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Theological Reflection
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Sacrament of Conversion and Healing




The goodness and sinfulness of human beings is always a mystery. Mystery cannot be solved here on earth but lived. We try to live a good life but we are prone to do evil as St. Paul says, "What I do, I do not understand; for I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate." (Rom. 7:15)  To understand the mystery of sin and to come back on the right track we  need help. That help too can come only from God. God offers this help through his self revelation in Jesus Christ.  So the mystery of sin can be handled only in the context of the mystery of Christ. 

In the past, the attention of theologians was mostly focussed   on the individual, one's acts and their consequences, one's salvation or damnation. The definition of sin as "violation of God's commandment knowingly, willingly and with full consent" has brought about laxity in the Church, because without having a clear idea about God's commandment and without any evaluative knowledge the same we include all the rules of the Church and consider that their violation is sinful. For example even breaking of the Eucharistic fast was considered to be sinful, without evaluative knowledge of why it was sinful.

The Sacrament of penance came to be considered as a magical cleansing of sins that provided psychological comfort. Tariff penance was easy for the priests to follow the manual of penitential books and assign appropriate penance for each sin. The morality of an act was based purely on the act itself. The person and his intentions were often neglected. In 1225 A.D. there was a shift from tariff penance to auricular connfession wherein the emphasis was on act of confessing. Penitential liturgies were introduced and confession was an integral part of the Eucharistic celebration itself. In the penitential service of the Mass people confessed their sins publicly and the priest absolved them. 

After the Vatican Council II the focus has shifted to the opposite side. There is much talk about social sins, and an over-indulgence concerning personal sins. The sacrament of penance is now conversion-oriented. It is a total turning away from sin and turning to God, establishing a new relationship with him. It is a dynamic of daily conversion, free from selfishness, bondage, anxieties. 

This conversion implies a lot of things. Above all it means to live in Jesus who sheds light on the mystery of life. We have to become transmitters of life. A bread that is not broken is wasted; a life that is not spent for others is also wasted. Therefore we have to become bread and life by living and dying for others.  Acts of loving is more important than acts of charity. We have to give what we are and what we have, to all those who are in need, first and foremost to the poorest of the poor. Conversion always entails reconciliation with our brothers and sisters  who are harmed by our sins. 

In this regard sin can be defined as a futile attempt to realize oneself without any reference to the Other and others. So sin is the violation of the basic principles of one's own self realization. Trying to be happy without having communion with others. Our sorrow for our sins must be based on love. If our sorrow is motivated by love our contrition is perfect. If we feel sorrow for our sins motivated by fear our contrition is imperfect, though imperfect it can lead to perfect contrition. As in the case of prodigal son the imperfect contrition of his hunger lead him to perfect contrition of returning to his father establishing a real conversion. Guilt neurosis is a self-centered reaction which leads  to further alienation from the person who is hurt, whereas the sense of sin leads  to repentance with perfect contrition, conversion and further reconciliation with that person. 

In the  Old Testament conversion meant returning to a covenantal community. The partakers of covenantal community were God and his people. Breakdown of this covenantal relationship meant sickness and sin, when it was restored the inner healing was taking place which was considered to be conversion. In the New Testament conversion means metanoia or a change of heart consisting in a profound, total and definitive turning away from sin and turning to God, establishing a personal relationship with him for his kingdom. This involves conversion to people as Jesus placed himself at the level of sinners and lead them to metanoia without offending their dignity. Metanoia is very important for inner healing and inner change; it is a home-coming; it is the dynamic of daily conversion. Through conversion we are brought from death to life, from darkness to light.

Therefore the primary symbolism of the sacrament of conversion is a seriously estranged brother/sister coming back to the community which he/she offended. Confession is the celebration of this home-coming. The obligation to confession is by Divine Law but the manner of confessing to a priest privately is one of the ways of fulfilling this obligation. The council of Trent acknowledges that the Eucharistic Communion has also the power to forgive the sins. So a worthy participation of the Eucharist, without previous confession, grants on its own the grace of forgiveness even of the grave sins. This forgiveness in turn directs the Christian to the Sacrament of conversion, in case of grave sin, if a confessor is available. In conversion formal integrity is more important than material integrity. Formal integrity refers to one's ability to become converted from all the sins. Material integrity on the other hand focuses on one's ability to confess correctly all the grave sins into the ears of a priest. It requires the ability to remember ones sins and availability of a priest to hear the confession. Material integrity is desirable but not essential for the process of conversion.

 It is good to keep in mind the following points while celebrating the sacrament of conversion: 

1. Confess only real sins.

2. Do not abuse the Sacrament of conversion  by  converting it into a devotional practice.

3. In communities try to incorporate it in common celebration.

4. Try to do relevant penances related to one's sins.<

5. Build a room for a friendly atmosphere.

6. Face to face discussion and dialogue.

7. Never give the impression of begging for mercy.

8. Educate people about the importance of conversion and conditional necessity of the confession.