On the Necessity of the Sacrament of Penance

Our Lord once said to His disciples, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” These words of our Divine Master ever remain true, because He Who said so is God and Truth itself. It is to each one of us that He said this. For only few of us, my dear listeners, will go to heaven.

The reason for this is that we daily commit many sins. The life of man is a continual strife against his own depraved inclinations, against the bad example of the world, and against the temptations of the devil, who is the enemy of God and of our salvation. Though we pray daily, “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil,” we frequently forget the love of God, the charity we should exercise towards our neighbor, and the care we should take of our own salvation. We transgress willfully or unknowingly the commandments of our Almighty Creator and Divine Redeemer.

There is no man in the whole world who can say that he has not offended God. Saint John the Apostle, therefore, says in the first of his epistles: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

Now, it is indeed written: “God will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” And it is also written: “God gave Himself a redemption for all.” But notwithstanding these assurances that God did not create any man for hell, and that He wishes all men to be saved, it remains equally true that only few will be saved; that only few will go to heaven; and that the greater part of mankind will be lost forever.

Saint John in his revelation gives the reason for this terrible truth, when he says that nothing defiled can enter heaven. Since, then, all men are sinners and no sinner can enter heaven, we will understand how it is that only few are saved.

Those who die without obtaining from God pardon for their sins will not be saved, but will be damned. It is not that they were not called, but that they made themselves unworthy of heaven and of forgiveness. “Who shall ascend into the mountain of the Lord: or who shall stand in His holy place? The innocent in hands, and clean of heart, who hath not taken his soul in vain, nor sworn deceitfully to his neighbor. He shall receive a blessing from the Lord, and mercy from God his Savior.” (Ps. 23:3-5.)

Now there arises another question: namely, how is it possible that some will be saved, if all are sinners, and if no sinner can enter heaven? This doubt is removed by our Holy Catholic Church, which teaches that Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ instituted two Sacraments by which men can be cleansed from sin and saved from the eternal damnation due to sin. His Supreme Justice will reward and punish everyone according to his works.

As God alone is most grievously offended by all transgressions of His holy laws, and as it depends entirely on Him whether He will forgive the sinner or not, so it belongs entirely to Him to prescribe the means by which He will forgive them. A sinner, therefore, will never obtain mercy and grace if he does not conform to the regulations prescribed and commanded by the offended God. And the means by which God promises and grants forgiveness of sins are the Sacraments of Baptism and Penance.

The Sacrament of Baptism

By Baptism the sins of those who were never baptized are forgiven. The unbaptized, being in the state of sin, therefore, must necessarily be baptized if they wish to please God and be saved. This doctrine of the Holy Catholic Church agrees with Our Lord’s words to Nicodemus: “Amen, amen, I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” In this we see the necessity of Baptism, by which the Third Divine Person of the Blessed Trinity blots out all sins of those who are baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.

Saint Peter, too, when asked by the Jews, “What shall we do, men and brethren?” said to them: “Do penance and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Saint Peter would not have commanded them to do penance and to be baptized if it had not been prescribed by our Divine Master, and if Jesus had not instituted Baptism, as he says, for the remission of sins.

Hence, Baptism is the first remission of sin. It is the way to obtain forgiveness. A baptized Christian, if he dies immediately after Baptism, has no sin at all. He is saved and goes to heaven. But if a man, after being baptized and becoming a Christian, is so unhappy as to offend God by transgressing willfully some of His divine commandments, he is much more guilty and will be punished much more severely for it. He who is instructed in his religion knows his obligations towards God, his Almighty Creator and Merciful Redeemer. He knows God’s extreme justice, His sanctity. If, notwithstanding his solemn promise in Baptism to renounce Satan and to love God, he commits new sins as a Christian, he shows gross ingratitude to God. Every such sin committed by a Christian is a real perjury, a breaking of the most solemn vows, by forsaking God and engaging in slavery to His enemy.

The Sacrament of Penance

To obtain forgiveness of sins committed after Baptism, one is not allowed to be baptized again, for there is only one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, as Saint Paul teaches. If a Christian, having committed some sin, should have himself baptized again, not only would he not be forgiven, but the repeating of Baptism would be a sacrilege.

God commands Christians who offend Him to receive the sacraments instituted for the confession of sins; namely, Penance. This sacrament is, after Baptism, indispensably necessary for all Christians who have committed sins, who wish to be reconciled to God and to enter heaven.

Penance is the only means instituted by Jesus Christ for this purpose. He will never grant remission of sins to Christians who wish to obtain it by some other means. Penance is the will of God, the commandment of our Creator and Redeemer. No power in heaven or on earth can obtain forgiveness of sin but this holy sacrament.

There is no doubt that Jesus Christ, being true God, has the power to forgive sins, As God, He is just and holy. He, therefore, will never fail to reward the just and to punish the wicked. If He knows that a sinner acknowledges his guilt, that he hates and detests his sin; if He knows that a sinner has resolved to abstain from all sin, then He is merciful to him, and God will forgive the sinner all his sins, and will adopt him again as His child.

True sorrow

We read in the Gospel of Saint Luke that Jesus, being entered into the house of the Pharisee, sat down to meat. And behold a woman in the city, who was a sinner, when she knew that He sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment; and she began to wash His feet, with tears, and she wiped them with the hairs of her head, and kissed His feet, and anointed them. Then, because she had loved much, He said to her: “Thy sins are forgiven thee.”

Yet there are those whose sins are not forgiven. Judas, having betrayed his Master for thirty pieces of silver, committed a very grievous sin. Because Our Lord knew that Judas would not have true repentance for his crime, he said at the Last Supper, “Woe to that man by whom the Son of Man shall be betrayed.”

