Grant, we pray, almighty God, that, purifying us by the sacred practice of penance, you may lead us in sincerity of heart to attain the holy things to come. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Coming closer to God means being ready to be converted anew, to change direction again, to listen attentively to his inspirations – those holy desires he places in our souls – and to put them into practice. – St Josemaria, The Forge, 32
We are at the beginning of Lent: a time of penance, purification and conversion. It is not an easy program, but then Christianity is not an easy way of life. It is not enough just to be in the Church, letting the years roll by. In our life, in the life of Christians, our first conversion — that unique moment which each of us remembers, when we clearly understood everything the Lord was asking of us — is certainly very significant. But the later conversions are even more important, and they are increasingly demanding. To facilitate the work of grace in these conversions, we need to keep our soul young; we have to call upon our Lord, know how to listen to him and, having found out what has gone wrong, know how to ask his pardon.
“If you call upon me, I will listen to you,” we read in this Sunday’s liturgy. Isn’t it wonderful how God cares for us and is always ready to listen to us — waiting for man to speak? He hears us at all times, but particularly now. Our heart is ready and we have made up our minds to purify ourselves. He hears us and will not disregard the petition of a “humble and contrite heart.”
– St Josemaria, Christ is Passing, 57
To do great mortifications some days, and nothing on others, is not the spirit of penance. The spirit of penance means knowing how to overcome yourself every single day, offering up both great and small things for love, without being noticed. – St Josemaria, The Forge
However, a powerful enemy is lying in wait for us, an enemy which counters our desire to incarnate Christ’s doctrine in our lives. This enemy is pride, which grows if we do not reach out for the helping and merciful hand of God after each failure and defeat. In that case the soul remains in the shadows, in an unhappy darkness, and thinks it is lost. Its imagination creates all sorts of obstacles which have no basis in fact, which would disappear if it just looked at them with a little humility. Prompted by pride and a wild imagination, the soul sometimes creates painful calvaries for itself. But Christ is not on these calvaries, for joy and peace always accompany our Lord even when the soul is nervous and surrounded by darkness.
There is another hypocritical enemy of our sanctification: the idea that this interior struggle has to be against extraordinary obstacles, against fire‑belching dragons. This is another sign of pride. We are ready to fight, but we want to do it noisily, with the clamour of trumpets and the waving of standards.
We must convince ourselves that the worst enemy of a rock is not a pickaxe or any other such implement, no matter how sharp it is. No, its worst enemy is the constant flow of water which drop by drop enters the crevices until it ruins the rock’s structure.
– St Josemaria, Christ is Passing
What is required for the forgiveness of sins is the person who undergoes conversion and the priest who in God’s name gives him absolution from his sins.
Essential elements of every confession are an examination of conscience, contrition, a purpose of amendment, confession, and penance.
The examination of conscience should be done thoroughly, but it can never be exhaustive. No one can be absolved from his sin without real contrition, merely on the basis of “lip-service”. Equally indispensable is the purpose of amendment, the resolution not to commit that sin again in the future. The sinner absolutely must declare the sin to the confessor and, thus, confess to it. The final essential element of confession is the atonement or penance that the confessor imposes on the sinner to make restitution for the harm done.
One of the duties of a Catholic is to fulfill the six Precepts of the Church, the positive laws which are “meant to guarantee to the faithful the indispensable minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2041). Two of these precepts directly relate to the upcoming Easter season. The third precept is “You shall humbly receive your Creator in Holy Communion at least during the Easter season.” This is tied in with the second precept to “confess your sins at least once a year.” If we want to receive Jesus worthily in Holy Communion during Easter, we need to cleanse our souls, especially of any mortal sin through the Sacrament of Penance. Most parishes offer extra confession times for Holy Week, but usually any priest is available on request to hear confession by appointment.