White Robed Monks of St. Benedict

On the Sacrament of Reconciliation

Index: On the Sacrament of Reconciliation

     Scriptural Prelude
     What is to reconcile?
     Process of Reconciliation
     Paths of Reconciliation
     The Sacrament of Reconciliation
     Compassionate Reconciliation
     Paths Leading to Reconciliation
     Notes on Morality
          Judgments and the Human Condition
          Healthy and Unhealthy Behaviors
          Awareness and Consciousness
          The Basic Message
          Moral Decisions
          The WHAT of Moral Decisions
          What OUGHT I to be?
          Basic Human Characteristics
          What OUGHT I to do?
          The HOW of Moral Decision Making
          The Work of Consciousness
          Prime Directive

Scriptural Prelude

        When Jesus saw the crowds he went up on the mountainside.
        After he had sat down his disciples gathered around him, and he began to teach them:

        How blest are the poor in spirit: the reign of God is theirs.
        Blest too are the sorrowing; they shall be consoled.
        Blest are the lowly; they shall inherit the land.
        Blest are they who hunger and thirst for holiness;
            they shall have their fill.
        Blest are they who show mercy; mercy shall be theirs.
        Blest are the single-hearted for they shall see God.
        Blest too are the peacemakers; they shall be called children of God.
        Blest are those persecuted for holiness' sake;
         the reign of God is theirs.
        Blest are you when they insult you and persecute you and
         utter every kind of slander against you because of me.
        Be glad and rejoice, for your reward in heaven is great. (Matthew 5:1-12)

        On the evening of that first day of the week;
        even though the disciples had locked the doors of the place where they were in fear,
        Jesus came and stood before them.
        "Peace be with you," he said.
        When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
        At the sight of the Lord the disciples rejoiced.
        "Peace be with you," he said again.

        "As the father has sent me, so I send you."
        And then he breathed on them and said:
        "Receive the Holy Spirit
        If you forgive people's sins,
        they are forgiven them;
        if you hold them bound,
        they are held bound." (John 20:19-23)

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Peace be with you.

We are offering you, the reader, a general framework from within which to appreciate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The following information is just information. We might label the following simply as instruction. We do not say the information is right or wrong (although we have intended the information to be correct in stating what it does state). The following information reflects more a
Catholic Spirituality rather than a dogmatic statement. We tend to be non-dogmatic, so please do not take the following in any way to reflect the last word about the Sacrament of Reconciliation from the Catholic viewpoint. If you have any questions or need for clarifications, please contact your deacon or priest. Thank you.

Peace and Joy!

The White Robed Monks of St. Benedict

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What is to reconcile?

"To Reconcile" derives from two Latin words (re + conciliare) that together render the meaning "to unite." As we acknowledge ourselves and others as to who we truly are, we further realize Jesus's prayer: "Father, may they all be one as you and I are one that they may be one in us."

To reconcile denotes:
  1. "to cause to be friendly again;
  2. to adjust, settle (as to reconcile differences);
  3. to make consistent or congruous; and
  4. to bring to acquiescence or quiet submission (as to reconcile oneself to affliction)." (Webster's Seventh Collegiate Dictionary)
When we reconcile, we unite ourself with ourself – or as the Zen tradition might phrase it: the self settles into the self. Before we can reconcile ourselves with another, including, God, we first must reconcile ourself with ourself. Before we can love another, we first must love ourself. Within this love, we learn what forgiveness is as well as how to forgive. As we know in our collective wisdom: To err is human; to forgive, divine.
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Process of Reconciliation

In effecting reconciliation, we befriend ourself. We cause ourself no harm. We adjust and settle the alleged diverse aspects we may have come to know about ourself. We realize that we are essentially light emanating through the prism we may have labeled our bifurcate self. As we do so, we become more and more conscious and less self-aware. We join with life, reconcile with life as it is rather than as we would have it be. We ground within or experience, "in its concrete presentness, in that vast background barely touched by conscious form (and which) has always appeared to be of superior validity when compared with any concept or institutional form."1

We become like little children and live life in heaven rather than struggling to survive the drama of life in which we are simultaneously the antagonist and protagonist, the tragic victim and heroic conqueror. We are no longer imprisoned within the web of our delusions (allusions, and illusions). We simply recognize them for what they are and graciously surrender to them becoming free of them.
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Paths of Reconciliation

Within the Christian tradition, there are also several other ways we can effect reconciliation with, that is, forgiveness from God. We can realize reconciliation:
  1. through hearing the word of God: "the encounter with the forgiving word of God (in preaching, reading, discussion, or the dialog of prayer) is no less effective or certain than the encounter that takes place, for example, in sacramental action."

