Ash Wednesday Means Full Churches
The season of Lent begins on Wednesday, February 22. Next to Christmas and Easter, there is no time when churches are more filled. There is something about Ash Wednesday that can touch the hearts and consciences of people who seldom go to church.
Lent is a time of reconciliation: God’s reconciliation with a wounded world. But, if we are honest, it is also a time for us to be reconciled with God again. It doesn’t mean that we have left the church or even sinned seriously. Hopefully not. But it is a time for us to come to the Lord in a sense of repentance for our failings—great or small. And that is why we have the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It gives us an opportunity to do something externally to reflect what is going on in our hearts.
Jesus gave us this sacrament for that very purpose. There was no one who knew more about the human personality than Jesus. When he said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27), Jesus was speaking to his apostles huddled in the upper room, scared to death for their lives. They had failed Jesus, running from his side when he faced his passion. It was one thing to heal the sick and cast out demons. But when the chips were down, they folded like houses of cards.
Jesus came to them not with scolding or blame. “Peace” is what he said—and he meant it. They had to have despised themselves when they came face-to-face with their cowardice. That’s not what Jesus wanted them to feel. He wanted them to experience reconciliation with themselves. “Who sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven.” Strange, isn’t it, how the weakest of Jesus’ followers are told to carry the forgiveness they have received to the whole world?
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is not about beating ourselves up. God is not about blame. God is about forgiveness and new life.
Confession: A Sign of Maturity
Approaching the Sacrament of Reconciliation is one of the most mature things we do as human beings. We don’t make excuses for our behavior, nor do we hide from it by playing games. We simply come to the Lord in the Sacrament, honestly present our sins and ask for forgiveness. God, through the ministry of the priest, says: “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Go in peace.”
Let me share something that may surprise you. I’ve been a priest now for 50 years. I’ve wondered in all those years how many confessions I have been privileged to hear. I can say, conservatively, about 20,000 confessions. But I can tell you honestly that I don’t remember anything anyone ever told me. It’s true! Why would I want to remember people’s sins? I have my own sins to remember and that’s enough. I and all priests (including the pope) go to confession. However, what I remember is raising my hands in absolution, “I forgive you,” and reminding all who came all those years that God loved them with an infinite love. Some people, I think, floated out of the confessional with joy and relief in their hearts. Words could not describe that moment.
This Lent, there will be ample opportunities with various parish penance services to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If you approach Jesus this Lent, you know he will be waiting with open arms to embrace you.
Dear Friar Jack: My first word, after reading your message was “Awesome!” This message elucidates my senses! I contemplate this wonder. I look forward to your next writing. Jody
Dear Friar Jack: As usual, you picked a thought-provoking subject for this month’s E-spiration. Even as a Secular Franciscan, I never understood Scotus’ theology. It seems strange that God would desire to humble himself so incredibly by becoming a human being. Although I’m starting to understand John Duns Scotus’ theology, I’m not there yet. I hope the other parts of this article come out soon. Thanks for writing these E-spirations. They always give me something to ponder. Nancy
Dear Friar Jack: Thank you for sharing this most revealing viewpoint of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. When you look at our Lord, in his total perfection, the position that John Duns Scotus takes makes “perfect sense.” Of course, God the Father would only create perfection, and we as humans need the “perfect model” to lead us home. Without our Lord’s presence in our world, we could never understand that it is possible to be that creation that God the Father had always envisioned us to be. He is the way, the truth and the life made flesh. Kathryn
A: Dear Jody, Nancy and Kathryn: Thanks for your thoughtful responses to my series on John Duns Scotus. Duns Scotus is not always easy to understand. I admitted this from the start. When parts two and three of this series are published in February and March, I hope you will find that Scotus’ view of Christ has become a bit more understandable. Thanks for your comments. May God bless all the readers of these E-spirations! Friar Jack