Mar 16, 2011

The Divine Physician and Reconciliation

A sacrament which "heals the wounds of our souls."

When is the last time you visited your physician for a physical? You know, the usual numbers scenario: your blood pressure, your cholesterol, your weight, your age, etc. When I turned 50 I decided it would be good to find a doctor so I wouldn’t have to be embarrassed when the question comes, “Who’s your doctor?” if there was ever the need to ask that question for some emergency. And, I decided that I was at a point when I had better pay a little more attention to my overall health.So, I bit the bullet and did so.

I dutifully decided to begin the yearly ritual of an annual physical. I was thankfully not surprised by any of the findings since that first exprience so I take my daily blood pressure meds, try to watch what I eat and get regular exercise. I do fudge now and then, as we all do, but overall I’ve learned how important good health can be. Take care of yourself now and in the future you will reap the benefits. Good medical advice that I needed to hear as much as anyone else.

Many spend hours in the health club each week, read the labels carefully on food products, try to get regular exercise, and do all we can to deny the fact that we are getting older. But, what about our spiritual life? What about the health of our souls and our eternal salvation?

When is the last time you went to confession? Of course, for a number of years, we have referred to this as the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I can’t think of a more appropriate Sacrament for the Lenten season than Reconciliation. But, what does a doctor’s visit have to do with seeing a priest to confess my sins? It is somewhat comparative: A doctor is to our good health as Jesus is to our spiritual life. A doctor is referred to as our “physician.” Our Lord has been referred to as the “Divine Physician.” A doctor is powerless unless I tell him where it hurts or what the symptoms are of some notable change in my usual good health.

Our Lord invites us to present our “hurts” our “symptoms” of sinfulness to him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation in order that he will heal us. Unlike even the most skilled doctors, however, who can only heal by the use of outside instruments such as medication and medical procedures, Jesus our Divine Physician has power of his own to heal us and bring us into a place of spiritual health. Christ needs nothing other than our honesty, our trust, and our faith in order to bring his healing grace into our hearts and lives. This “doctor” is compassion and mercy personified. On the door of every Reconciliation room in our parish Churches should be placed a sign that states: "The Divine Physician is in!"

So, the Church views the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a true sacrament of healing. As St. John Vianney so beautifully said, “How fortunate we are to have a sacrament which heals the wounds of our souls.” Sin wounds us and the divine grace of forgiveness is the medicine we need to live a healthy moral and spiritual life.

This beautiful sacrament of opportunity is a great gift to the Church from Jesus himself who commissioned his Apostles: “Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached in his name to all the nations . . .” (Lk 24: 45).

Private confession, with its absolute guarantee of the seal of the sacrament, has been the norm of the Church since its earliest days and the typical practice of the Church since the seventh century. It is the means by which we receive a special sacramental grace to be strengthened in our daily battle with sin.

The absolute guarantee of confidentiality (sacramental seal) is the obligation of each priest/confessor and is so secure that a priest under no circumstances whatsoever may reveal what he has heard within the context of this relationship. That responsibility has no exceptions and is taken as a grave duty upon all priests. Not even the Pope can dispense of that obligation. It’s a big deal!

The gift of this sacramental seal is that of freedom for the penitent. Knowing of absolute confidentiality, any penitent is graced with freedom as he/she visits with the priest who stands in this sacrament essentially as the faceless instrument of Christ who acts in his “person.” That freedom is one to speak openly and honestly about your struggles and questions; about your desires to live in a more Christ like manner; about your hope to be truly repentant and embrace a new way of life.

The priest is there not as judge and jury. We are there as the compassionate Good Shepherd who goes in search for his lost sheep and rejoices when he finds the lost one. We are there to be like the Father who welcomes his lost prodigal son/daughter home and rejoices in their presence. We are there to help and guide the penitent in naming their sin and in seeking a new direction. But, it is this compassionate Divine Physician who seeks to heal us through his gift of mercy that we may be reconciled with him and each other.

Why would you not want to make an appointment to see this Doctor? Yet, there are lingering questions that may still be unanswered such as:

“But I keep falling in to the same sin over and over again.” or “It’s been so long since I’ve been to confession I don’t know where or how to begin.” or “What will Father think of me when he sees me at Sunday Mass if he knows what I’ve done?” Sound familiar?

I’ll take a look at these in my next post . . .