Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Sacrament of Reconcilation - Right There at Jesus' Crucifixion

I reread Luke's account of Jesus' crucifixion last night and found my attention captured by the "Good Thief," the man tradition calls St. Dismas.  Mark's Gospel depicts both criminals crucified alongside Jesus as mocking Him. That means that at some point, while suffering on his cross, Dismas underwent a conversion.  Under those circumstances I do not see any possible explanation other than the direct action of the Holy Spirit.  Dismas was endowed with the ability to look at the Man hanging and dying beside him, and recognize Him as the Messiah!  I don't know how many people were praying for Dismas, but there prayers were answered; and it is a lesson that you and I should never - that we can never - despair of another's salvation.  God can bring literally anyone to faith.  That's the first lesson I took away from Luke's Gospel last night.

The second lesson was one that actually came back to my mind from over twenty years ago - and it is in regard to the Scriptural foundation for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Yes, the obvious places we see it in Scripture remain John 20:21-23 and James 5:14-16; but as my high school theology teacher, Joseph Burns, taught me, it is in Luke's account of the crucifixion that we see Jesus celebrate Reconciliation:
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!"
But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." And he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
And [Jesus] said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (Lk.23:39-43)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that the Sacrament of Reconciliation consists of four elements (#1448):  contrition, confession, and satisfaction on the part of the penitent, and absolution of sin on God's part.  And yes, Dismas did display contrition, or sorrow for his sin, by asking Jesus to do no more than remember him.  He confessed that he had sinned (making a "general confession") and acknowledged the justice of the (temporal) punishment he was undergoing as a result of breaking the law.  And Jesus absolved his sin in the promise that Dismas would be with Him in Paradise.

We have this same encounter with Jesus, through His priests, when we celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation!  It doesn't get more intense than that.

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