CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - This Sunday, our attention is being directed toward an understanding of the reality of sin.  Let us recall the words of this Sunday's gospel narrative: "And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.  For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed" (John 3: 19-20). 

What is sin?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives us a concise definition. "Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law" (CCC #1849). Scripture tells us that actual sin is divided into two classifications: mortal sin and venial sin. "There is a sin that leads to death." (1 John 5:16).  "Every kind of wickedness is sin, but not all sin leads to death" (1John 5:17).

Mortal sin is forgiven through the Sacrament of Confession. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: "Confession to a priest is an essential part of the sacrament of Penance. All mortal sins of which penitents after a diligent self-examination are conscious must be recounted by them in confession." (CCC #1456).

Just like all the other sacraments of the Church, Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Confession.  The Church has always understood the Scriptural reference for the Sacrament of Confession to be John 20: 22-23: "Receive the Holy Spirit.  For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained."

What an immense gift we have been given!  The Sacrament of Confession is an enormous source of interior peace.  The Sacrament helps us to be set free! The priest raises his hand, and then with a blessing pronounces those amazing words: I absolve you from your sins.  At that moment, we know that God has heard our cry for forgiveness, and we have been pardoned of our sins.  "God, who is rich in mercy." (Ephesians 2: 4). The Sacrament is a source of great joy.

For me, the Sacrament of Reconciliation has been, along with the Eucharist, my greatest source of strength and peace during my journey with the Lord Jesus.  As a parish priest, my greatest joys are celebrating the Eucharist for my people and hearing confessions.  I am overjoyed when people go to Confession on a regular basis, and one of my heaviest crosses as a priest has been the rejection of Confession by many people.  If they only knew what would give them such peace and happiness. 

A priest friend of mine from another diocese told me about the last time his bishop made an ad limina visit to the Holy Father.  Bishops meet with the Pope every five years in order to give him a report on their respective dioceses. 

The bishop was very honest with the Holy Father.  He told him that his biggest concern is the fact that his priests, religious and laity are not going to Confession. 

The greatest sin for many people is the denial of sin.  How sad this is, and how dangerous this is for the acquisition of eternal life.  Despite the constant and clear teaching of the Catholic Church, many people reject the truth. 

"Early and often did the Lord, the God of their fathers, send his messengers to them, for he had compassion on his people and his dwelling place.  But they mocked the messengers of God, despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets, until the anger of the Lord against his people was inflamed that there was no remedy" (2 Chronicles 36: 16). 

Ignorance of what behaviors constitute sinful actions is the primary cause of why so few people go to confession. My new book Get Serious! - A Survival Guide for Serious Catholics provides an easy to understand list of the most common mortal sins and the most common venial sins.  The list can serve as an excellent way to examine your conscience before going to Confession.

Lent is a great time to get back to the Sacrament of Confession.  However, Confession must not be just a practice that takes place before Christmas and Easter.  This is a huge 

mistake.  Monthly Confession, or whenever necessary, is a fundamental tool to maintain and persevere in the life of grace.

Sometimes people who have progressed in the spiritual life often wonder why the frequent Confession of venial sins is so important.  It is true that venial sins are forgiven by making an act of contrition or by receiving Holy Communion, but regular Confession is very healthy for our spiritual life.

The regular use of the Sacrament of Confession gives us the grace to grow in our intimate union with God.  Frequent Confession will prevent us from falling into spiritual tepidity and it helps us to keep our conscience well formed and well tuned. 

Finally, there is another aspect to the Sacrament of Confession that is very important for us to take a look at, especially during this holy time of Lent. 

There is a direct relationship between the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Confession. 

Saint Paul speaks to us about this essential relationship in his First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 11, verses 23-32.  Let us consider the entire text.

"For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, 'This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying. If we discerned ourselves, we would not be under judgment; but since we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world."

The Sacrament of the Eucharist is one of the sacraments of the living.  We need to be free from mortal sin before we receive Holy Communion.  If we receive the Eucharist while we are in the state of mortal sin, we are committing a sacrilege.  "For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself."

That act of receiving the Eucharist with a bad conscience has a direct influence on our physical health.  "That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying."
Sexual sin is not the only sin, but like for the Corinthians of old, it is certainly the battle of our times.  Adultery, fornication, masturbation, addiction to pornography, contraception,  sterilization and abortion are real life struggles for many Catholics. 

Relativism has convinced a lot of Catholics that there is no longer any need to go to confession for these sins before they receive the Eucharist. 

It is possible to live the virtue of chastity in an unchaste world.  We have to make a decision to change and to live the Gospel with greater authenticity. 

In today's second reading , Saint Paul reminds us that God is a God of mercy.  "God, who is rich in mercy." (Ephesians 2: 4).  This truth is underscored in this Sunday's gospel passage:  "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him" (John 3: 16-17). 

We experience God's mercy through the Sacrament of Confession.  It is there that we acknowledge who we are: limited, weak and sinful creatures in need of redemption.  It is there that God forgives us of any and all of our sins. 

Only the foolish  continue to walk through life carrying around the putrid garbage of sin and guilt.  "That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying."

Father James Farfaglia is the Pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Corpus Christi, TX.  Check out Father's updated website to learn more about his books, homilies and audio podcasts.