Feast of the Apparition of the Immaculate Conception in Lourdes, France
“Penance!” Such was the main purpose of the many requests Our Immaculate Mother made in Her apparition in Lourdes; the same request She insisted all the more in Fatima, Portugal.
Grace – the gift of God of Himself, though not due from God and not merited by us, proceeding from His disposition of condescension or benevolence towards us in our lowly and miserable condition – which has been given to us so abundantly in Baptism and Confirmation, has of itself the infallible power to sanctify, regardless of the merits of Our Lord’s minister. It does not force us, however, to do good nor does it sanctify us without our voluntary cooperation. Man always remain free to cooperate or not with this divine gift; unfortunately, it is always possible for him to resist grace and condescend to evil, thus failing in his duty as a child of God and a soldier of Christ. Our Divine Physician, foreseeing these possible defections and falls, has instituted a special Sacrament for the sole purpose of healing the wounds of sin, of restoring sinners to grace and providing strength for their weakness. Our Lord said to the Apostles: Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained (Jn. 20.23). By these words, Our Lord conferred on them and their successors the formidable power to forgive sins in His Name. This power was not given to the Angels nor even to the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, but was reserved for His priests – the Lord’s ministers (Joel 1.9; 2.17; Is. 61.6).
Scandalized at seeing Jesus absolve sinners, the scribes, believing Him – as with all the leaders of the Synagogue – to be only a man, asked of one another, Who can forgive sins, but God only? (Mk. 2.7) Wavering between unbelief and derision, the world still considers the Sacrament of Penance with a like Jewish attitude; it cannot and will not – in its obstinacy – recognize in the traditional Catholic priest a minister commissioned by God to remit sin. But for those who believe, there is perhaps no other Sacrament which so rouses our piety, devotion and gratitude. Powerful are the Sacraments by which we are raised to the dignity of children of God; ineffable is the Sacrament by which we are nourished with the immaculate Flesh; yet it is not more touching still that in the Sacrament of Penance Our Good Shepherd goes in search of the Christian who has betrayed Him, of the soldier who has deserted the camp; of the son who, after having been nourished at His table, has gone fare away to eat even the husks of swine? Instead of being indignant or repelling one who has made such poor use of His boundless gifts, Jesus through the Sacrament of Penance offers him pardon and mercy; He heals this soul which, though formerly clothed in the wedding garment of grace and regenerated in His Precious Blood, has fallen into sin, making itself His enemy.
Although the Sacrament of Penance is necessary only to remit mortal sins, the Church has always recommended and praised the frequent use of it even for those who have only venial sins to confess. “We heartily recommend,” says Pope Pius XII, “the pious custom introduced by the Church, through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, of frequent confession. It gives us a more thorough knowledge of ourselves, stimulates Christian humility, helps us to uproot our evil habits, wages war on spiritual negligence and tepidity, purifies our conscience, strengthens our wills, encourages spiritual direction and, by virtue of the Sacrament itself, increases grace” (in the Encyclical “Mystici Corporis”). Frequent confession has always been considered, in authentic Catholic tradition, as a school of perfection, an effective way to correct faults and evil tendencies and to advance in virtue. When a penitent sees Our Lord Jesus Christ in the person of the Confessor, and discloses with humble sincerity his sins and weaknesses, accompanying his accusation with true repentance and a firm purpose of amendment, the Sacrament will have most efficacious results. Not only will he be absolved from his infidelities and receive an increase of sanctifying grace, but he will also receive the “sacramental grace,” which assures him of divine assistance in correcting his weak points, overcoming the temptations to which he is most often exposed, and surmounting the particular difficulties he encounters in the practice of virtue. There is no better medicine for the ills and wounds of the soul than frequent confession when it is made with a humble, sincere, and contrite heart. Our Lord awaits us in this Sacrament of His merciful love, not only to liberate us from the bonds of sin, which binds us to the devil, and cleanse our soul in His Precious Blood, but also to strengthen it in this salutary bath, fortify it, and guard it against the future attacks of temptation and of the devil. Confession applies to our soul all the merits of the Passion of Jesus, all the infinite value of His Blood; we shall always return from this Sacrament renewed, sanctified, and strengthened in good in the measure in which we have approached it with a contrite and humble heart.