Fausto Gomez OP
Throughout our life, particularly through Lent, conversion is a keyword.
Conversion means turning from sin to love. It is a continuing process in our life: continuing conversion. Radically, Christian conversion is “falling in love with Christ, total surrender to him, continuing process of growing in holiness” (Mark O’Keefe, OSB). It is going up the ladder of holiness and perfection, that is, the ladder of prayer and compassion.
Continuing conversion is integral conversion, which entails conversion to God, to neighbor and to creation. We never forget that conversion of heart is much more important than external conversion, although basic coherence, harmony is needed. Integral conversion is conversion to all neighbors without exception, in particular conversion to the poor and needy. Pope Francis speaks of ecological conversion which implies personal and communitarian conversion leading to the “sublime fraternity with all creation” so evident in St. Francis of Assisi (LS 317-321), whose life shows us that “a healthy relationship with creation is one dimension of overall personal conversion” (LS 218). There is a sin against nature: the “ecological sin,” which is to be entered in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
To be converted means to renounce sin (cf. Mk 1:14-15). What is sin? Sin, St Catherine tells us, is nothing because it is not created by God. It is a privation of good. Sin is moral evil, a bad human act, a failure in self-realization, undue attachment to things and consequent detachment from God: “Sin is taking a stand against God” (S. Kierkegaard). Sin is a betrayal of love – as the sin of the prodigal son. It is an abuse of freedom that disrupts our relationship with God, within ourselves, with others and with nature (Vatican II, GS 13). Sin is a bad use of freedom. St Augustine tells us in his Confessions that when he was in sin – when as a young man he lived a loose life – he had “the freedom of a run-away slave.” Sins may rule our life and make us like slaves: “Everyone who commits a sin is a slave of sin” (Jn 8:34). An important insight: “From the sin of Adam and Eve, sin presents itself as promise, but it is no more than an illusion and a lie” (A. Peteiro).
Not all sins are equally grave. Christian tradition speaks of venial or light sin and mortal or grave sin, which takes away from our soul divine grace, the infused virtues and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. These come back to the soul with forgiveness. Another well-known distinction of sins is the one referring to the seven capital sins. All that is in the world is the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (I Jn 2:15). Lust of the flesh: gluttony and lust. Lust of the eyes: Avarice or greed. Pride of life: vainglory, spiritual laziness, envy and anger. For St. Catherine, the radical sin and the source of all sins is selfish love (amor propio), which is accompanied first by pride and also by envy, greed, anger, lust…
SACRAMENTAL CONFESSION OF SINS
The Sacrament of Penance is the Sacrament “in which through the authoritative pronouncements of the priest, the Church removes, in the power of Christ, the sins of the repentant sinner – sins committed after Baptism” (K. Rahner). It is the Sacrament of Healing: it heals the wounds of sin in our soul. It is the Sacrament of Forgiveness: by the priest’s sacramental absolution God grants the penitent “pardon and peace” (CCC 1449). Confession of sins refers most of all to mortal sins, which every Christian is obliged to confess in number and kind, to be sorry for them, to have purpose of amendment, and thus receive absolution and penance.
The journey of conversion is fed by prayer and meditation, by the reception of the Sacraments, in a special graceful way, the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation. It is highly recommended by the Church to approach the confessional often, in particular in Advent and Lent. Mother Church encourages frequent confession: approaching properly the confessional helps us on the way to deeper conversion, to passionate love for our mission, and to holiness. It aids us in maturing our conscience. It strengthens us in fighting evil tendencies and temptations, and it is the only true road to happiness here and hereafter.
The confession of devotion is usually the confession of venial sins. Yes, but let us not forget that the seven capital sins are generally light sins, and yet, very damaging. Do not fall into the temptation that tells you not to go to confession because, after all – the devil tells us – you are repeating over and over the same sins. We try to fight routine sincerely, of course. In confession, these matter most: we acknowledge our sins; we confess them; we are sorry for them; and we have purpose of amendment. Truly, our venial sins may be forgiven by God when we are truly sorry, for instance, at the penitential act at the beginning of the Mass. The sacrament, however, gives moreover sacramental grace to those properly prepared.
The full conversion of St Augustine came when he realized the need to ask for pardon always: “The whole Church – all of us, including the Apostles – must pray every day: Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us!” We know well that to ask God for forgiveness entails our readiness to forgive others – always!
Sin is bad company. It is opposed to what we all want in life: happiness, which is made up of love, compassion, peace and joy – and continuing prayer! The greatest thing: God is infinitely merciful and always ready to open the door of forgiveness. Sin is forgiven by the mercy of God through Christ. By acknowledging and confessing our sins with repentance, we are on the way home, on the way – like the Prodigal Son – to the embrace of our Father.