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The Catholic Faith in Slow Motion (no. 63)

The Event of Forgiveness
I believe…in the forgiveness of sins (Apostles' Creed). To believe in the forgiveness of sins is to      believe in a particular event. The event is described briefly earlier in the Creed, in the second part, which speaks about the coming of Jesus, and especially about his suffering, death, and resurrection. This is important to remember—that “forgiveness of sins” is not simply an idea; it is not simply a declaration that God is merciful. Forgiveness is a happening.
Events have a “when” and a “where”. If you ask, “when and where were my sins forgiven?” one way to     answer rightly would be to say, “when Jesus was put to death on a cross, at a place called Golgotha, roughly 2000 years ago”. Because then and there something happened in the life of God and in the life of the world that had never happened before and will never happen again. This event is the forgiveness of sins. Of course, it is not exactly right to say that there was no forgiveness of sins before AD 33. But, according to the New Testament, all such forgiving looked forward to this one event. We might say that all the absolutions ever spoken and heard, from the beginning of the world, were “waiting” for it—as now every absolution looks back toward that sacrificial death (Hebrews 9:1—10:39).
“When and where were my sins forgiven?” It would also be right to answer, “when I was baptized.” Because baptism is nothing less than sharing, participating in, the death and resurrection of Jesus (Romans 6:1-5). Baptism is the completed event in your personal history that corresponds to the event of the Cross and Resurrection in the history of the world. In Holy Baptism, 33 AD becomes a date in your personal    history. Or, let’s say it a different way. In your baptism, God made the death and resurrection of Jesus the determining event of your life and your destiny. Just so, I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins (Nicene Creed).
“When and where were my sins forgiven?” A third answer is, “the last time I received the Body and Blood of Christ at the Holy Eucharist”. Because Holy Communion is nothing less than the “real presence” of Christ’s broken body and shed blood “given up for you” and “poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins”. In the Holy Eucharist, our Lord extends the once-and-for-all event of his Cross to all “until he comes again”.
When and where were my sins forgiven? Again, you might answer, “last Saturday afternoon, when I sought out a priest, knelt down in holy sorrow, named my sins and heard God's Word of Absolution”.     Because the spoken absolution is nothing less than that Word of God that cleansed you in baptism and now reconciles you to your baptismal identity and to that community gathered at the Holy Eucharist.
Why has our God made his saving forgiveness a happening in the world? Why has he offered it as an event in time and place? Because that’s where we sinners live. The event of our forgiveness is logged in the public record of the life of God’s people on earth, so that his love will be for us a shared actuality, the “real thing” that confronts and challenges us, changes us and frees us—and gathers us to love and serve and forgive in all the times and places of our life together. Baptism, The Holy Eucharist, Confession: think of them not so much as three different sacraments, but one sacramental outpouring of God's love flowing from the Cross of Christ.

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