During Lent, many Catholics return to the sacrament of Penance, some after a few weeks, others after many years. Most of us approach Confession seeking forgiveness of sin and the alleviation of a guilty conscience. Perhaps to our surprise, the sacrament has even more to offer.
In one succinct paragraph, the Catechism lists six spiritual effects of the sacrament of penance. For a more fruitful reception of this sacrament, let’s briefly examine each one.
Effect #1: Reconciliation with God by which the penitent recovers grace
This first effect reveals the real horror of sin. By mortal sin, we separate ourselves from God and refuse His grace. By Confession, we are reunited with God. God dwells in us through grace, and by that grace, our souls magnify the Lord. And should we have sinned only in small, venial ways, the sacrament of Penance wipes those away too.
Effect #2: Reconciliation with the Church
Sin also separates us from the Church. This separation is often experienced on a very basic level. Sin pulls us away from our families. It isolates us from our friends. It sours our relationships at work. By Confession, God restores us to the Church. We return to our families and friends with more love to give.
Effect #3: Remission of the eternal punishment incurred by mortal sins
By mortal sin, we condemn ourselves to hell. Thankfully, through Confession, God freely pardons this punishment. It would be wrong to imagine that God is stingy with such a pardon. As our loving, merciful Father, He delights in pardoning us. He even gives us the very grace to draw us to Confession. At the words of absolution (“I absolve you…”), all the angels and saints rejoice at this remission. They await our entrance to the heavenly banquet.
Effect #4: Remission, at least in part, of temporal punishments resulting from sin
By our sins, whether venial or mortal, we suffer in this present life. Every sin contains some disorder, and this disorder is the sin’s own punishment. If I overindulge my desire for cheese, I’ll soon feel quite uncomfortable. God usually allows us to drink these dregs of our own folly, especially when we are unrepentant. When we humble ourselves and confess, God remits this punishment, at least in part. Whether we choose the easy way or the hard way, God wants to teach us how to love.
Effect #5: Peace and serenity of conscience and spiritual consolation
Many think of devout Catholics as harboring guilt complexes. Such a caricature ignores the power of Confession. This sacrament truly brings peace, even if unfelt in the moment. Anecdotally, it is the repeated experience of the faithful that we leave Confession light-hearted, joyful, and renewed in God’s love.
Effect #6: An increase of spiritual strength for the Christian battle
Whether we recognize it or not, the Christian life is a battle. We all fight our inner old man, certain of whose tendencies linger after our baptism. Everyday, we are tempted to forget the true God, to use our neighbors, and to seek our selfish pleasure. In this daily battle, even the saints stumble and fall, even if only in small ways. Confession forgives these failures, and it also strengthens us to overcome vices with virtue. Ultimately, Christ is the true victor. He is our strength. He is our salvation.
Image by Annie Spratt