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