Missionary Sending

Restoration of Communion: Admonish the Sinner

When I was a student priest studying in Rome, I was invited to become a confessor for the novices of the Missionaries of Charity, young women who were in formation to become religious sisters in the religious community Mother Teresa founded. I would hear their confessions every week. Helping them grow in their spiritual lives had a profound impact on my own. In fact, as I would listen to their sins, I would often think to myself, “Oh my, I do that too, and I never thought of it as a sin.” These sisters did not know it, but they were doing for me a great Spiritual Work of Mercy: they were “admonishing the sinner.” They were convicting me of my own sin and helping me grow closer to the Lord each week. As a result, I started going to confession more often myself so I, too, could grow in freedom from my sins.

I can’t imagine living without regularly confessing my sins in the Sacrament of Penance. It is such a great help to deal with the reality of sin in my life.

Confession as an Aid on Our Journey

Anyone who begins to truly seek a relationship with Jesus realizes that sin is a profound reality in their life. As we spend time with God’s Word and in prayer, we realize that we don’t love the way he does. We often fail to relate to ourselves and others in the truth of his love. If we don’t realize that we fall short in our life with Jesus, it is a sign we are not seeking to live a real relationship with him! St. John the Evangelist says in the Bible, “If we say, ‘We are without sin,’ we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing” (1 John 1:8–9).

Sign that says "next in line for confession" in a Catholic church

This is why Jesus’ invitation to everyone, no matter who they are, is to repentance. As we hear on the first Sunday of Lent, which summarizes his whole message, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). To repent is to turn away from my sin and to turn towards God. It means to confess that I am a sinner and I seek forgiveness as I begin to make efforts to break free from sin. This is part of our lifelong journey to heaven that takes us deeper and deeper into the inner attitudes of our hearts, which often are not in accord with the attitudes of Jesus’ Heart. We need to allow Jesus to transform us so that we share in his attitude. Frequent confession is a great aid throughout this journey.

The Connection between Confession and the Eucharist

There is a beautiful relationship between the Sacrament of Penance and the Sacrament of the Eucharist, especially with respect to our communion with Jesus and his Body, the Church. The Sacrament of Penance repairs any rupture in our relationship with God and the Church and strengthens us to receive more from the Eucharist. First, if I am aware of having committed a grave sin, I should not present myself for Holy Communion. To do this would be to lie with my act of Communion, as St. Paul says: “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord,” adding that this person “eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Cor 11:27-29). Thus, any willful, direct violation of one the 10 Commandments—missing Mass on Sunday; telling a deliberate, serious lie; and deliberately looking at impure things on the internet; to name a few common sins today—means I should not go to Holy Communion until I have first gone to confession. The power of the Sacrament of Penance is that when sin has separated me from God, I can experience the power of the Resurrection of Jesus restoring me to life. Then, when I receive Holy Communion, I am filled and strengthened with the life of God to live for him again.

However, all of us sin every day. Frequent Communion gives us great help to overcome our lesser, venial sins which, although they don’t separate us completely from God like mortal sins, still wound our relationship with God. Through the celebration of Mass, I ask forgiveness for my sins in the Penitential Rite, I am enlightened with his truth in the Liturgy of the Word, I offer myself to him anew at the Offertory, and I receive his life anew in Holy Communion. All this is an incredible help to purify my heart even from those smaller sins which keep me from loving God fully. Frequently attending Mass helps me overcome sin.

Priest raising his hand in absolution over a penitent in a confessional

Additionally, frequent confession is a help to overcome venial sins too. The Sacrament of Penance gives a special grace which applies to the particular sins that I confess. If I say things simply to impress others, if I have judgmental thoughts, or if I have trouble forgiving, then confession gives grace to help me overcome those very particular struggles. This again strengthens me to receive Holy Communion with a pure heart and to receive God’s life more deeply.

Confession as a Pathway to Closeness with God

The truth is we never completely overcome our sins; St. Teresa of Calcutta went to confession every week until she died. Not because she was obsessed, but because living close to God allowed her to see the ways she failed. Frequent confession helps us live this path of continual and deeper conversion. Additionally, as we struggle with sin, we grow in humility and the knowledge of our need for God. Aware of our weakness, which God allows, we are forced to live close to him through frequent confession and Communion.

If you ask me, this is the best way to admonish the sinner: the first sinner to be admonished is myself! As I begin to live the beauty of frequent confession and Holy Communion, then I will be able to testify to others about the incredible power of God’s mercy in my life. This will help others to realize they, too, need the Sacrament of Penance so they can receive fully the life of the Eucharist. I’m convinced there will be no revival of Eucharistic life in the Church without a revival of the Sacrament of Penance.

Close up of a priest holding a consecrated host to distribute for Communion

Reflection Question

What is a specific sin you habitually struggle with? In prayer, ask Jesus to help you take a next step in turning away from this sin.

Action Point

This Lent, make Reconciliation a priority! If you would normally go once during Lent, try to go two or three times; if you go regularly, perhaps even weekly, focus on a sin that you really struggle with and bring it especially to Christ in this sacrament.

Prayer of St. Alphonsus Liguori from His Stations of the Cross

I love you, my beloved Jesus; I love you more than myself; I repent with my whole heart of having offended you. Never permit me to separate myself from you again. Grant that I may love you always; and then do with me what you will.