Called to Holiness

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Christians are children of God.  But what does that mean?  To find out what it means to be a child of God, we must think about what it means to be a child of human parents.  First, and most important, our parents give us life; without them we would never have been born.  Then, they care for the children they have brought into the world; feeding us, clothing us, caring for us when we are sick or hurt, and preparing us for adulthood.  These are all ways that parents express their love for their children.

God, our Heavenly Father, cares for the needs of our souls just as parents care for the health of our bodies.  We are born as God's children at Baptism.  Our souls are fed by sanctifying grace, which we receive from all of the sacraments, but the greatest spiritual food is the Holy Eucharist.  When our souls are sick and injured by sin, God heals them through the sacrament of Penance.  We are strengthened for adulthood in the Church by the sacrament of Confirmation.

The seven sacraments are like seven fountains of grace which come to us in the Church.  Each sacrament was instituted (begun) by Christ to bring to souls the new life of grace he won for us on the Cross.  A sacrament is a visible sign: although we cannot see grace, we can see the things God uses to give us grace.  Things such as water, bread and wine, holy oil, the priest, and spoken words all help us to understand what the sacraments do.

Some people may say,  "I thought that Jesus died to free us from sin and gave us grace.  So why do we need sacraments to do the same thing?"  Such a question misses the point.  The sacraments are not something that we need in addition to Christ's dying for us.  Jesus gave us the sacraments so we could have a sure way to receive the grace that he won for us.

The Church has the mission to sanctify, that is to make her members holy.  She does this first of all by the sacrament of Baptism.  Baptism removes original sin and fills our souls with sanctifying grace.  A newly baptized soul is holy and pleasing to God.  Unfortunately, this perfect holiness may not last for ever.  Although Baptism removes original sin, it does not remove all the effects (results) of original sin.  And one of these effects is a strong inclination to sin.  That means we fall into sin very easily.  Sins that we ourselves commit are called "actual sins".

Imagine someone who has had a terrible disease.  Finally, he is cured, but for the rest of his life he is not a very strong person, and he often catches cold.  Original sin is like the disease.  Baptism "cures" it, but our souls are left weak, and we often fall into actual sin.

There are two kinds of actual sin: mortal and venial.  Mortal sin destroys the life of grace within us.  By committing mortal sin we destroy our life with God.  A soul that dies in mortal sin cannot receive eternal life in Heaven.  Three things are needed in order for a sin to be mortal.  First, it must be a very serious matter.  Second, the person must really know that it is serious.  third, the person must commit the sin on purpose.  A good example is missing Sunday Mass.  This is a serious matter.  But if someone had never been taught that it is a serious matter, he would not be committing a mortal sin by missing Mass.  Nor would he sin mortally if he knew it, but he was too sick to go to Mass or he had no way of getting there.  In those cases, he would not be missing Mass on purpose.

Venial sin is a less serious sin.  We are still in God's friendship and love even though we are in a state of venial sin.  Still, venial sins offend God.  Venial sins hurt other people and ourselves.  If we do not try to keep away from venial sin, we may soon find ourselves committing mortals sins as well.  Jesus suffered pain and sadness from our venial sins as well as from our mortal sins.

Jesus knew that even after Baptism, Christians would still sin.  He wanted there to be a way for them to receive God's forgiveness again and again.  He wanted his followers to have special help in overcoming sin in their daily lives.  And so Jesus instituted the sacrament of Penance.  He gave his apostles the power to forgive sins in his name:  "Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them."  The apostles later passed on this power to forgive sins.  When we receive the sacrament of Penance, the sanctifying grace we have lost through mortal sin is restored to our souls.

Ordinarily we may not receive the Holy Eucharist if we have an unconfessed mortal sin.  Receiving the Eucharist in the state of mortal sin would itself be another mortal sin.  It is all right to receive the Eucharist when there are venial sins on our souls; in fact, receiving the Eucharist can remove our venial sins.  However, it is good to confess venial sins.  Frequent Confession will give us the grace to avoid both mortal and venial sin.  Receiving the sacrament of Penance often (once a month is a good idea) will make us better and stronger Christians.

How to Make the Most of The Sacrament of Penance

If you were hurt and needed to see the doctor, you would do your best to help the doctor make you well again.  On the way to his office, you would think of what you wanted to say to him.  You would carefully answer his questions about how you had been injured and where you felt the pain.  You would carefully follow his instruction about taking any special medicine or keeping the bandages clean.  And if the injury was caused partly through your own fault, you would promise yourself to be more careful in the future.

In order to make a good Confession, we should treat our injured souls the same way.  Here are the five steps needed to make a good Confession.

1.  Examination of conscience:  this means to think deeply and get a clear idea of what sins your have committed, and how many times you have committed them.  It helps to pray to the Holy Spirit for help in remembering.
2.  Be sorry for sin: remember that each of your sins helped to crucify Jesus.  Think, too, of how your sins may have hurt others.  Tell God you are sorry and pray the Act of Contrition.
3.  Make up your mind not to sin again: and decide what steps you will take to avoid these same sins in the future.
4.  Confess your sins to the priest:  If after you leave church, you remember that you forgot to tell one of your sins, do not worry about it.  If the sin was mortal, tell the priest the next time you receive the sacrament.  If venial, there is no need to do this.
5.  Do the penance the priest gives you:  The penance the priest gives may be some prayers or a specific action.  Doing the penance show that you are serious about wanting to overcome sin.  It helps in a small way to make up for sin, by balancing the evil you have done with something that is good.  You should do your penance as soon as you can.

 Used with the permission of The Ignatius Press 800-799-5534

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