My son Joshua recently celebrated his first Penance in anticipation of his first Holy Communion. He is the first of our five children to do so. Needless to say, it was a very special day for him and our family. As I mentioned in my last blog post, over the last few years he has expressed a true desire to partake of these sacraments. My wife and I have done our best to help him and his sibling to understand the beauty, meaning, and power of the sacraments, and whenever possible have used everyday examples and metaphors to help illustrate this for him.
Recently, while watching some television, we happened upon the popular television program “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”. It is a show that features a team of homebuilders and designers that respond to requests from individuals from throughout the country whose homes are in severe disrepair and are need of an “extreme makeover”. I took the occasion to point out to my children that this program is a great metaphor for the Sacrament of Penance, which is ordered toward the spiritual renewal and “makeover” of the soul wounded by sin.
Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If any one destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and that temple you are. – 1 Cor. 3:16-17
If you have ever watched the program you know that each episode begins with the “design team” arriving at the home that has been chosen for the “extreme makeover”. The team announces their arrival in dramatic fashion and is then invited into the home in order to survey the damage. They are led into every room in the house and are shown all of the areas that have been damaged and broken.
Isn’t this precisely what we as Christians are invited to do on a continual basis? Does not the Church exhort us to take stock of our lives, to look within our souls in order to survey the many areas that have been damaged and wounded by sin? In this day and age, this practice of examining one’s conscience is discouraged to say the least. We are so consumed with the external dimensions of our lives that we easily ignore the internal and tend to neglect that which is most important, namely the condition of our souls.
In order to remedy this, The Church instructs us to get in the habit of taking a moral inventory of our lives and to prayerfully consider the damage caused by our sins.
Let us search and examine our ways that we may return to the LORD. - Lam. 3:40
Even the ancient philosophers acknowledged the importance and value of personal reflection and introspection. It was Socrates who wrote, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” How many of us have neglected this most important and necessary spiritual discipline?
THE DANGER OF DENIAL
Another major obstacle that we face in our modern day culture is what Venerable Pope Pius XII described as the “sin of the century”. Namely, “the loss of the sense of sin.” And because we have done away with sin through denial and moral relativism, we have conveniently absolved ourselves of any guilt.
The Servant of God Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen put it best when he said,
There was a time when Catholics were the only ones who believed in the Immaculate Conception. Nowadays, it seems that everyone believes that he or she has been immaculately conceived.
Yet the Bible is very clear about those who believe themselves to be without sin. We read in 1 John 1:8-10
If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say, "We have not sinned," we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
CONFESSION IS GOOD FOR THE SOUL
We are all sinners, each and every one of us. And as such, we must acknowledge that we have offended God both by what we have done (sins of commission) and also by what we have failed to do (sins of omission). It is sin that wounds and destroys the life of grace in us. Sin alienates us from God, from our neighbor and from our very selves. Sin disfigures our soul and enslaves us. (see John 8:34)
The Good News is that Jesus came to set us free from the bondage of sin death. (see Eph. 2:1-5, Rom. 6:23?24) The Good News is that the “Ultimate Design Team” (The Most Holy Trinity) is standing at the door of our hearts and is knocking. (see Rev. 3:20) The Good Lord wants to give us a new heart and a new spirit (see Ez. 36:26) and accomplishes this spiritual makeover most powerfully through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
TEAR DOWN IN ORDER TO BUILD UP
On the Television show, some of the most exciting footage is captured when the large bulldozers tear the entire house down in a matter of mere minutes. First they must tear down, in order to build up. When we confess our sins with true sorrow and contrition and invite the Lord into our hearts, his grace and mercy are able to uproot and tear down the walls of sin and disobedience.
Once the old house is torn down, the process of building begins. They make sure that the new house is built on a solid foundation. In the gospels, Jesus reminds us of this important principle:
Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. - Matt. 7:24-25
St. Paul describes the glorious reality of whose lives are built on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ.
So whoever is in Christ is a new creaton: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation. - 2 Cor. 5:17-?19
When a person repents of their sins and accepts the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament, he or she becomes a new creation and experiences a spiritual “makeover” in their souls. The old things do indeed pass away; and the new things do come.
The smile that was on my son's face when he emerged from the confessional bore witness of this fact. For this I am truly grateful.