Catechist In-Service - Ximena DeBroeck

Catechetical Sunday 2014 - Web Ad 468

Initial Preparation to Encounter Christin the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation: A New Evangelization Perspective

by Ximena DeBroeck, MA
Coordinator of Adult and Sacramental Formation
Archdiocese of Baltimore

The Thirteenth Ordinary Assembly of Bishops met in October 2012 to discuss the topic of the "New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith." At the conclusion of this Synod, fifty-eight propositions were formulated by the bishops and presented to Pope Benedict XVI. Among these propositions, there is one of particular interest to this Catechetical Sunday's topic, as it articulates the important connection between God's forgiveness and the New Evangelization. The Synod Fathers expressed that "the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation is the privileged place to receive God's mercy and forgiveness. It is a place for both personal and communal healing. In this sacrament, all the baptized have a new and personal encounter with Jesus Christ, as well as a new encounter with the Church, facilitating a full reconciliation through the forgiveness of sins" (XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, Final Propositions, no. 33, Certainly all sacraments are gifts of encounter with Christ; however, each sacrament is unique in the particular way in which the encounter can transform the person. In the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation the particular effects are healing, reconciliation, and restoration.

Since it is often thought that sacramental formation is exclusively the responsibility of the catechist who has the specific "task" of sacramental preparation, this essay will begin by presenting a fuller understanding of who a catechist is and therefore raise the awareness of whose responsibility it is to transmit the faith. The purpose of this essay is to offer the following significant points to be presented during a catechist in-service: a relationship in need of healing, the disposition to receive the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, and essential catechesis in preparation for this sacrament. Furthermore, this essay will offer suggested Scripture passages and reflection points to be used during the catechist in-service, as well as additional biblical passages and reflections for use as resources when providing sacramental preparation to children, youth, or adults. Three articles offered as teaching aids are among the resources for Catechetical Sunday 2014 and should be included as part of the catechist in-service: "The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation: Forgiveness in Four Easy Steps," by Msgr. Richard B. Hilgartner, "Exploring the Forms and Options of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation," by Fr. Daniel Merz, and "Catechesis on the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation," by Fr. Peter Ryan, SJ.

Who Is a Catechist, and Who Is Responsible for Sacramental Preparation?

Sacramental formation is an integral component of evangelization and catechesis. Catechesis, first of all, is the responsibility shared by the entire Christian community (Congregation for the Clergy, General Directory for Catechesis [GDC] [Washington DC: USCCB Publishing, 1998], no. 220). The bishop is the chief catechist of his diocese and is assisted by clergy and laity (USCCB Committee on Education and Committee on Catechesis, National Directory for Catechesis [NDC] [Washington DC: USCCB Publishing, 2005], 218-220, and GDC,no. 222). Anyone who teaches the faith to children, youth, or adults is a catechist. Some lay women and men are volunteer catechists; others work for the Church in various catechetical roles. Parents hold a place of great responsibility and privilege as the first evangelizers and catechists of the children (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], 2nd ed. [Washington, DC: Libreria Editrice Vaticana–USCCB, 2000], nos. 2225-2226, and GDC,nos. 226-227), and the clergy's primary duty is to proclaim the Gospel and to catechize (Vatican Council II, Presbyterorum Ordinis [Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests], promulgated by Pope Paul VI, no. 4§1, Also see GDC, nos. 224-225). Therefore, this catechist in-service can be utilized with diverse groups of catechists or with parents of children and youth who are preparing for sacraments.

A Relationship in Need of Healing

God created us in his image and likeness (Gn 1:26-27). Human language is inadequate to fully express what this image embodies, but there are some key attributes revealed in Scripture that help us catch a glimpse of what God's image is. God is holy, God is love, God is merciful, God is a God in relationship! The Trinity, God in relationship, constitutes the most fundamental mystery of our faith. God is a community of three distinct persons who, sharing in the same substance, exist in relationship as a communion of love. Since God is a relational being—God exists in relationship—and he created us in his image, we are created to be IN relationship with God and with others.

