Theology of Reconciliation
Human beings are enslaved by sin, which is “before all else an offense against God” and “a rupture of communion with him” (CCC, 1440). Furthermore, sin, which was borne of the “original sin” of the first couple, is the efficient cause of evils, both moral and natural, which enslave human beings. Such enslavement destroys human beatitude, which includes the perfect human freedom that Adam and Eve once enjoyed. If left unchecked, such enslavement could separate human beings from God forever.
By means of being baptized, human beings attain remission of “original sin.” However, baptism does not abolish the frailty and weakness of human nature, which means that in all human persons there inheres a lifelong inclination toward sin. With the help of Christ, against this inclination all human persons struggle, but on account of the weakness and frailty human nature, this struggle is never fully won. Hence, all human persons – even the most saintly among us – sin. Sin is inevitable, and yet its ultimate effect, which is eternal separation from God, is not inevitable since in the Sacrament of Reconciliation God forgives sins and, thereby, reconciles sinners with Himself and the Church.
Since God in His providence arranges all things in such a way that good can result from what is evil, when we become reconciled to God and the Church through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, our greatest sin can become an occasion for our greatest grace. Hence, there is virtually no sin that God would not forgive, and so even for the “worst” sinner there is always both hope and a future with God.
A sinner must approach the Sacrament with a sorrowful heart. During the Sacrament, the sinner must make every effort to confess to the priest all of his or her sins and then, at the invitation of the priest through whom the forgiveness of Christ is extended, offer words of contrition by which (s)he both (1) vocalizes sorrow for having sinned (2) promises to try to amend his or her habits so as to forestall, in the future, the commission of similar sins. Thereafter, in the name of Christ, the priest absolves the sinner from his or her sins and assigns to the sinner – who is now a penitent – a suitable penance. A “suitable” penance is an act(ion) which, corresponding to the virtue that had been offended by the now absolved sin(s), in some manner “reverses” the selfsame offense.