  2. through restitution: "reconciled with the people we have wronged or injured is a precondition for God's effective forgiveness."

  3. through productive love: "Whenever a person turns away from a fixation on him or herself (and) undertakes a commitment, individually and socially, on the behalf of others, that person's sins are forgiven in this God-given practice of life even if he or she does not think directly of God and God's forgiving word."

  4. through conversational encounter: "The New Testament admonitions to speak to one another and to listen to one another make it clear that conversation, critique, and self criticism can be of decisive importance in the reception of the effective word of forgiveness."

  5. through dying with Jesus: "The (healthy) ascetic of life, acceptance of situations OF which we have no human solution  (loneliness, old age) and the endurance of meaningless but unavoidable suffering can be understood as death of the self..."

  6. through the Church: "Jesus as the primary sacrament and the Church as the fundamental sacraments. The sacraments, as expressions of the Church's Life, are symbolic actions perceptible to the senses in which the gift of divine forgiveness is also effective."2
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The Sacrament of Reconciliation

Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation we receive God's pardon for our failure to abide by his will – by not intending to love God and our neighbor (Matthew 22:37-39) by what we do and not do. Our refusal "need not always be expressly directed against God, since there is a close connection between the relationship of a human person to God and to fellow human beings, so that essential resistance to God is enacted in the realm of human society, the very realm in which, both in the Old and New Testaments, God has made his concrete will known"3 reiterating specifically: love God, neighbor, upon these two laws is based the whole law of the prophets.

"Jesus Christ forgives sins THROUGH the Church with which he is united, the TOTUS CHRISTOS, in which he alone is the controlling head; the Spirit can be described by one symbolic word columba, dove. Thus it was regarded as a matter of course that in the reconciliation of the penitent sinners with the Church, which had been seriously wounded by their sins, peace was also created between sinners and God."4 Hence, "the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the effective memory of God's gracious judgment, in which the love of the Father through the Son and for the Son's sake, in the Holy Spirit, removes all human guilt."5

Therefore, we hear the priest saying when imparting absolution:

God, the Father of mercies
through the death and resurrection of his Son
has reconciled the world to himself
and has sent the Holy Spirit among us
for the forgiveness of sins;
through the ministry of the Church
may God give you pardon and peace,
and I absolve you from your sins
in the name of the Father, and of the Son.
and of the Holy Spirit.

to which we answer: Amen.
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Compassionate Reconciliation

"The pastoral strategy of the New Testament Churches seems to have been one of compassion, connection, and challenge. Mutual correction and forgiveness form part of the fabric of community life (Matthew 5:23-24, James 5:16), but compassion is balanced against an awareness of the effect of son on the life and mission of the Church itself."6 God forgives us through the sacramental life of the Church. "The Church knows what it is both to forgive and to be forgiven, mindful always of the Lord's own prayer:'And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us'"7
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Paths Leading to Reconciliation

(Please refer to Sacrament of Anointing for an observation origin of sin. ( Please hit "BACK" to return to this page.)

Human consciousness beings fluid like water and through the human condition, usually transforms into some stone-like quality. We might now recall the fluidity if a young child and the rigidity of a lonely, crusty, old man.(Perhaps the Christmas Carol, a story of reconciliation, characters of Bob Crachett and Mr. Scrooge might come to mind.) The young child lives in a world of fluid relativity of light. The crusty old man survives in a word of hard and fast absolutes of darkness. How do we transform ourselves from children of light into children of darkness?
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Most of us are neither totally in light nor totally in darkness. We navigate through the phenomenal realm sometimes living, sometimes surviving in a world of shadows. We are either reacting or responding to ourselves being alive here and now. We create the obstacles to our light that cast shows on our path. In other words, we make mistakes, we err. These obstacles we idolize. We idolize by making our relative interpretations about ourselves, people, places, things, and events absolute. We concretize the natural fluidity of the phenomenal realm. The more we do this, the less able we are to listen to God speaking to us as He is wont.

Our obstacles, our idols, are a stimulus for further learning and a means for reconciliation if we let them be so. As we know, we learn (best) from our own mistakes. We either admit our mistakes or try to hide them either from our own self and/or others. The more we hide or try to hide our errors, the more we lie. The more we lie, the more we let lying become a habit. The more a habit, the less aware we are of our basic lies. Eventually we slip into denial which means: don't even know I am lying.