We were created in the image of the harmonious and just relationship within the Trinity; in other words, we were created in right or just relationship with God and with other creatures. Sin disrupted this state of "original justice." Scripture tells us of the ongoing invitation from God to humanity to return to a right and just relationship. God never tires of offering us forgiveness and welcoming us back into relationship. In the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis reminds us of this:

God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. Christ, who told us to forgive one another "seventy times seven" (Mt18:22) has given us his example: he has forgiven us seventy times seven. Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew. (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium [The Joy of the Gospel] [Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2013], no. 3)

Christ reconciled humanity with God, thus restoring the just relationship. This is what justification is all about. Msgr. Hilgartner's article refers to justification as the first act of reconciliation. In the Incarnation, Christ assumed human nature to fully reveal God's love, to be a model of holiness, to heal our wounded humanity, and to reconcile us with God. Through the Paschal Mystery (Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension), Christ reconciled us to the Father and made humanity partakers in his divine nature so that we might have eternal life (see Jn 3:16; Rom 3:23-26; 6:4-8; 2 Pt 1:3-4). Christ's miracles during his public ministry were primarily occasions of healings and restoration to life within the community. This tangible restoration to the community was a sign that pointed to the invisible restoration of the relationship with God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that Christ's words and deeds anticipated the power of the Paschal Mystery from which flow the gifts of love, justification, and salvation that are received through the sacraments (no. 1115).

It is important to understand that the power to forgive and reconcile belongs to God alone; yet this reconciliation is mediated through the Church in the Sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation. As is noted in the articles by Msgr. Hilgartner, Fr. Merz, and Fr. Ryan, the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation expresses a divine invitation and calls for a human response. God's love and mercy have primacy in this sacrament. The Church, through her ministers, offers God's forgiveness and reconciliation; nevertheless, the gift is not complete until the one receiving the gift accepts it and cooperates with God's grace.

Disposition to Receive the Sacrament

Disposition is a fundamental element to be discussed in preparation for all the sacraments. When properly disposed, the effect of the grace received in the celebration of the sacraments leads to transformation and growth in charity in the relationship with God and others. "They [the sacraments] bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions" (CCC, no. 1131).

It is essential that we understand, and therefore teach correctly, that the sacraments are not simply "magic" rituals that cause a particular effect. The sacraments do not cause effects independent of the will and disposition of the recipient. True, the sacraments are efficacious signs which effect the grace they signify, because it is Christ himself who is at work (CCC, nos.1127-1128). Yet the fruitfulness of the sacraments depends on the disposition of the one receiving them (CCC, nos. 1128, 1131). To explain the importance of disposition, Aquinas expressed that, for those who receive Baptism as adults, the effects vary greatly; some receive greater grace than others according to their disposition (Summa Theologiae, Tertia Pars Q. 69 art.8, "The effect of Baptism is twofold, the essential effect, and the accidental. The essential effect of Baptism is that for which Baptism was instituted, namely, the begetting of men unto spiritual life. Therefore, since all children are equally disposed to Baptism, because they are baptized not in their own faith, but in that of the Church, they all receive an equal effect in Baptism. Whereas adults, who approach Baptism in their own faith, are not equally disposed to Baptism; for some approach thereto with greater, some with less, devotion. And therefore some receive a greater, some a smaller share of the grace of newness; just as from the same fire, he receives more heat who approaches nearest to it, although the fire, as far as it is concerned, sends forth its heat equally to all. [emphasis added]).

Specifically, in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, the penitent must not only believe in God's grace, forgiveness, and mercy, but also be aware of the reality of sin in his or her own life, desire a conversion of heart, and be willing to cooperate with God's grace. This disposition of the penitent is expressed in the actions of contrition, confession, and penance (satisfaction) (CCC, nos. 1450-1460), which are discussed in the articles above cited. Even though it is not always mentioned as a separate action of the penitent, it is important to be mindful that an examination of conscience is crucial to being properly disposed to receive this sacrament (CCC, no.1454). It is in this first step that one realizes and acknowledges that the relationship has been wounded and needs healing, and it is from this moment that contrition will follow, as well as confession of sins, and satisfaction.

