Lord, Have Mercy

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Lord, Have Mercy
by Scott Hahn
(St Pauls, 2009; first published by Doubleday, 2003)

Confession is often mocked or misunderstood. Just look at how the confessional is portrayed in shows – such as when people use the confessional to pour out their troubles (rather than to make their confession), or when it is used as a hiding place (so if I’m the bad guy, I’d head straight for the confessional to look for the person I’m chasing!) or a convenient place to dump a dead body.

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This book gives a comprehensive overview of it for anyone who needs to explain confession, or who wants to understand the sacrament better. It covers:

  • Sin, its consequences and making reparation for our sins
  • Confessing, penance and reconciliation in the Old Testament
  • Jesus’ instructions and teaching

Sin, its consequences and making reparation for our sins
We know we have to try to “be perfect… as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) but invariably we sin. One big consequence is that “sins engender other sins, not only in the sinner but in others as well”. Our perfect heavenly Father provides the way for us to recognise, admit and renounce our sins, and then to repair the damage they cause.

Confessing, penance and reconciliation in the Old Testament
Right from the start, God gently guided the earliest sinners, to show them how they could be healed. His questions gave Adam, Eve and Cain the opportunity to confess and repent but they didn’t and so faced the consequences of their sins.

By the time of the Covenants, there were specific guidelines for confessing one’s sins and making reparations. Acts of sacrifice, fasting, sackcloth, ashes and open weeping showed that while turning away from sin was an individual’s response and responsibility, the public process, “humbling and costly” though it may be, as well as the intercession of the priest were also necessary.

The New Testament era did not do away with this, as Jesus did not come to “replace something bad with something good”.  He came to “take something already great and holy… and bring it to divine fulfilment.”

Jesus’ instructions and teaching
Some points explained in the book:
Binding and loosing
The apostles would have understood what Jesus meant, in their Jewish context. This referred to the authority of priests of the past to “bind” and “loose” – to “judge someone to be in communion with the chosen people or cut off from that group’s life and worship”.

“Do not sin again”
When Jesus forgave and healed sinners, He told them “do not sin again” (such as in John 8:11), which Hahn calls His “absolution”. This “renews” the sinner and restores him/her to the community and it is also an exhortation to turn away from sin.  Thus, as we keep sinning, we need to keep coming back to Jesus for forgiveness and healing.

Reconciliation-related stories
The story of the prodigal son and the last moments of the good thief show God reaching out to sinners “while they are still on the road to true contrition”.

In the story of the wedding feast (Matthew 22:1-14), the only guest who was thrown out was the one did not wear his wedding garment – the one who was not properly ready for the feast.

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The sacrament of Reconciliation invites us to prepare for the wedding feast of the Lamb. It could be helpful to start with reminding ourselves of what confession is all about, then regularly do our examination of conscience (a version based on the Ten Commandments is included in the appendix) and finally step into the confessional. Our merciful God waits for us.

♫ Makes me think of Loving and Forgiving