The degree to which we empower our idols and to the same degree that we become unconscious of our personal responsibility, we create evil. Evil is only a power that we either use or we allow to use us. Evil is our creation. We create evil through our idolization of our mistakes, which are our creation. We diabolize evil by judging evil as bad; we satanize evil by creating it as a good. Good/bad like right/wrong and beauty/ugliness are just matters of personal interpretation for which we can only take personal responsibility for our personal interpretation. Hence, the admonition of Christ: Judge not, lest you be judged. (Matthew 7:1) He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone. (John 8:7)

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In summary we transform ourselves from light into darkness by hiding behind false projected images we create of ourselves in our projected image we may subsume into the phrase: I am right (even though I might know otherwise). We need to maintain this projection because we compel ourselves to follow our hidden agenda. Our hidden agenda we may subsume into the phrase: I can't be wrong. If we were to admit up front with full clarity and honesty that we were wrong, we might feel we were facing a fate worse than death embodied in a fear of not being accepted, appreciated, acknowledged and/or understood. We struggle to survive perceptually in the shadow of our former selves.

Over time, we further imprison ourselves. We build more stress as we react more to ourselves and the external environment: we become more and more victims of our own self-created (and self-defeating) destinies. The more stress, the further into error we lead ourself by overworking, overeating, ..... Eventually, we create for ourselves a state of psycho-physical exhaustion, loss of drive and enthusiasm, we sink into illnesses to which we may be genetically predisposed and probably end our life, commit suicide, with a good cancer or heart attack. We cannot survive life. We can only live death.

We engender a lot of pain and suffering. Things just do not happen to us. Things just happen. We happen to things. How we happen to things either initiate a healing process, a reconciliation of our selves to the Light of Truth, or we further harden and become further jaded and calloused, lonely creations surviving in a cynical universe of greed, hate, and delusion tempered by victimization and alienation as we live out a neurotic (living life as I think it is) or psychotic (living life as I hope it is) existence.

As Socrates would have it: Only the truth can make you free. Instead of hiding, justifying or denying what we may have or have not done, we simply acknowledge, answer take, take responsibility for what we, in fact, have either done or not done. As we reconcile ourselves to our Truth, we then engender further the
Gifts of the Holy Spirit such as courage, discretion, tolerance, compassion, forgiveness, the notes of wisdom.

When we acknowledge our own error – whatever that error may be – we reconcile ourselves with our own self. Within our acknowledgement, we awaken to our personal sorrow for what we have or have not done. We confess our error: we verbally affirm our sin of omission or commission. Within our confession we make some amends to actualize our atonement (at-one-ment) with ourselves, our community, and God. In reconciliation as we further reawaken to our selves as children of Light, we grow more quiet and relaxed amid the activities of the world. We are conscience of what Rudolph Bultman has termed "the eschatology of the moment."
8 We respond naturally, knowing the direction in which our happiness and continued growth lay. Within this reconciliation we may seek formal reconciliation with God through the Church in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and further reawaken to the peace of Christ: My peace I give unto you, my peace I give unto you not as the world gives, but as I give. (John 14:27)

Peace be with you.


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Notes On Morality

Judgments and the Human Condition

Given who we are, we know when we are engaging in healthy or unhealthy behavior. The historical Jesus is alleged to have said: "Judge not, lest you be judged." (Mathew 7:1) Judging involves interpretation in this context, as to whether a specific behavior is "good" or "bad" when in reality the behavior is just a behavior. (Much like a rose is a rose regardless of those who might judge it beautiful or others, ugly). And we all make judgments all the time as part of our human condition. Perhaps our Lord was inviting us to be cognizant of the fact that:
  1. we naturally judge and
  2. perhaps we ought not engage in idolatry by making our relative judgment absolute and
  3. project our judgments unto others.
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Healthy and Unhealthy Behaviors

The paradigm of healthy or unhealthy rather than "good" or "bad," "right" or "wrong" is perhaps more apt in that we can experience both directly within our own dynamic. By healthy we mean those behaviors that promote the natural course of living-dying; unhealthy, those behaviors that impede the natural course of living-dying. By living-dying we take the living-dying process in the widest as well as narrowest of meanings. In a nutshell, if we manifest stress related disorders of body or mind or body-mind, we have given ourselves direct evidence that we are engaging in unhealthy behaviors in the psycho-physical reality of our own givenness in this space-time continuum. We have not been present to who we truly are. Perhaps, instead, we have been living in our delusion of who we think we are.
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Awareness and Consciousness

