From a reader…
My son asked me about his best friend a Presbyterian when I told him in response to his question that Presbyterians do not have confession do they not receive forgiveness for their sins do they have all the time.
I told him that God is merciful and has created confession for the forgiveness of sins and in the case of his best friend that God loves him and for those who are genuinely sorry for their sins that we pray they are forgiven. I was not satisfied with my response. What is a clear statement of Church’s teaching, including CCC reference so I can locate in my son’s Youcat.
Please pray for me as I pray for you and all religious.
Parenthood, if taken seriously, is tough work.
God has given to the Church, to the Apostles and their successors who are the bishops and priests of His Church, the authority to absolve sinners from sin. What an awesome responsibility our pastors have been entrusted with (CCC 981 ff). This fount of mercy and forgiveness is available to all the sinners who make up the Church.
Through the Sacrament of Penance, all sins, mortal and venial, can be forgiven. It is the ordinary means through which we receive forgiveness. He explicitly gave this power to his priests so that we would use it. This is the way that He wants us to use.
However, God’s mercy doesn’t stop there. There are other, extraordinary ways that sin can be forgiven.
Venial sins can be forgiven through reception of the other sacraments, especially a devout reception of Holy Communion. It is still good to bring those sins to the confessional, especially if they are frequent or troublesome. Making a good Act of Contrition with a firm purpose of amendment can also lift the burden of venial sins when one does not have recourse to confession. It is a good practice to make such an Act of Contrition at the end of the day after examining one’s conscience.
Mortal sin, sin which breaks our relationship with God, a sin which kills the life of grace in the soul, requires more. If one cannot get to confession, a Perfect Act of Contrition with a firm purpose of amendment can restore one’s relationship with God. Recourse to sacramental confession is still necessary before one receive the Blessed Sacrament. How do we know if our Act of Contrition is perfect? I’m not sure. God knows and He cannot be deceived.
How about our Protestant friends who, sadly, do not have access to this beautiful fount of mercy which is the Sacrament of Penance? How are their sins forgiven? Are their sins forgiven?
Bluntly put, we don’t know.
We know that God is merciful. We know that God has established the Church as the ordinary means through which He dispenses His mercy. Can He forgive sins outside of the Church? Of course He can. God can do anything. Does He? We don’t know.
Since we don’t know, we should do everything we can to bring our friends and loved ones to the fullness of the Faith in the Catholic Church.
That does n0t mean always preaching at them, or nagging them (though sometimes nagging might be called for, depending on the person). More often, we can help bring our loved ones to the fount of mercy by the example of our lives, especially if they see that we are happy. If they see us happy, and prayerful, and respectful, they’ll begin to wonder what makes us that way. Happiness is alluring. And don’t forget a large dollop of kindness. If they experience our being kind to them, and to those classmates of ours that aren’t the most popular, they will be inspired. If they see us playing fairly, studying diligently, backing away from gossip and bad behavior, they’ll become curious. If they see that our Faith is important to us, that we take going to Church each week seriously, that we go regularly to confession, that we pray before meals, that we cross ourselves when we pass by a church or cemetery, it may inspire them to seek the same happiness that we display.
Also, remember to “sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts, being ready always to satisfy every one that asketh you a reason of that hope which is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). We have to know our Faith and be ready to explain it well. Study and discuss.
So, we pray for our friends who do not share our Catholic Faith, and do not have access to the great graces that God makes available to us in the sacraments. We ask God to forgive their sins and to bring them into the fullness of the Faith. And we thank God that this wonderful resource is right there for us when we need it.
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