Why I’m a Catholic: the Sacrament of Reconciliation: Part I; Who’s Sinned Against

Have mercy on me, a sinner![Lk 18:13][1]

This is why I am a Catholic, Part 2: (1) the Eucharist; (2) Reconciliation; and (3) Truth.[2] While others may have other special things about the Church that entices them to join, to belong, to stay in this lumbering ancient colossus of Scripture and Tradition called the Catholic Church, I have a special love of its God-given ability to forgive sin.

I see three parts to the Sacrament of Reconciliation: (a) who’s sinned against; (b) who forgives; and (c) how are we sure we are forgiven.

Against whom do I sin, over whose laws and lives do I trespass, to whom do I incur debt[3]. In Psalm 51, a psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him after he had gone in to Bathsheba,[Ps 51:1-2], states specifically that it is God: against you, you alone have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your eyes so that you are just in your word, and without reproach in your judgment.[Ps 51:6]

Many today still take the same position that David and the Jewish authorities of Jesus’ day did, not seeing each person as a specially loved child of God, not seeing that Jesus is God incarnate and works through the incarnate world. Since all sin is basically and primarily against You, God, they say, “Only God can forgive sin.” They stop there, “See, it’s against God only that I sin. Therefore I have to seek forgiveness from God. And I can go directly to God and ask forgiveness.”

Yes, absolutely, and no, definitely.

Sins against the first three commandments, idols, Your Name and the Sabbath, are fairly easy to identify as being against You, but the other seven seem to be primarily against men.

Yes, absolutely, I sin against God.

(a) Every action against the Commandments, including the last seven, is my choice, my direct disobedience of You, God, my placing myself above You. Thus all sin originates in the first commandment; I make myself an idol, I set myself up as my own god, and I obey my self rather than You. Therefore, David was right: Against You, You alone have I sinned; I have done what is evil in Your eyes, so that You are just in your word, and without reproach in Your judgment. [Ps 51:6]

No, definitely, I also sin against my neighbor.

(b) Obedience to You means keeping the other seven commandments because You tied my obedience to you with my treatment of others. Obedience is linked to my being human in the way You made me, in a community of family, of friends, of neighbors. Indeed, the second great commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself.”[Mk 12:31; Mt 22:39, Lv 19:18; Jas 2:8] Indeed, in a sense, that “yourself” should be capitalized, “Yourself,” since loving them and myself involves first loving You, but more to the point, since we all come from You, since You are in each of us, loving others involves loving You, is part of loving You, is a concrete way to love You.

In the New Testament, You made very, very clear Your personal identification with everyone, in what I do or don’t do to even one of these least brothers of mine.[Mt 25:40] As John said: If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. [1Jn 4:20] To paraphrase, if anyone says, I am forgiven by God and do not care if I forgive my brother, I do not love my brother whom I sees and thus, cannot love God, whom I have not seen. Jesus took this very personally when Paul persecuted the early Christians: Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?…I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. [Acts 9:5,6; 26:14,15] This is brought home even more poignantly when I call upon God to forgive me my sins as I forgive the sins of those who sin against me.[Mt 6:12] So this sin bit ties us, God and me and others, together as a package.

So, Yes, Definitely, I sin against both God and my neighbor.

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! [Rom 11:33]…it just occurred to me that God was having me roll this Apologia Pro Vita Mea out in harmony with the liturgical year. The defense of the real presence in the Eucharist was completed in Advent, the season of the Incarnation, the growing within Mary of the Son of God, who became truly man and truly present on our earth. This presentation of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the making holy of the welcoming back of me, the Prodigal Son by the Father, will take place during Lent, the liturgical celebration of Christ’s life and ultimately, his perfect obedience; he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. [Heb 5:8b-9], that is, by which he reconciled us with the Father through atoning for our sins. The final presentation of truth, the validity of what we profess, the guarantee of God’s truth residing in the Church, will parallel the liturgical season of the resurrection and, particularly Pentecost, the reception of the Spirit of Truth upon the pillars of the Church, the Apostles and original disciples.

[3] I am fascinated by the ecumenical interchange of “debts,” “sins,” and “trespasses.” The first two have their solid origin in the Greek; ὀφείλημα, opheilēma, is the word Mt uses [Mt 6:12] in his version of the Lord’s prayer; it means: “that which is owed; that which is justly or legally due, a debt”. Metaphorically, it is used to mean “offence, sin.” It is used only twice in the NT.

Lk uses both “sins” and “debt;” forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us. [Lk 11:4] The Greek word for “sin,” ἁμαρτία, hamartanō, means “to be without a share in,” “to miss the mark,” “to err, be mistaken,” “to miss or wander from the path of uprightness and honor, to do or go wrong,” and finally, metaphorically, “to wander from the law of God, violate God’s law, sin.” It is used 150 times in the NT.

Maybe it is this “going wrong,” this “wandering from the path,” that gave rise to “trespass,” i.e. if I wander from the path God put me on, I am likely to wander onto your path, to trespass, to stomp all over you and your righteousness.

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