If we were then to regain our morality, we must reconcile ourselves through healing and possibly a cure. In the process of reconciliation, we become more conscious of who we are as we loose our self-awareness. We surrender what we are to who we are. We take further note of the language forms such as: "God Consciousness," "Christ Consciousness," "Buddha Consciousness," and so forth. We also note that terms like "God Awareness," or "Christ Awareness" we do not hear that often, if at all. We realize that the more Present we are, the less aware we are of our selves and others because we have emptied ourselves of our allusions, delusions, and illusions by being present to each dynamic of our ego function as well. We are no longer trapped in the mirror, surviving in the hall of mirrors, of dreams, hopes, and desires that further breed greed, hate, and delusion.
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The Basic Message

"Life in a consumer society is judged by the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the electronic 'toys' we possess. Success, pleasure, and power are some of Western culture's prevailing values. Looking out for #1 – whether the self, one's neighbor or one's country – is the basic message, which can take both subtle and not-so-subtle forms. This emphasis on the individual and individual rights pervades our contemporary society and naturally influences us." ... "In this context of conflict between Gospel (Love God, Love Neighbor) and cultural values, we make our moral decisions. But what directs those choices? The desire to succeed? The hope for pleasure? The fear of punishment? The desire for integrity? The message of Jesus? The wisdom of the Christian tradition? The desire for a deeper relationship with God? Or some personally developed compromise?"
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Moral Decisions

"We... make moral decisions because choices and actions have real meaning and real consequences. Our moral choices and our reflection on THE ethical meaning of those choices are important because:
  1. they shape the person we are becoming,
  2. they have a real effect on people and the world,
  3. they embody and express our relationship with God." ...
"The Christian tradition's understanding of moral decision-making is By "isness,"we create with language and systems of ordering. Chief among these creations are social maps based on culturally generated distinctions. These maps become the source of identity, creating social differentiation an social boundaries. But all of these maps are artificial constructions imposed upon what "is"we construct with language is "isness". (Marcus Borg, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, p. 68, note 50.)
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The What of Moral Decisions

"Even when we admit the utmost importance of our moral decisions, we still may feel confused by what we should do. Whether in the headline issues or our ordinary lives, many options are presented to US AS the 'right one,' even within Christianity itself. For example, we my be faced with deciding what kind of treatment is morally right for a dying patient. Society offers us choices that range from euthanasia to keeping the person alive at all costs. While our religious tradition is quite clear on this matter (only ethically ordinary means bust be used), it often gets interpreted in vary different ways. What are we to do?
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What Ought I to be?

"Our search for the WHAT of the moral life really implies a dual search: at the immediate level, the content of a specific moral choice (e.g., the kind of treatment for my dying parent); at the foundation level, the kind of person I wish to become (e.g., one embodying compassion, justice and love). The search at the first level asks: What ought I do? The search at the second level asks: What ought I BE?

"We have already noted that our culture gives us many - and conflicting – answers to these questions. Again we need to recognize how influenced we are by these responses. Because our goal ('to be') will shape our means ('to do'), let's first consider what Christianity says about What I/we ought to be? The Christian tradition helps us answer the question, 'What ought I be?', by returning us to our religious roots, the scriptures, to discern What authentic human life is, to reveal the kind of people God calls us to be.

"While we might include a number of elements, there are several essential aspects:

  • that we are created in God's image,
  • that we are bound together in covenant love,
  • that God has become human in Jesus,
  • that we are promised new life.
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Basic Human Characteristics

"Creation, covenant, incarnation, discipleship, resurrection – these aspects of Christian life form the basis for understanding What it means by be truly human. The thought of Karl Rahner, S.J., further develops this understanding. (Rahner, "The Dignity and Freedom of Man," in Theological Investigations, Vol. II, pp. 235-264). Based on his careful study, Rahner concludes that all humans share some basic characteristics.
  1. We are body people and so we exist in a particular time and place. That we live at the end of the 20th century influences both the way we think and the issues we confront.

  2. We are spirit people. We are reflective beings who can reach beyond ourselves in knowledge and love. We experience a sense of transcendence, open to and striving for something more.

  3. We are social beings, built in relationship with other people. We are interdependent, and so have political, economic, and social structures and responsibilities.

  4. At the same time, we are unique. Though we share common human qualities, each of us is an individual.

  5. We possess a unique capacity to be in relationship with God. Humans are capable of encountering the Divine.

  6. Although we face many limits placed on us by culture and family, we possess a fundamental freedom at the core of our being. This freedom is the capacity to choose whether or not we will embrace the above characteristics and thus become fully human.

"... To be human is to be body and spirit, social as well as individual, and to be connected intimately with the divine. To be human is to possess the awesome capacity to say yes or no to this whole human existence.
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What Ought I To Do?

