Sacrament of reconciliation opens the door to mercy and freedom as children of God
In the first Sunday of Lent, I had the pleasure of meeting several hundred people from across the archdiocese who will be baptized in their parishes at Easter. They are excited to be incorporated into the Body of Christ, and I am grateful for the Lord’s call to them, as well as for their response in faith. In the waters of baptism, they will be washed clean of all sin. The white garment with which they will be clothed as they approach the Eucharist for the first time will be a reminder of their baptismal innocence.
During the Easter Mass, the rest of us will renew our baptismal profession of faith and will be sprinkled with the Easter water. It is sad that we must admit we no longer possess the innocence that once was ours. In many small ways, and perhaps in serious ways, we have stained the dignity that belongs to God’s sons and daughters. In his mercy, God has given us the sacrament of penance and reconciliation as a remedy for sin during the many years following baptism. An important part of a fruitful Lent, as we prepare to be renewed in faith at Easter, is a sacramental confession and absolution.
We hear a lot these days about the problem of "fake news." This usually refers to the practice of publishing or otherwise announcing something that is not true, with the purpose of misleading others or of making someone else seem untrustworthy. Of course, this is not a new phenomenon at all. The serpent announced to Adam and Eve that God did not really have their best interest in mind. They were told they would really be better off if they ate the forbidden fruit. We know firsthand the inherited consequences of their accepting and acting on a lie.
We make sinful choices based on the same lie, that God is competing with us for our welfare and that we can somehow save ourselves. This ancient fake news story takes on some new aspects in our time. We are told that only we can know what is right and true for ourselves, so we should not give any weight to revealed truth. As a consequence, sin becomes a superstitious notion with no real meaning.
The evil one tells us two different things at once about guilt, which is typical of liars. First, we are told any guilt we experience as a result of our choices is an unjust imposition of the expectation of others. At the same time, we are also asked to believe that our guilt means we are evil, rotten to the core, and God could not possibly want us or care about us.
As we have articulated a pastoral vision for our archdiocesan church, it is not surprising that encountering Jesus is at the heart of what we seek. The better we know Jesus, the more familiar we become with good news. Jesus not only tells us the truth about God and about ourselves, he is the truth. The death and resurrection of Jesus show both the real evil of sin and the overwhelming love of God for sinners. Jesus is the antidote for the devil’s lie, and he is the cure for the wounds that result from acting on the lie.
Jesus invites us to meet him in an intimate and personal way in the sacrament of penance. The priest is a living sacrament of Jesus, who meets us with mercy. Even though we have to face the truth of our sinfulness, we are able to do it in the context of our heavenly Father’s overwhelming love for us. God recognizes us right away as a son or daughter, reborn in baptism, now desiring to be restored to full life through the power of Jesus’ sacrificial love.
When we confess our sins, we are participating in an act of worship that knocks down the lie of the devil. We acknowledge once again the solemnity of God in every aspect of our lives, as the first commandment leads us to do. We express trust in God’s plan for our good, and we look for the healing power of his mercy. This is the mercy that Jesus gave so freely to sinners during his public ministry. This is the mercy experienced by the prodigal son. It is given now to us in the sacrament of penance.
Parishes are scheduling extra opportunities during Lent to encounter Jesus in the sacrament of reconciliation. Communal penance services provide an opportunity to encounter the Lord in the proclamation of the good news in Scripture and in quiet prayer. We can be encouraged by the presence of other disciples of Jesus who are all seeking the truth that God’s mercy reveals. Individual confession and absolution ensure that we have an explicit experience of our own contrition and of the Lord’s mercy in our particular circumstances.
We have all fallen for the devil’s lie in some way. We are invited now to turn to Jesus and to be set free by the truth of his love. He is not afraid of our sin and guilt, and he does not want us to live in fear. Let’s pray for one another that we have the courage and the humility to approach the merciful Jesus and to experience the freedom of the children of God.