Essential Catechesis for the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation

As conscientious and diligent catechists, we desire to offer the right preparation for the celebration of this sacrament. We sincerely want to give as much information as possible so that those receiving the sacrament will know enough; however, at times we risk losing sight of what is truly essential. Often, in spite of our best efforts to impart information, we find ourselves somewhat perplexed when the children, youth, or adults whom we have prepared fail to practice the faith consistently in the months and years following reception of the sacraments. It is not for the catechist to judge these individuals but rather to meet them wherever they are on their faith journey and continue to guide them toward Christ. However, it is appropriate for the catechist to reflect on current catechetical practices and, with a humble and open heart, ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom to evaluate those practices and courage to change what needs to be changed.

It is important for the catechist to understand the goal of faith formation at all levels, including sacramental preparation. This goal is not simply an accumulation of information but rather the formation of intentional disciples of Christ. An intentional disciple is one who desires to have a personal relationship with Christ; an intentional disciple is not formed in one or two school years; an intentional disciple is one who embarks on a lifelong journey to deepen that relationship and who desires restoration of that relationship when sin has occurred.

Disciples are formed by first hearing the good news. Thus, it is vital to understand that evangelization needs to occur prior to catechesis; it is essential not only to understand this but to practice it. The proclamation of the kerygma, the telling of the story of God's love and his invitation to a personal relationship, provides the fertile soil where catechesis can take root. This is not simply a new fad or an experiment; this is truly divine pedagogy. This is how Christ formed his first disciples; he invited them to follow him (Mt 4:18-19; 9:9; Mk 1:16-17; 2:13-14; Lk 5:27), to come and see (Jn 1:39); he revealed the Father's unconditional love, mercy, and forgiveness.

Often we focus on providing information, but this information, received by the intellect, will not lead to transformation unless the heart is open to an encounter with God. The National Directory of Catechesis offers us key elements to be included in the preparation for the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. Catechesis for this sacrament "depends on the person's acknowledgment of God's faithful love, of the existence of sin, of the capacity to commit sin, and of God's power to forgive sin and reconcile the sinner with himself and with the Church" (NDC, no. 36, B, 1). Essential catechesis for the preparation for the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation should emphasize:

″God's plan for the holiness and salvation of all people, which is expressed in his desire that each and every person will be reconciled with him and live in just relationship with him and with others

″God's infinite love and mercy, which are experienced as he continuously reaches out to us and welcomes us to return to him. This Sacrament is an "encounter with the Lord's mercy which spurs us on to do our best" (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 44).

″Christ whose perfect love restored the wounded relationship and who gave us the Holy Spirit, the Spirit who proceeds from the Father and from Christ himself, to guide us and strengthen us in our faith journey

″That Christ himself who forgives and reconciles. The priest is the minister through whom Christ forgives. The priest is bound by the seal of confession to keep secrecy regarding what is heard in the context of the sacrament (CCC, no. 1467).

″The existence of sin. Sin is a turning away from God; it is failing to love God and neighbor as we should. The Ten Commandments teach us about loving God and others. The consequence of sin is a wounded relationship with God and others (CCC, nos. 1849-1851).

″That mortal sins are more serious sins. A mortal sin is a sin of serious matter that is committed with full knowledge and with intentional and conscious consent (CCC, no. 1857).

″That duress, fear, habit, some psychological or social factors, or lack of full knowledge can diminish and even remove culpability and responsibility for an action (CCC, nos. 1735, 1860)

″That the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation consists of contrition (repentance), confession, penance (reparation, satisfaction), and absolution (CCC, nos. 1450-1460, 1449). (The articles by Msgr. Hilgartner and Fr. Merz offer further explanation on these four elements of the sacrament.)

″The centrality of a desire for conversion and the importance of disposition. Desire for ongoing conversion is a sign of readiness for receiving this sacrament and is fundamental in the life of a disciple.

″The effects of this sacrament: healing, reconciliation, and restoration

″An explanation of the meaning of the symbols, gestures, and prayers of the Rite of Reconciliation

″Mindfulness and respect of the person's age, abilities, limitations, and circumstances, with preparation modified accordingly

″The involvement of parents of young children and adolescents in the preparation process. This offers opportunities for ongoing formation and mystagogical catechesis for the parents.

(These essential elements for catechesis for the Sacrament of Reconciliation are presented in the NDC, pp. 132-136. Additional citations from the CCC or other resources are provided for further information.)

