Photo: Felix Carroll
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Jan 30, 2008)
The following is the second part in the series, "Reconciliation: the Sacrament of Mercy and Healing." Read part one.
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD
It is not only the Catechism of the Catholic Church that teaches us about the healing graces that flow from sacramental confession. Jesus gave the very same message about this sacrament to St. Faustina. In her Diary, for example, Jesus taught her about His compassion for sinners:
Today I am sending you with My mercy to the people of the whole world. I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to My Merciful Heart. (1588)
Now that is a very revealing quote, because when our Lord starts out by saying "I do not want to punish," we might expect Him to say "I do not want to punish sinful mankind, but to forgive it." But Jesus did not put it that way. Rather, He said, "I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it." Our Savior is so compassionate! While He is certainly offended and grieved by our sins, He also sees clearly how our sins can wound and tear the very life out of our souls. In other words, He sees how mankind is "aching" from sin, and so He wants not only to forgive our sins, but to heal our hearts, too, pressing them close to His own Merciful Heart.
In Diary entry 1487, Jesus encouraged Faustina by saying to her: "Tell me about everything, be sincere in dealing with Me, reveal all the wounds of your heart. I will heal them ..." So Faustina always approached the confessional with childlike trust, knowing that her Savior was always there to welcome her and heal her (cf. entry 377).
Perhaps the most remarkable teaching that our Lord gave to St. Faustina about this sacrament is found in Diary entry 1448. Jesus said to her:
Write, speak of My mercy. Tell souls where they are to look for solace, that is, in the Tribunal of Mercy [the Sacrament of Reconciliation]. There the greatest miracles take place [and] are incessantly repeated. To avail oneself of this miracle, it is not necessary to go on a great pilgrimage, or to carry out some external ceremony; it suffices to come with faith to the feet of My representative and to reveal to Him one's misery, and the miracle of Divine Mercy will be fully demonstrated. Were souls like a decaying corpse so that from a human standpoint there would be no [hope of] restoration and everything would already be lost, it is not so with God. The miracle of Divine Mercy restores that soul in full.
Read again those last two sentences spoken by our Lord. Do you remember how the Catechism told us that a good confession brings about a true "spiritual resurrection" within us — Easter morning for the soul? Well, that is precisely what Jesus taught St. Faustina: Even if our hearts are as dead from sin as a lifeless corpse, still, the miraculous power of Divine Mercy that flows through this sacrament can restore that soul completely, to new life, and fresh hope.
The graces of healing that flow from this sacrament are truly amazing. In Diary entry 1602, Jesus said to St. Faustina that confession is a personal, life-giving encounter with Jesus Himself:
Daughter, when you go to confession, to this fountain of My mercy, the Blood and Water which came forth from My Heart always flows down upon your soul and ennobles it. Every time you go to confession, immerse yourself entirely in My mercy, with great trust, so that I may pour the bounty of My grace upon your soul. When you approach the confessional, know this, that I Myself am waiting there for you. I am only hidden by the priest, but I myself act in your soul. Here the misery of the soul meets the God of mercy. Tell souls that from this fount of mercy souls draw graces solely with the vessel of trust. If their trust is great, there is no limit to My generosity. The torrents of grace inundate humble souls.
These words sound so much like an echo of our Savior in the gospels, when He said:
Come to Me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. ... If any one thirst, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the scripture has said, "Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water" (Mt 11:28; Jn 7:38)
In fact, as we have already seen (Diary, entry 1448, quoted above), Jesus goes so far as to tell St. Faustina that in this sacrament "the greatest miracles take place, and are incessantly repeated." The greatest miracles of all! We are used to speaking of the miracle of the Mass (Christ's Real Presence in the Eucharist), and that is a pretty great miracle! Or how about the miracle of Christ's resurrection from the dead! Or how about the miracles at Lourdes, Fatima, and Guadalupe! Or how about the miracle of the creation of the whole universe out of nothing! But our Lord said that these are NOT the greatest miracles. The "greatest" miracles, He said, take place in the confessional, and are incessantly repeated.
How can we understand this? Saint Thomas Aquinas can give us some help here. In his great Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas wrote that the miracle of the restoration and salvation of a soul is, in God's eyes, a greater miracle than the creation of the universe itself. For the material universe is something that is brought into being for a time, but then one day will pass away. A soul that is saved, however, is saved for eternal life.
In the case of the salvation of a soul, the effects of God's action last forever. In that sense, the creation of the universe is a lesser miracle than the rescue of a single human soul. In fact, all the other great miracles that we just mentioned (the creation of the universe, Lourdes, Fatima, Guadalupe, the Mass, even Easter itself) are effected solely by God's power and His will: He commanded, and it was done. But it is not so with the rescue and healing of a human soul. God will not overwhelm a soul by His power. He will not force us to repent. Indeed, He cannot compel us to repent if our reconciliation with Him is to be a free response by His human creatures. If God overpowered our freedom with His grace, compelling us to repent and be healed, then He would be making us into mere "puppets on a string," so to speak, and not into real friends of God, who freely return His love.
He does not want to turn us into robots. He wants His long lost friends freely to return to Him and rejoice in Him. Thus, for God to convert a sinner and bring him home to heaven is an even greater achievement than any of His other miracles, for it requires all His wisdom, all His loving skill, without using force, to call, strengthen, and guide lost sinners home to His Heart. The healing and restoration of a human soul, therefore, especially through sacramental confession, is the greatest miracle of all of His merciful love.
Read the final part in the series.
Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy. His latest book is Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI (Marian Press). Got a question? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.