The Church teaches that Jesus Christ calls all humanity to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, he does not aim primarily at outward acts of mortification, but a conversion of the heart, an interior conversion without which penance (self reproach) is sterile and false; however, interiority always supports some form of outward gestures and good works, not entirely out of fear but in hope of reconciliation with an ever-forgiving God through Christ in the Spirit, (CCC: Article 4, sec. IV, 1430: pg. 359, modified)
What is the human heart other than the organ which moves the blood through the body; the “heart” that continuously seeks conversion? For millennia the “heart,” metaphorically, has been used as the locus for feelings and intuitions. The deepest well of the human psyche where consciousness perceives the Spirit of God within us. Heart is the home of conscience, and the portal of transcendency for the soul; where the Spirit of God meets the spirit of man.
“Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we may have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart).”(CCC: 1431)
I suppose there are those among us who have intellectually concluded that sin is a matter of relative judgement, that any reasonable person is totally free to decide, as a matter of personal privacy, what is absolutely right and wrong for himself or herself. In a world of obvious order where all thing are interrelated a person of this persuasion would have intellectually dispensed with the laws of God and man. With these characteristics many who have become leaders in society soon determine what is right for themselves ought to be right for everyone else. Mercy is replaced by hard-rule as hardened hearts demand obedience and unquestionable conformity. True freedom demands justice. Where justice is missing there is no law and order. Justice without mercy represses freedom. Mercy without justice suppresses freedom. It is in the heart that a higher order maintains; the communion of God and man is where mercy and justice conform. Freedom is not immunity from obligation.It is only in the heart that we are able to discern the fountain of Gods grace; the place where we know by the Spirit of Truth that to love each-other in truth is obligatory.
“Since Easter, the Holy Spirit has proved ‘the world wrong about sin,’ i.e., proved that the world has not believed in him whom the Father has sent. But this same Spirit who brings sin to light is also the Consoler who gives the human heart grace for repentance and conversion.”(CCC: 1433)
Once a human being is able to understand what is wrong as opposed to what is right by an innate sense of guilt and shame, untaught by cult or society but by nature herself; repentance by the grace of God is also natural. Conversion? An act of the free will, hopefully conserved by faith will ensue. The will is always free to accept or reject the hearts desire. For good or ill—the will is always free.
“During his public life Jesus not only forgave sins, but also made plain the effect of this forgiveness: he reintegrated forgiven sinners into the community of the People of God from which sin had alienated or even excluded them. A remarkable sign of this is the fact that Jesus receives sinners at his table, a gesture that expresses in an astonishing way both God’s forgiveness and the return to the bosom of the People of God”(CCC: 1443)
“In imparting to his apostles his own power to forgive sins the Lord also gives them the authority to reconcile sinners with his Church. This ecclesial dimension of their task is expressed most notably in Christ’s solemn words to Simon Peter: ‘I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ ‘The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of the apostles united to its head.’” (Matt 16: 19- 18: 18,CCC: 1444)
“And now the eleven disciples took their journey into Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had bidden them meet him. When they saw him there, they fell down to worship; though some were still doubtful. But Jesus came near and spoke to them; All authority in heaven and on earth, he said, has been given to me; you, therefore, must go out, making disciples of all nations, and baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the HolySpirit, teaching them to observe all the commandments which I have given you. And behold I am with you all through the days that are coming, until the consummation of the world.” (Matt. 28: 16,Bible Gateway: NRIV)
“Only God forgives sins. Since he is the Son of God, Jesus says of himself, ‘The Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ and exercises this divine power: ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ Further, by virtue of his divine authority he gives this power to men to exercise in his name. Christ has willed that in her prayer and life and action his whole Church should be the sign and instrument of the forgiveness and reconciliation that he acquired for us at the price of his blood. But he entrusted the exercise of the power of absolution to the apostolic ministry which he charged with the ‘ministry of reconciliation.’ The apostle is sent out ‘on behalf of Christ’ with ‘God making his appeal’ through him and pleading: ‘Be reconciled to God’ (CCC: 1441/1442)
“Martin Luther vigorously opposed the traditional sacrament of penance and the theology upon which it was based, arguing that they (The Church) had no scriptural warrant and that they promoted a troubled conscience, works righteousness, and clerical tyranny. As Luther developed his evangelical soteriology, he dismantled the entire late medieval penitential system, seeking to provide for himself and others what he believed this system lacked: an enduring sense of forgiveness of sin. Luther believed that justification by faith offered this certainty of absolution. Still, despite Luther’s opposition to the sacrament of penance, he was a strong supporter of a reformed version of private confession, arguing that it allowed the consoling promises of the Word (Jesus) to be applied directly to the troubled conscience. Owing to Luther’s support for the practice, Lutherans soon developed an evangelical version of private confession that appeared in the vast majority of Lutheran church ordinances as a mandatory rite. However, there was disagreement among Lutherans as to the theological justification for this new rite, with some arguing that it was a sacrament, while others, including Luther, maintained that it was not. This disagreement contributed to an important debate about private confession in the 1530s, the so- called Nürnberg Absolution Controversy, in which Andreas Osiander sought to make a compelling case for the sacramental status of private confession. Luther was directly involved in this debate, and while he shared Osiander’s enthusiasm for private confession, he disagreed with Osiander’s theology of the power of keys. Luther’s view won out, but Osiander raised important questions about the theological justification for Lutheran private confession as a mandatory rite.” (Oxford Research Encyclopedias)
The formula of absolution used in the Latin Church expresses the essential elements of this sacrament: the Father of mercies is the source of all forgiveness. He effects the reconciliation of sinners through the Passover of his Son and the gift of his Spirit, through the prayer and ministry of the Church”
“God, the Father of mercies,
through the death and the resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself
and sent the Holy Spirit among us
for the forgiveness of sins;
through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins
in the name of the Father,
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”(CCC: 1449, Formula of Absolution)