Were I asked for a one word explanation for my own lifelong commitment to Catholic Christianity, it would likely be sacraments. I am much moved by the extravagant affections of our God who makes holy our experiences of him.
By middle age I had settled into a comfortable routine of twice-yearly Lenten and Advent Reconciliation services as my sole participation in this sacrament. As parishes moved in this direction, more limited opportunities for individual confession helped lead to a new dynamic within Catholic families, including mine. It was a quite a few years before I realized what I might be missing.
About chief of sinners, I don't know, but what I know about sinners I know chiefly about me. - Richard John Neuhaus
Some years ago I made a prayerful decision to revisit confession. I prepared carefully, reading from the Catechism and consulting several online resources to help make a serious and thorough examination of conscience encompassing my entire life. The experience for me was welcoming, healing, and celebratory. With gratitude I continue to encounter the love and mercy of my Lord in this way.
As he did for the woman caught in adultery, Jesus returns our lives to us with the commission to go forth and live disentangled from sin. St. Teresa of Avila is said to have waited near the confessional as one by one the members of her community emerged. She then greeted each one with an embrace and a whispered, "Begin again."
Our Gospel this Sunday recounts the parable of the Prodigal Son:
Coming to his senses . . . he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and
kissed him. His son said to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son." But his father ordered his servants, "Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found." (Luke 15: 17, 20-24)
The son finally recognizes his sin and the anguish it brings upon himself and others. His humility and contrition are sincere, and reconciliation with his father is complete.
Sin speaks to the sinner in the depths of his heart . . .
All wisdom is gone . . .
Your love, Lord, reaches to heaven; your truth to the skies . . .
In you is the source of life, and in your light we see light.
To you all flesh will come with its burden of sin.
Too heavy for us, our offenses, but you wipe them away. (Psalm 65)
If we allow him, Jesus brings us to our senses. He comes from home, and by his act of perfect love, leads us home to the love and compassion of our heavenly Father who watches, welcomes, and celebrates with us.
At the Last Supper Jesus said, “This night all of you will have your faith in me shaken." Peter said to him in reply, “Though all may have their faith in you shaken, mine will never be. Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.” (Matt 26: 31, 33, 35)
But he did, repeatedly, that very night, despite his pride and confidence that his own loyalty would prove superior.
When Jesus, after his resurrection, asked Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” Jesus asked again, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” "Tend my sheep.” And a third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was by now distressed and said, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” “Feed my sheep.” (John 21: 15-17)
This is a story of profound forgiveness and healing. Jesus asks Peter if he loves him more than the others do. Peter’s declarations of love escalate to mirror his prior denials. Can you imagine the intensity of gaze between this man and his Lord? Jesus, rather than shaming Peter, confirms and then chooses him above the others to shepherd the nascent Church for which Peter would one day give his life.
How consistently do we offer one another the gift of forgiveness? Forgiveness costs, but the emotional and spiritual burden of withholding it is much more devastating. Tragically, the jealousy, anger and bitterness of the older brother in the Prodigal Son parable overwhelm any love and concern he may have had for his brother.
If there is someone in your own life whom you still struggle to forgive, please pray about this. Genuine forgiveness might well release both of you. The One who enables the forgiver can also transform the forgiven.
Will you ask Jesus to forgive the one who hurt you?