those who are closest to us?
Let us ask God, in the words of the Church: Listen favorably, Lord, to our prayers and help us in our need. The coming of your Son brings us comfort: grant that we may be freed from the taint of our old habits of sin.
Fr. Francis Fernandez