During this Lenten season we are called to examine our lives more closely in light of our relationship with Christ and His Church. Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving bring us deeper into the mysteries of Christ and our own journey to holiness. Lent is also a time to draw closer to the Sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance, also known as Reconciliation or Confession. The Eucharist unites us to Christ’s body, blood, soul, and divinity while Penance drives us to seek healing and forgiveness for the ways we sin and fail in our daily lives. Penance is not only a Sacrament for mortal sin, it is meant for all sin which weighs us down over time.
In the Encyclical Letter, Redemptor Hominis, Saint John Paul II discusses the connection between these two great Sacraments of the Church. Both the Holy Eucharist and Penance are linked to the mystery of Jesus Christ. Saint Paul said, “Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” The link between theses Sacraments is apparent. In approaching the Lord’s Supper at each Mass, we must be aware of our failings and whether or not we are in a worthy state for reception of Holy Communion. The Holy Eucharist is not a right. It is a gift reserved for those in a state of grace who are members of the Church. The Sacrament of Penance provides the necessary cleansing and healing for those times we fall into serious sin, but also as we struggle with sin in our daily lives.
One of the essential aspects and teachings of Jesus Christ is, “Repent, and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15).” It is true that on the surface this is a call to become a follower of Christ and to receive Baptism in order to join the Mystical Body; however, it is also a call for each one of us to “repent” in our daily lives. Conversion is a life-long process. We each have sins deeply entrenched in us whether through habit or other factors. We cannot follow Christ unless we are constantly dying to self and listening to His call for repentance in our own lives. Even if we are not falling into grave sin, we are still failing somewhere and need Christ to give us the grace to overcome those sins. Saint John Paul II highlights the great importance of repentance, the Holy Eucharist, and Penance:
Indeed, if the first word of Christ’s teaching, the first phrase of the Gospel Good News, was “Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Metanoeite), the sacrament of the passion, cross and resurrection seems to strengthen and consolidate in an altogether way this call in our souls. The Eucharist and Penance thus become in a sense two closely connected dimensions of authentic life in accordance with the spirit of the Gospel, of truly Christian life. The Christ who calls to the Eucharistic banquet is always the same Christ who exhorts us to penance and repeats His “Repent.”
Our Lord knows our struggles and our failings on the path to holiness, which is precisely why He calls us to Himself for forgiveness and contrition in the Sacrament of Penance, so that we may more fully participate in the Holy Eucharist.
Without this constant ever renewed endeavor for conversion, partaking of the Eucharist would lack its full redeeming effectiveness and there would be a loss or at least a weakening of the special readiness to offer God the spiritual sacrifice in which our sharing in the priesthood of Christ is expressed in an essential and universal manner.
It is important to remember that all the faithful are members of the common priesthood by virtue of Baptism. We offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass through the ministerial priesthood. Our lives are meant to be of sacrifice, which is the very nature of priesthood. In order to fulfill this Baptismal role, we must be ever mindful of our daily need for conversion. It is Christ who is our example in sacrifice.
In Christ, priesthood is linked with His sacrifice, His self-giving to the Father; and, precisely because it is without limit, that self-giving gives rise in us human beings subject to numerous limitations to the need to turn to God in an ever more mature way and with a constant, ever more profound, conversion.