17 September 2009

The (second) Greatest Sacrament

Last night, I attended our Catholic Youth Ministry Scripture study as a young adult helper. We started the evening with Matthew West's video for his song "The Motions," a song about going through the motions of being a Christian without fully following Christ. Living a Christian life without following Christ the way in which he calls us. From that point, our Director of Youth Ministry, lead the group into Sacred Scripture to the Gospel of St. Matthew.

As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter,
and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen.
He said to them,
'Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.' At once they left their nets and followed him."
Matthew 4:18-20

Jesus simply said, "Come, Follow me," and the apostles left everything that they had to follow Christ. Listening to our youth ponder what are the "nets" in their lives that Christ asks them to drop in order to follow him more fully and more completely forced me to ask myself that same question.

What is Christ calling me to cast off in order fulfill the life Christ wants me to lead? While thinking upon this question, I came to a conclusion: We all of us, no matter how closely we follow Christ have imperfections. Imperfections which lead us to worry, anxiety, mistrust, and lack of faith. These are part of our human nature. Christ does not admonish us for the times in which we stray or lack faith but grants us mercy and pardon when we ask his forgiveness. For this reason, the Church gives us the most beautiful sacrament, second to the Eucharist: the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Through reconciliation, the priest acts in persona Christi, where, Christ acts through the priest hearing the confession and it is He who forgives our sins, not the priest. The priest is there to act as a medium through which Christ can act in the flesh. We do not believe that the priest is Christ, nor do we believe that the priest is God, which would be idolatry, since he is neither.

Many non-Catholics misunderstand our faith, especially when it comes to the sacraments. I've had the question asked of me "What makes a priest so special? How can one man have the power to make bread become the body of Christ or forgive sins?" When you look at what the Church teaches, you see that Christ gave the apostles the power to forgive sins in his name and only in his name. In essence, Christ gave the apostles the power to act in persona Christi with the following statement:
"Jesus said to him in reply, 'Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.'"
Matthew 16:17-19
Christ did not say "You have the power to forgive sins at your will" but he gave them the power to forgive in the name of Christ. Because only God has the power to forgive sins, Christ says to this through this passage "ask in My name, and I will forgive them their sins, but through you, as I will be in heaven with the Father."

Also in this passage, Christ established the Church, with St. Peter as the head of the Church, against which hell will not prevail, despite St. Peter's repeated lack of faith and even denial of Christ during Christ's passion. Christ gave him this power in spite of Peter's failings, in spite of the fact that He knew that Peter would deny Him. Christ installed St. Peter as the first head of the Church because of his great mercy, and it is through Reconciliation, that we ourselves experience this mercy and forgiveness.

Through St. Peter, the Church was established through Apostolic Succession, wherein the laying on of hands is performed at each ordination so that those powers given to protect the Church and uphold the truths of the Church given from Christ himself can be passed on to all priests, bishops, and popes who have followed St. Peter.
"At once (Jesus) spoke to them, 'Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.' Peter said to him in reply, 'Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.' He said, 'Come.' Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how (strong) the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, 'Lord, save me!' Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, 'O you of little faith, why did you doubt?'"
Matthew 14:27-31
I think at points in our lives, we begin much like Peter--we hear the Lord call us, and we intend to follow him, and we are strong and full of faith and grace when we keep our eyes on the Lord. It is only when we begin to notice the distractions of daily lives, and start to go through the motions that we begin to sink. However, Christ does not leave when we begin to sink. Instead he looks at us and reaches out to us when we call "Lord, save me!" He reaches out through the din of distractions and sin and holds firmly onto us and pulls us from our deaths, no matter how many times we begin to sink.

The sacrament of Reconciliation is the way in which we, as Catholics, reach out to Christ asking His mercy and forgiveness. Through this act of sincere sorrow and repentance for our sins, we are able to reach for Christ and focus on him, allowing him to save us from the demise and eternal punishment which we have inflicted upon ourselves through sin and lack of faith. It is this sacrament which allows us to remove the distractions which have so greatly caused us to lose sight of Christ and raise our eyes back to Him so that we may follow him more fully and completely.

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