Wednesday 21 June 2023

Reconciliation: The Mercy of Christ - Vivian Boland - Sacraments Meeting Christ Series

Reconciliation: The Mercy of Christ
Sacraments Meeting Christ Series
Father Vivian Boland OP
ISBN 9781860822360
eISBN 9781784693749
CTS Booklet DO716

Over the past few years I have read almost 350 volumes from the Catholic Truth Society. This is the second I have read from the Sacraments Meeting Christ Series, and my third from Father Vivian Boland. This one was originally published in 2004, and the eBook was released in 2017. There is another similar CTS series on Living the Sacraments. Both are excellent series, this one focuses more on the theology and history and the other series more on the personal practice, though this volume could have easily been in either series. 

The description of this volume is:

“The joy of repentance and forgiveness is at the heart of Christian life. Here, Fr Vivian Boland explains how this can be experienced in Confession, inviting us all to encounter Christ’s mercy.

The sacrament of Reconciliation is where every Christian can experience that the joy of repentance and forgiveness is at the heart of Christian life. In a time when the sacrament is experiencing somewhat of a revival Fr Vivian Boland explains and invites all to an encounter with Christ's mercy.”

And the sections and chapters in the book are:

1. The Sound of Angels Cheering
     A culture of no regrets
     Forgiveness in the Gospels
     The Early Church

2. Dramas of Sin and Repentance
     Forgiveness after Baptism
     The Sacrament in the Early Church
     Frequent Confession
     The New Rite of Reconciliation
     Individual Confession

3. The Good Sinner
     The Importance of Remembering
     Remembering the Old Testament
     Remembering the New Testament
     The Examination of Conscience
     The Confession of Sins

4. The Good Confessor
     Tasks of the Confessor
     Interior and External Penance
     Forgive as you have been forgiven

5. Some Saints on the Sacrament of Reconciliation
Further Reading

I Highlighted numerous passages my first time through this volume. Some of them are:

“Imagine an Olympic stadium packed to capacity on the last day of the games. The marathon is almost over. The crowd waits impatiently for the first runner to enter the stadium. When he or she does there is an explosion of joy and admiration as the crowd shouts its support to help the runner finish the race. When a sinner repents he or she does so to the sound of angels cheering. It is as if a heavenly stadium were packed with angels who roar their joy and support whenever a sinner appears through the tunnel and limps, however tiredly, towards the finishing line.”

“If the sacrament of reconciliation is a sacrament in crisis as John Paul II has often said, and as pastoral experience seems to bear out, then part of the explanation for this might be that remorse has become practically impossible in our culture.”

“The evil in some of the things that have been done in recent history can seem too deep for forgiveness. Who is entitled to forgive people involved in the Holocaust and other genocidal campaigns? What does forgiveness and reconciliation mean in South Africa, the north of Ireland, or after the attacks of September 11th?”

“Those who seek to follow Christ and to live by his way must be ready to be forgiven and they must be ready to forgive.”

“Forgiveness is not to be miserly or reluctant but generous and free: seventy seven times perhaps, or even seventy times seven (Matthew 18). If it lives by this rule, the community of disciples will reverse the pattern of sinful humanity so vividly described in the early chapters of the Bible. As they insisted on a seventy-fold retribution, so the new community seeks to live by a seventy-fold absolution (Genesis 4: 24).”

“The missions of the Son and the Spirit are with a view to reconciling the world to God. We can describe them as the arms of the Father, with which he reaches out to draw the world to Himself, bringing it into relationship with Him by rescuing it from the power of evil, death and sin, and so establishing it securely in His peace. For the Christian tradition this is what happens with the sending of Christ and the Spirit and it is what continues to happen through the Church, the community of Christ’s disciples who continue to make him present through its life of worshipping God and serving humanity.”

“From the beginning the Church realised that the mysteries entrusted to it by Christ and the Spirit included the authority and power to reconcile sinners who had already been baptised. The sacramental life of the Christian community included not only the great sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, celebrated at the Lord’s explicit command and in memory of him, but others too that were relevant to crucial experiences and responsibilities of the Christian life and that were understood to originate in the ministry and paschal work of Christ and so to have been instituted by Him.”