"Moral choices are those that promote authentic human existence and the flourishing of all creation. Indeed, we say yes or no to 'being' through our actions. Perhaps a brief example here will show the relationship between the 'to be' and the 'to do' question, that is, how reality (the givenness of our lives and actions) is the basis of morality. If 'to be' human necessarily implies being body people, then we have an obligation to care for our health. Our choice to smoke and drink, eat excessively or exercise too little have detrimental effects on our bodies.The 'to do' of abusing our health conflicts with our 'to be' of being body people.

"...Christian ethics, then, helps us to remember that both character ('to be') and specific actions ('to do') are significant. ...

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The How of Moral Decisison-Making

"We have looked at the WHY (intention) and the WHAT (content) of Christian ethics. Our third area is method, HOW do we go about making moral decisions? Most major moral decisions are made by using one of the three following approaches:
Three Methods
  1. "Many of us were taught to make moral decisions by following the law. Understand the situation, find the appropriate law, obey. Some authority, whether Jesus, scripture, or Pope, decided what was right. Experience, however, has led many of us to realize that sometimes the letter of the law oppresses the spirit or simply cannot deal with the complexity of a particular case.

  2. "Western culture gives us very different direction. 'Each person must decide for himself or herself.' Simply by living in our culture, most, if not alL, of us have been deeply influenced by the appeal to individualism with its emphasis on individual rights. Instead of carefully considering the moral implications of the action itself, this type of thinking–relativism–holds that the individual's sincere intentions alone are enough to make the action morally right.

  3. "Christian reflection on morality long ago developed a third way, which advocates the use of discernment. ... Discernment holds that the individual must decide, but always in the context of the community's wisdom and with a clarity about what is 'really' happening – not what one 'would like' to happen (or what one 'thinks' is happening). Discernment recognizes that there is a certain objectivity (givenness).....to our actions and that these actions have real meanings and consequences. Most of our choices contain (healthy) and (unhealthy) aspects. ...
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The Work of Conscience

"Conscience plays a central role in the discernment process. Conscience is not a little voice or some inner police officer. It is simply the person trying to making sound judgments about moral questions. Our conscience does not suddenly appear, fully formed. It needs to be developed — a process traditionally called 'the formation of conscience.'

"In Principles for A Catholic Morality (pp109-114), Timothy O'Connell summarizes the tradition and presents a very concise and helpful picture of conscience, describing (conscience) as three different dimensions of a person.
  1. The first dimension of conscience is 'a capacity': the general sense of value which is characteristic of the human being. We are aware what we should do (what is healthy) and avoid (doing what is unhealthy).
  2. The second dimension of conscience is 'a process': the search to discover the (healthiest) course of action. This probing into human behavior and the world is the search for truth. If we are honest in our search, then we turn to a variety of wisdom sources: scripture, the Church, physical and human sciences, tradition, competent professional advice.
  3. The third dimension is 'a decision': the actual, concrete judgment that we make pertaining to an immediate action.
"Following our conscience and weighing competing values does not mean doing what we feel like doing. It does mean the hard work of discussing what is right and what is wrong. It does mean the hard work of discerning what is (healthy) and what is (unhealthy). It does mean recognizing the mystery of (Life Itself), appreciating the historical context and social solidarity of our lives, taking seriously the wisdom of tradition and guidance of authority, and acknowledging the complexity of contemporary moral dilemmas and the role of personal responsibility. In short, it means the challenge of mature moral decision-making."9 It means that we have taken responsibility for our integrity as conscious human beings being human, fully awake to who we truly are and acting and behaving accordingly with full and absolute unconditional positive regard for ourselves, our neighbor and the phenomenal realm, an integral whole.
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Prime Directive

In summary, as a possible moral imperative following the historical Jesus' only two commandments: Love God, Love neighbor, one might state: Do no harm. In a situation where there are two or more healthy options, the question might be posed: Which behavior will engender the greater health. If there are two situations, and if an action must by empirical necessity be engaged, then Which will engender the greatest amount of health?.

Peace and Joy!

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1. Nolan P. Jacobson. The Heart of Buddhist Philosophy. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1988; p. 18.
2. Herbert Vorgrimler. Sacramental Theology. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1992; p. 203ff.
3. Vorgrimler, p. 201.
4. Vorgrimler, p. 208.
5. Vorgrimler, p. 220.
6. Richard F. McBrien. Catholicism. New York: Harper Collins, 1994; p. 837.
7. McBrien, p. 842.
8. Jacobson, p. 13.
9. Kenneth Overberg, S.J., "Christian Ethics and the Spiritual Director" in PRESENCE: The Journal of Spiritual Directors International Vol 3, No 2, May, 1997, pp. 47-55.

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