Of the seven Sacraments instituted by Christ, three of them—Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders—may only be received once. Two of the others—Matrimony and Anointing of the Sick—maybe be received more than once, but at least are received very infrequently.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation (or Penance) and the Holy Eucharist are very different in that they are meant to be received often; indeed, many Catholics receive the Eucharist every day. While daily Reconciliation is certainly not recommended, most Catholics could benefit from receiving this sacrament of forgiveness more frequently.
I am often asked “What is Catholic Home Schooling?” I usually give a simple answer: teaching a Catholic curriculum to children at home. But as most Catholic home schooling mothers know, it is so much more. Essentially, Catholic home schooling is a way for a family to live the Catholic sacramental life.
During this Advent and Christmas season, as we think about what we might do to grow in our spiritual lives, there are certainly many possibilities. We might pray the Rosary more often or spend time each day reading the Bible. If our parish church offers adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, we might sign up for an hour of devotion. While all these activities are laudable, we should not forget that the primary means of receiving God’s grace are the Sacraments.
Sanctifying grace is defined by the Catechism as “the gratuitous gift of his life that God makes to us; it is infused by the Holy Spirit into the soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it.” In other words, grace is the gift of God’s own life that He places in our souls to make us become more holy and pleasing to Him. Grace brings us closer to being the image of God that each of us is called to be.
Sanctifying Grace makes us heirs of Heaven. Sanctifying Grace gives us and strengthens in us a special relationship with each member of the Blessed Trinity: we are adopted children of God the Father, we are brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, and we become living Temples of the Holy Spirit.
The Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist are complementary in many ways. First and foremost, we cannot worthily receive the Eucharist unless we are in the state of grace. If we sin gravely, we must seek Reconciliation. As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For as often as you shall eat this bread, and drink the chalice, you shall shew the death of the Lord, until he come. Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord.” (I Cor. 11:26-27)
It was the sin of Adam and Eve which first removed the human race from fellowship with God. Through personal sin, we can make the sad choice to remove ourselves from Him. But through Reconciliation, due to the infinite merits of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, we can return to Him.
Because the sense of personal sin is greatly diminished in the world today, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is much neglected. Many parishes offer the Sacrament only for a half-hour on Saturday; and if the priest is tardy, that halfhour may turn into twenty minutes or less. There is hardly time for two or three penitents.
That is a shame because the Sacrament of Reconciliation is hugely important, even if we do not have serious sins to confess. The sanctifying grace we receive from Penance helps us to stay in grace, to stay close to Jesus. Also, Confession helps to prevent future sin because, with a serious examination of conscience, we become more attuned to our conscience, that little whisper of God evaluating our daily activities.
In general, to receive a plenary indulgence (remissions of all punishment due to sin), we must be free of attachment even to venial sins. This detachment even from what we consider to be small sins is not easy to achieve. If we hope to achieve it, frequent confession is essential. Frequent confession allows us to focus on those areas of our lives where work is needed, and make corrections. We need both the encouragement of the priest and the graces of the Sacrament to achieve this.
In order to overcome a vice, we must practice the opposing virtue, which not only makes us holier, but also a better person in general. The better we become, the greater will be the harmony in our family as we work positively toward the good of the family, and work toward sacrificing our own desires. This spiritual work in ourselves and in our children will improve the family spiritually and otherwise.
One difficult topic for many families is obedience. Modern society is very much attuned to freedom, and very little attuned to responsibility. Children do not naturally want to obey, and most parents do not want to force the issue. However, obedience is one of the great virtues of the Christian life. In the Old Testament, Samuel says to Saul, “Doth the Lord desire holocausts and victims, and not rather that the voice of the Lord should be obeyed? For obedience is better than sacrifices: and to hearken rather than to offer the fat of rams.” (1 Sam. 15:22)
If our children are to practice obedience, they must understand their obligation before God to obey their parents. Without a daily examination of conscience and frequent reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, teaching obedience is nearly impossible.
Receiving Jesus Christ Himself in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is the single most important thing we can do. The second most important thing is to take our children and spouse with us. The Second Vatican Council said the Eucharist is “the Source and the Summit of the entire Christian life” (Lumen Gentium, par. 11). Pope John Paul II said, “The Church draws her life from the Eucharist” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, par. 1). The Eucharist is a gift which cannot be wholly understood, nor even have been hoped for, had Jesus not given it to us. Pope John Paul II said that the Eucharist should bring forth from us both amazement and gratitude (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, par. 1).
As a Catholic home schooling family, as the Domestic Church, we must also draw our life from the Eucharist. It is the bedrock and sure guide for our family. It is the source of inspiration and hope, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. It is only through frequent reception of the Eucharist that our family can be successful in living the Catholic life.
We Catholic home schooling families are in the forefront of the battle against the secular culture in which we live. This battle of the secular culture is against the Church and against the family. Unless we Catholic home schooling families receive the Sacraments of the Church as often as possible, we will not have the adequate weapons to defend ourselves and our children.
Father John Hardon, whose cause for beatification and canonization was recently begun, spoke many times of the importance of the Eucharist to Catholic families. He said, “Not to be deceived by this world, Catholic husbands and wives and their families need the Light that only Jesus Christ can give through the Holy Eucharist. Not to be seduced by this world, Catholic husbands and wives and their families need the Courage that only Jesus Christ can give through the Holy Eucharist.”
Working together, Reconciliation and the Eucharist are like water and seed that fall into the soul. The water of Reconciliation prepares the ground of the soul so that it may receive the Eucharist and bring forth grace thirty-fold, or fifty-fold, or one-hundred fold.
The abundance of graces from the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, received daily, along with weekly Confession, will result in spiritual growth for ourselves, but often results in a deeper growth in our own children. These two Sacraments will not only substantially change our own attitudes and behavior, but will change our children in ways we will see in some ways, but will understand only in the eternal life.
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