“From such texts we learn many things. We learn that there is a danger of under-estimating the seriousness of the decisions to which the Christian faith calls us. We learn that there is a danger of presumption in relation to God’s grace and the promise of salvation. It is true that despair is a sin against the virtue of hope but so too is presumption.”

“The important thing is that penance and reconciliation were public even where confession was not. The sacrament of reconciliation referred, then, to the formal conclusion of the process by which penitents were restored to the communion of the Church by the bishop.”

“The call to repentance is extended to all and conversion is not just a once off experience but a daily task for the believer. The liturgical celebration of Lent made this very clear, an annual recalling of the evangelical summons to metanoia, a change of heart and mind. The virtue of penitence or penance was practised through prayer, almsgiving, other works of service, and various kinds of mortification and self-denial.”

“At about the beginning of the 7th century there is a change. The discipline of once in a lifetime and public penance and reconciliation is replaced by the practice of frequent and private penance and reconciliation. This change came about largely through the influence of monks in Celtic lands. It emerged from their practice of spiritual direction in which they checked in now and again with a spiritual father and spoke with this teacher or guide about the difficulties they were experiencing in living according to the gospel.”

“Suffice it to conclude this chapter by repeating that what is required for the celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation is a sinner who is contrite, ready to confess and ready to do penance, and a priest from whom the sinner will receive encouragement, guidance and absolution.”

“At the heart of the sacrament of reconciliation is the encounter between a sinner and a priest. For the purposes of celebrating this sacrament a ‘good’ sinner and a ‘good’ confessor are required. The good sinner is one who is contrite, confesses his sins, intends not to sin again, and undertakes some penance or ‘satisfaction’ as a way of completing the sacramental celebration.”

“The reason for this acceptance is because the Church knows that ‘perfect contrition’ is a gift of God’s grace and not something we can generate from within our own resources. Imperfect contrition means we are turning back towards home, beginning the journey back to reconciliation with God.”

“Good remembering of the past is essential for wise counsel about the future.”

“To celebrate reconciliation is to remember our sins and our need for forgiveness. It is also to remember Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. It is to remember God, the Father of Jesus and our Father also, who does not desire the death of the sinner but rather that he should turn from his sins and live (Ezekiel 18: 23). We are to think of ourselves as dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6: 11).”

“There are two main images applied to the confessor in the Church’s explanations of his role. He is a judge and he is a physician or healer. These analogies arise from the fact that the priest acts here in persona Christi, in the person of Christ, who although he is our Judge is also our Healer.”

“Sin disrupts all the relationships in which we are involved. It disrupts our relationship with God whose goodness and holiness are offended by sin. It disrupts our relationship with others who are often the direct victims of our wrongdoing but who are always affected by our sins even those that seem hidden and private. Sin disrupts our relationship with the human environment given us by God to be our garden but at odds with us now as a result of our greed (Genesis 3: 17-19). And sin disrupts our relationship with ourselves - if we may put it like that - because the freedom we exercise in sinning is actually weakened by sin to the extent that our hearts become set on what is less than truly good.”

“Once again it is important that we remember, remember more and remember better, remember above all how we have been forgiven by God. Remembering this ought to equip us to forgive. It ought to help us find our way through the obstacles there undoubtedly are to forgiving others. It may also be, of course, that the one we find difficult to forgive is God.”

I am certain that the two greatest things about Catholicism are the Eucharist, and Reconciliation. And this one highlights clearly the importance of making a good confession and frequent confession. This volume is a clear and concise presentation of what Catholics understand about the sacrament of reconciliation. It is very well written. It is an engaging read and can easily be read by any Catholic. It does a wonderful job highlighting some of the history of the sacrament and some of the theology. For most readers it can be read in a few hours or spread out reading a chapter or section a day. The material is well researched and clearly organized and presented. This volume has left me wanting to track down and to read the other works of Father Boland. This is another great resource from the Catholic Truth Society, I can easily recommend it.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2023 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

Books by Father Vivian Boland:
Ideas in God According to Saint Thomas Aquinas
8 Deadly Sins: Learning to Defend the Life of Grace
Spiritual Warfare: Fighting the Good Fight
Reconciliation: The Mercy of Christ
Don't Put Out the Burning Bush
Watchmen Raise Their Voices

CTS Sacraments Meeting Christ Series:
Holy Orders 

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