Reflection for Catechists

First reflection after presenting the section on disposition:

[Proclaim the reading and also give copies to the catechists and/or show the text on PowerPoint]

[10 minutes for private reflection and 10 minutes for sharing]

Luke 18:35-43: What does this passage say about the blind man's encounter with Christ? What does Jesus ask in verse 41, and what does this tell you about the disposition of the man? What else is significant to you in this passage? How can this passage help you prepare others to encounter Christ in the Sacrament of Reconciliation?

Second reflection after presenting the section on essential catechesis for sacramental preparation:

Catechetical Sunday 2014 will be the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A.

The readings for that day are: First Reading: Is 55:6-9; Responsorial Psalm: Ps 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18; Second Reading: Phil 1:20c-24, 27a; Gospel: Mt 20:1-16a.

[Proclaim the readings, and also give copies to the catechists.]

[20 minutes for private reflection and 20 minutes for sharing]

Reflect on these readings. What is the central theme of these readings? What connection do you notice between the First Reading and the Gospel? What advice does Paul give concerning conduct, and how do you think this relates to discipleship? How does the message of the Responsorial Psalm relate to the encounter with Christ in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation?

Meditation with Music

Suggested Meditation Song: "Hosea" ("Come Back to Me with All Your Heart") (Gregory Norbert, OCP), based on Hosea 14

Suggested Reflections for Those Preparing to Receive the Sacrament

Scriptural Reflection: Choose one or both of the following passages and reflections.

[Proclaim the reading, and also give copies and/or show the text or artwork of text on PowerPoint.]

[Children: 5 minutes for private reflection and 10 minutes for sharing]

[Youth: 10 minutes for private reflection and 10 minutes for sharing]

[Adults: 15 minutes for private reflection and 15 minutes for sharing] 

Matthew 20:29-34

For children: What does this story tell you about the two blind men's meeting with Jesus? How do you think these men felt before they realized Jesus was near? What do they start shouting? What does Jesus ask them? What do they say they want? Does Jesus show kindness? Do you think God is kind and loving?

For youth: What does this story tell you about the two blind men's encounter with Jesus? Initially, what are these men asking for in verse 30? What do they say they want? Do you think we can "see" things clearly when our relationship with God is wounded? How do you feel when you have hurt a relationship with a good friend? Does Jesus show compassion? What do the men do after they can see? What do you think God would do if you ask for his mercy?

For adults: What does this story tell you about the two blind men's encounter with Jesus? What are they asking for in verse 30? As they realized Jesus was near, were the two men intentional about seeking Jesus? Why do you think Jesus asked what they wanted? What do they say they want? Do you think we can "see" things clearly when our relationship with God is wounded? What do you desire when a relationship with a loved one has been hurt? What is Jesus' reaction to the men's request? What do the men do after they can see? What message does this story tell us concerning our asking Christ for mercy?

Luke 15:11-24

For children: Did the younger son show love and respect to his father? What does the younger son do when he returns home? What does the father do? Is the father happy to have the son back? What do you think God would do if you tell him you are sorry for having acted in a way that was not loving? Do you think God loves you?

For youth: Did the younger son act in a loving and respectful way? What does the younger son do when he returns home? Do you think the younger son was sorry for his actions? What are the father's reactions when the son returns and asks for forgiveness? Do you think God loves you? What is a time when you experienced forgiveness? What does this story tell you about what happens in the encounter with Christ in the Sacrament of Reconciliation?

For adults: What speaks to you about this story? What do you think about the father's reaction when the younger son comes back? Do you think feeling sorrow for one's faults is important for the process of conversion and healing? What is your greatest memory of having experienced forgiveness? Have you experienced God's abundant and merciful love? How does this story help you reflect on what awaits you in the encounter with Christ in the Sacrament of Reconciliation?

Meditation with Music

Suggested Meditation Song:"Hosea" ("Come Back to Me with All Your Heart") (Gregory Norbert, OCP), based on Hosea 14

Copyright © 2014, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted to duplicate this work without adaptation for non-commercial use.

Excerpts from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, second edition, copyright © 2000, Libreria Editrice Vaticana–United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Excerpts from XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, Final Propositions, copyright © 2012, Libreria Editrice Vaticana (LEV), Vatican City; Presbyterorum Ordinis, copyright © 1965, LEV. Used with permission. All rights reserved.