I said that Judas had not true repentance because he had no intention to amend his life, which is essential and necessary for every penitent who wishes to obtain from God forgiveness of his sins. What kind of repentance Judas had we see from his end. When he realized that He Whom he had betrayed was condemned, repenting himself, he brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and ancients, saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent Blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? Look thou to it.” And casting down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed, and went out and hanged himself with a halter. And so, instead of begging Jesus to pardon him his sin, he committed a new one, despairing of the mercy of God.

Penance, our Duty to God

Now there are many who, having committed sins, die without having had true repentance for them. Very rarely do we see those who, having consented to their own sinful inclinations, the bad example of the world, and the temptations of the devil, follow the example of that penitent woman who washed the feet of Jesus with tears.

We are all sinners! We must all do penance! For as Our Lord says, “Unless you do penance, you shall all likewise perish.” Penance is necessary for all men, because all are sinners, and if we are not cleansed from our sins by penance, we can never go to heaven.

God wishes that we do penance. He will not force us, because He has given us a free will. So by freely fulfilling God’s will, and not otherwise, can we be saved.

Is it not our duty to do the will of God? There is no doubt about it. For the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof; the world and all they that dwell therein. All mankind belongs to the Lord our God and we are His property. We are not our own makers, but we are creatures of God, the work of His hand. Is it not our duty to obey Him and do His holy will? He could have punished us with eternal death and the everlasting torments of hell, as soon as we committed the first sin, but He has spared us, that we might have time to do penance. He redeemed us by His passion and death, and we are no longer slaves of the devil, but children of God. If we have been so ungrateful towards our heavenly Father, is it not our duty to turn again to him by acknowledging our faults, by confessing our sins, by doing such penance as He commands us to do?

Though God hates sin more than any other thing, he loves us poor miserable sinners. He ardently desires the welfare of our souls as if His own happiness depended on it; thus he desires that we all might be reconciled to him by the Sacrament of Penance. How ardently our good Lord and God wishes to see us in the state of grace, that we might be united to Him, as He states in the parable of the lost sheep. Our Lord compares Himself to the shepherd, saying, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd giveth his life for his sheep . . . and I lay down My life for My sheep.”

The Prodigal Son

I shall read to you the parable of the Prodigal Son, proposed by our Divine Master and related in the Gospel of Saint Luke, Chapter 15.

“A certain man had two sons, and the younger of them said to his father: ‘Father, give me the portion of the property that falleth to me.’ And he divided unto them his property. And not many days after, the younger son, gathering all together, went abroad into a far country, and there wasted his property by living loosely. And after he had spent all, there came a mighty famine in that country, and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country. And he sent him to his farm to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks the swine did eat, and no one gave unto him.

“And returning to himself, he said: ‘How many hired servants in my father’s house have plenty of bread, and I here perish with hunger. I will arise and I will go to my father and say to him: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee. I am not worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants,”‘ And rising up, he went to his father.

“And when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion, and running to him fell upon his knees and kissed him. And the son said to him: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee. I am not now worthy to be called thy son.’ And the father said to his servant: ‘Bring forth quickly the first robe and put it on him and put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry, because this my son was dead and is come to life again, he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.”

Let us now compare the Prodigal Son with each one of you who has committed sins, and who is still in his sins. You will find that your condition is not at all better or more desirable than his.

Who is it Whom you left by committing sins? Who is it from Whom you live at so great a distance, as long as you live in the state of sin? It is God, the Creator and Lord of all riches, the Fountain of all graces. He is your Creator too, Who made you out of nothing that you might know Him, love Him, and to serve Him in this world. You have left the One Who is your gracious benefactor, Who loved you infinitely from all eternity, Who has given His own beloved Son, Jesus Christ, for you — to become man, to suffer, to die for you that you might be saved.

You have left the state of grace in which you lived for a long time after Baptism, after your first confession, after your first Communion. You have left Him Who alone can make you happy in this life and eternity. Though God does not need you or your virtues to make Him happy, He was greatly offended when you consented to commit the first sin which separated you from Him. After having been loved by Him, and having obtained so many graces from Him, you have been unfaithful to Him. And you have also offended our most amiable Mother, the Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary. You have left Her company as well as that of your holy patron saint and your Angel Guardian.

The Prodigal Son gained nothing; he lost everything. And what have you gained by forsaking God, by afflicting our most amiable Mother and your holy patron and the holy angels? By committing sins you have lost that sanctifying grace by which you were pleasing to God. You exchanged the childhood of God for the slavery of the devil. What reward did the devil give you? Have you been happier after sin? Your conscience may well be tormented by continual remorse. You are punished in this life. And if you do not satisfy God by returning to Him again, you will die the terrible death of a sinner; you will receive the wages of sin, eternal damnation.

From the parable of the Prodigal Son you learn how ardently God wishes you to return to Him, how much He desires the welfare of your soul and body. Surely there will be great joy in heaven over each of you, if you will propose to amend your life; if you will detest all your crimes, and return to Him Who is your Creator and your Redeemer.

Therefore, I beg of God and of you, my dear people, that you will make the firm resolution today: Christian penance for your sins. For it is the only means to obtain pardon of your sins and the kingdom of heaven. It is the will of God that shall be done on the earth by all men and sinners, as it is done by the angels and all the saints in heaven. May God, our Good Shepherd Jesus Christ, have mercy on you and all of us, and may the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Refuge of Sinners, obtain for you the grace of Christian penance.