Having spent a couple of weeks looking at the Liturgy and Sacraments in general, we now turn to an examination of each one individually, and this will take us to beyond Easter. Rather than begin with the obvious first Sacrament of Baptism, I’m actually going to begin with Confession — because today’s a Sunday when the Archbishop wants all his priests to preach on the same theme; the theme for this Sunday is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It makes sense: one of the most crucial elements of a good Lent is to make sure that we each avail ourselves of the opportunity to be forgiven our sins — great or small. This Sacrament is a treasure of the Catholic faith. Each of the Sacraments is the extension into our life, into our daily human existence, of the divine actions of Christ. Now, as you know, as you read the Gospel you can’t move for examples of Jesus forgiving sins. From the very start of the Gospel, when Jesus speaks to the paralytic man, forgiving his sins, as well as healing his physical infirmity, to the last moment on the Cross, when he speaks those immortal words of mercy, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” And after the Resurrection, Jesus gave the apostles the command that in the Spirit they too are to administer His divine forgiveness: all this goes to show without doubt that it is the intention of Jesus that we have this Sacrament in the Church’s life. And if it is willed by Jesus, then we should with all commitment of heart make sure that Confession (Penance, Reconciliation … whatever term we use for it) is never neglected.
In the Sacrament of Confession, there are the actions of the penitent, and the actions of God Himself. Our attitude is that of sorry for our sins, and not complacence; God’s attitude is that of mercy, and not of anger. Our sorrow meets a loving, compassionate God and Father. They are made for each other, and this wonderful reunion of our soul with God’s tender love in the Sacrament of Confession always brings much joy and peace … a joy and peace that we cannot do without.
On our part, there are three things that make up our approach to confession: the first is to be sorry, to have true ‘contrition’ for our sins, for our offences against God and neighbour; the second is the actual confession, stating in words, to God, what we know we have done wrong (we must tell everything that is gravely sinful; but it’s a worthy practice to try and say everything that we can remember which has been sinful, even if not grave … at least, to the extent that we can remember); and thirdly, so that we can show our intention to make up, even in some token way, for the effects of our sins, we make ‘satisfaction’ — usually a penance prescribed by the priest; a prayer or action to be fulfilled after Confession. God’s loving forgiveness come about when expressed in the words of absolution — these words, uttered by the priest, are the only words of this Sacrament that are absolutely fixed (in fact, in many ways, this Sacrament is maybe the least formal of them all). They are worth quoting, since they are beautiful words, and when we are in Confession, can be very moving, as we know that God has forgiven us: God, the Father of Mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit amongst 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. Amen.
The green sheet that is inside the Newsletters this week will start to prepare you for Confession. It has some lovely quotations from Scripture, from Vatican II, and from the Catechism, all of which help us to appreciate the central importance of Reconciliation to our lives as Catholics. What we still might need is some aid to help us examine our consciences, and I will work on that this week, so that you have it next weekend. Please be assured that it doesn’t at all matter which parish you go to for Confession. It’s often easier to go to Confession to a priest who isn’t one’s PP, or whom one doesn’t know. To that end, of course, I will have several priests here for the Penitential Services of Monday 25th, three weeks’ time; and we will also be blessed to have a visiting American Carmelite priest — a friend of mine — here in the parish for Holy Week and Easter Week, and he will hear Confessions too. Each of us longs to be close to God; longs to have to burden of sin lifted. Jesus has made it as easy as possible for us to receive His forgiveness; it is never easy to confess, but it is truly necessary to live a life of goodness and holiness. Come back to Him with all your heart!