We’re considering the Sacrament of Penance, also frequently called Reconciliation. I’ve pointed out in the last few morceaux how true contrition (sorrow) for sins and full confession (disclosure) of the mortal sins committed since the last confession are essentials.
There’s one more essential thing for the penitent to do: make up for the sin by some act of penance or offering. In technical, “churchy” terms this is called “making satisfaction” for sin. Justice of course demands that the sinner try to repair the harm he or she has done: in classic terms one has to repay what was taken, restore what was damaged, and compensate for hurts inflicted.
But the Church’s awareness of this (see nos. 1459-1460 in your Catechism of the Catholic Church) goes further. Sin hurts one’s self, and sin – even secret and solitary sin – wounds relationships, too. Mere forgiveness of sin does not remedy all of the disorder caused by evil that’s deliberately done. So the forgiven Christian goes beyond mere forgiveness: he or she tries to make amends for sin. Since we’ve made the world a worse place to be because of our sin, we now purposefully make things better by conscious exertion. In doing this, some extra effort at prayer or charity – at the absolute very least the “penance” suggested by the priest – is accomplished gladly.
And that’s why it’s best if the “penance” given in confession is unique to the individual wrongdoer: the sin was personal, so the efforts at restoration should be personal as well. Want to hear a wild idea? Ask for a harder penance the next time you go to confession! Excepting only God, nobody else quite knows the seriousness of the evil you’ve done. And nobody else knows better how you might begin to make up for all that sin!