While perusing my feed reader I came across this post, “Facebook Unites a Former Guantanomo Bay Guard with Prisoner” from the thenextweb.com commenting on a story featured in the New York Times by way of the BBC.
I have yet to read the original story but I have seen the video and it is amazing as thenextweb.com points out. Not only does this story show that the world is small and shrinking but that the Sacrament of Penance (Confession) is an essential gift of God’s grace to us. You may ask how I can see the Sacrament
Let us imagine that what Mr. Neely did against these men was a mortal sin, which would cause a spiritual divide between the guard and God thus removing him from the “state” of grace. (I do not know if what Mr. Neely did were indeed a sin, let alone a mortal sin, but I am taking liberty to make a point). The Church teaches because people can choose to lose their gift of salvation through grace by being apart from God because of sin, the former guard would be in grave danger condemning himself to hell. So what is this man to do?
According to the Catechism, “Those who approach the sacrament of Penance obtain pardon from God’s mercy for the offense committed against him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by their sins and which by charity, by example, and by prayer labors for their conversion (CCC 1422).” Because every sin, especially mortal sin, is an offense against God and His body – only He has the right and authority to forgive sins (Mt 9:2-8, Lk 5:20-24). However, Scripture shows that He passed this authority on the apostles (Jn 20:21-23) so that we may find a way to repent for our sins after we are baptized. Again, the Catechism (CCC 1425-1426) states:
“You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” One must appreciate the magnitude of the gift God has given us in the sacraments of Christian initiation in order to grasp the degree to which sin is excluded for him who has “put on Christ.” But the apostle John also says: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” And the Lord himself taught us to pray: “Forgive us our trespasses,” linking our forgiveness of one another’s offenses to the forgiveness of our sins that God will grant us.
Conversion to Christ, the new birth of Baptism, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the Body and Blood of Christ received as food have made us “holy and without blemish,” just as the Church herself, the Bride of Christ, is “holy and without blemish.” Nevertheless the new life received in Christian initiation has not abolished the frailty and weakness of human nature, nor the inclination to sin that tradition calls concupiscence, which remains in the baptized such that with the help of the grace of Christ they may prove themselves in the struggle of Christian life. This is the struggle of conversion directed toward holiness and eternal life to which the Lord never ceases to call us.
If Mr. Neely, the former Guantanamo Bay guard, was never see these men again or if they were to react in a hostile manner towards if he did see them and attempt to apologize, seeking forgiveness, how else would he ever be able to gain the certainty and satisfaction of forgiveness? He could turn to God directly, with perfect contrition, and ask for forgiveness. But that is not exactly how God wants us to do it.
Christ instituted this Sacrament because humans are both spiritual (immortal soul) and material (mortal body). That is why salvation is by grace evidenced through faith and works. We initiate penance just by going to Confession and humbling ourselves before another person. This is difficult but necessary. It demonstrates our desire to repent. And because priests hear confession in Persona Christi or in the person of Christ, he is able to administer the absolution. The power to forgive sins remains from Christ alone, not the priest, who is just the means of administering this forgiveness in our physical world.
The Sacrament of Penance also serves to life the burden of guilt from our hearts relieving us through our penitent acts. That in this way we know we have recompensed Our Lord for the offences we commit against Him.
God knows all that we have done and will do. He is outside of space and time. But He desires that we cooperate in our own salvation by walking the penitent path. What Mr. Neely did was, to me, a work of the Holy Spirit to “coincidentally” bring these three men together prompting a former prison guard to apologize for his actions. He did what the Church teaches: “Penance requires . . . the sinner to endure all things willingly, be contrite of heart, confess with the lips, and practice complete humility and fruitful satisfaction (CCC 1450).”
For more resources about Confession and the Forgiveness of Sins check out the following:
- Forgiveness of Sins by Catholic Answers
- Celebrating the Sacrament of Penance: Q & A by the USCCB Committee on Divine Worship
- The Sacrament of Penance Catholic Encyclopedia on New Advent
- Scripture Shortcuts on Confession compiled by VeritasBible.com
- Scripture Shortcuts on Penance compiled by VeritasBible.com