Jul 18, 2018
In Jesus Christ we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of transgressions.”
We hear about the great early martyrs who when pressed to deny their relationship with Jesus Christ were willing to shed their blood, lose their property, and see their families destroyed by the Roman persecutors. What we do not hear of are those who under the threat of persecution sold out. Some gained financially, others averted catastrophes for their families. The persecution would happen town to town so the persecutors would move on after doing their worst to destroy the Christian community.
After they left, the Christian community had to start picking up the pieces of their devastated community. A huge crisis arose because those who suffered great loss did not want to pray with or be part of a community with those who caved in to the persecution. Some suggested that these “apostasizers” should be re-baptized, but it was already an accepted idea that there is one baptism for the forgiveness of sin, so others thought they should just be left outside of the Church forever. And yet some understood their human weakness and wanted to find a way to help them come back while the community healed.
The solution was knowing Christ’s healing ministry so the leaders of the Church created the first sacrament of reconciliation by having the apostasizers publicly confess their wrong against the community in the presence of the community. The priest would then give them a penance which would show the community the sincerity of the sorrow of the penitent. Once the penance was accomplished there would be a public absolution and the person would be welcomed back into the fold.
Over the centuries this practice was used less and less and the modern form of reconciliation began to emerge. Sometimes in the modern era we forget that it is in Christ’s blood that we are redeemed and our transgression forgiven because we get too caught up in the idea that his forgiveness has to be mediated through the priest. Venial sins are dealt with at Mass and the body and blood of Christ do that healing work. Mortal sins are still reserved to the confessional, but for a practicing Catholic they should be few and far between. God’s grace is at work and the more we keep that in mind, God’s Holy Spirit will guide us to the use of the sacrament of reconciliation.