Encounters in faith
While God is present in our hearts, in our world, in all cultures and religions, and in the life of our Church, Catholics believe there are a number of special ways of experiencing God. These are called sacraments and are deep encounters in faith.
Baptism is the first of the seven sacraments, and the "door" which gives access to the other sacraments. Baptism is the first and chief sacrament of healing because it unites us with Jesus Christ. Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist constitute the "sacraments of initiation" by which we begin a new life in Christ and the Holy Spirit.
Reconciliation is also known as Confession and Penance.
There is a special beauty in the moment of forgiveness, when a parent forgives a child or two friends are reconciled after a time of estrangement.
Such reconciliation is not brought about merely by a hug or a gift to win back the favour of one we have fallen out with. Words are important, as is the intent to build a new beginning, accompanied by some action which expresses this desire.
We are indeed fortunate that our God offers us forgiveness so freely and abundantly. It is a dominant theme of Jesus who offers forgiveness even to the ones crucifying him, to the thief on the cross next to him and continuously in his earthly ministry. When Peter, his close friend and disciple asks: "How many times must I forgive?" Jesus replies, "seventy times seven", in other words, always.
The most famous Christian prayer, "The Our Father", contains the words, "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass upon us."
Jesus' stories and own actions should assure us that God's forgiveness is abiding and always offered due to his enduring love. We need but ask for forgiveness in the silence of our heart. Pray now for healing.
Why have a sacrament of forgiveness?
Sacraments are special encounters in God's love. Divine forgiveness is surely one of the greatest of these encounters. While we can privately ask for and receive forgiveness from God, Reconciliation is our special way of celebrating God's forgiveness. One powerful reason to do this is that when we turn away from God through bad choices, we are also turning away from fellowship with our community, the Church. Indeed, through what we do and what we fail to do, we can actually be harming those around us, not to mention our own self. Therefore, we seek out a representative of our Church, who also represents God, in other words, a priest, and in this ritual moment, we celebrate our reconciliation not just with God, but with our community of faith. The particular acts of the sacrament include: our confession of our sins, our sorrow for what we have done (act of contrition), our desire for renewal (penance), and the priest's beautiful prayer of absolution.
Reconciliation times are available on the parish pages; or if published times don't suit, contact your local priest.
Sickness and death are unavoidable aspects of life. In these times, it is the loving kindness of family and friends that can help sustain us. Many a time has a parent tucked a sick child in bed, given them that extra care and attention.
Jesus' life abounded with stories of healing. His action was often accompanied by a word and a touch to cure all sorts of ills - leprousy, haemorrhage, blindness, possession, paralysis - to name but a few.
These episodes of healing once again demonstrate the magnitude of God's love, of God's desire to make humans whole again.
As Christians, we follow in Jesus' footsteps, seeking to offer healing in our wounded world. Many examples of how we help are found here.
If we ever find ourselves needing healing and support, or wanting to help another, God will listen to our prayers. Many people testify to the power of such prayers.
However, there is a mystery in our suffering. We know that not all ills will be cured by prayer, and that death will come to us all. The promise of eternal life offered in Jesus is a comfort, yet we know we are not alone in our present suffering.
It is fitting then, that a sacred moment of encounter, a special sacrament is one of the anointing of the sick. In this sacrament we are anointed with special oil, and offered the sacrament of reconciliation. Through this sacrament, God offers us healing and comfort and strength. Participants may not be healed to fullness of health, but often experience an inner healing and peace.
Healing Masses are celebrated regularly in most parishes; you should always contact a priest before a serious operation and certainly when in danger of death.
We are all hungry for different things - many people hunger for water and food, others hunger for freedom and justice. Yet there is a deeper hunger, a hunger for wholeness that includes all our other needs yet is greater than them.
Jesus offered this when he encountered the woman at the well. She offers him water, and he tells her "whoever drinks this water will be thirsty again; but no one who drinks the water that I shall give will ever be thirsty again: the water that I shall give will become a spring of water within, welling up for eternal life." (Jn 4:14)
In faith, we recognise that deeper than all our joys and griefs, at the heart of all our thanksgiving, is the sacrament which brings us into communion with God. It is a sacrament of healing, for we receive that which we need, and become what we receive.
Throughout the Eucharist healing words and actions abound:
- When we gather, we ask for God's mercy and pray that "God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life."
- We encounter the healing and transforming power of Christ as we are nourished by the Word of God.
- We pray: Deliver us, Lord, from every evil and grant us peace in our day; in your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety..."
- At the sign of the peace, Christ's peace is offered to our neighbour and to us in turn.
- In confidence we pray: "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the words and I shall be healed."
- We share in Communion, being healed and transformed in receiving Christ in the sacrament and brought to a greater communion with our sisters and brothers in Christ.
- We are invited to love and serve and so heal the world.
- In the Eucharist we gratefully acknowledge that the wounds of our life are not the end of the story. We celebrate Christ's life, death and resurrection which bring us to healing: "Dying you destroyed our death; rising you restored our life; Lord Jesus, come in glory!"