We are about mid-way through our Lenten journey. Many have made routine the things they have sacrificed. At first it seemed so hard to give up those enjoyable special treats, but after awhile we realize that we can do without them, and honestly, we are stronger for it.
The good works we accomplish in the name of Jesus also become part of our changed behavior pattern. Giving up our free time to assist our brothers and sisters in need is admirable, but the key during Lent is to understand that these good efforts are being done for Christ. We are joining our good works to Christ in order to prepare for Holy Week and the passion and death of our Lord.
However, in order to truly get ready for Holy Week, we must consider our sinfulness and seek reconciliation. It is fair to say that in our modern era, we have lost a sense of sin. Maybe because of our need to be so self-affirming that it’s difficult for some to admit that they can actually do wrong. Perhaps it’s our view that the only significant sin is murder. Don’t laugh; I’ve heard that expressed in confession: “Father, I can’t really think of any sin. You know, like, I haven’t murdered anyone.”
We rationalize our actions so much that even with murder, in the minds of some, it is “justifiable homicide.” Our conscience has become lax. We are desensitized to the evil that surrounds us.
A couple generations ago, we would have worried about the scrupulous person, the one who would see sin everywhere and in every action so much so that the love and mercy of God was not possible. It is a psychological condition which entraps a person’s freedom.
There is a need for balance because our participation in sin is much more common than we often would like to admit, and at the same time, we cannot be so engulfed in a world of sin that we are immobilized and fail to celebrate the power of God’s love and mercy.
Christ came into the world to redeem us. A price needed to be repaid for the debt that was created. It sounds a little like accounting. We don’t like to picture God as the great bookkeeper. However, the expression of debt surely must resonate with us.
We worry about the debt we pass on to our children and our children’s children. We fear they won’t have the same opportunities that we have because of the burden they must carry. When someone offers us the ability to wipe away the debt, not only should we take it, but we should be tremendously grateful for it.
The church offers us the sacrament of reconciliation. It gives us the ability to wipe away the debt of our sins, an action that draws us closer to our Lord. Reconciliation is part of our ongoing conversion. Even on the cross Jesus offered reconciliation to the good thief who sought his forgiveness. In preparation for first holy Communion, our young children – usually in second grade – make their first confession.
I have experienced this as a moment of grace when many parents are challenged by the pleas of their children to go to confession with them. God uses us as instruments of his love and mercy, and I can see the action of the Holy Spirit that moves the hearts of these parents who love their children to set the example for them in the practice of the faith. As a priest, it is a special moment to hear: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned; it has been five, 10 or 20 or more years since my last confession.”
Remember, there are opportunities for us to celebrate the sacrament during Lent. There are regional reconciliation services, parish penitential services and individual confessions all emphasizing God’s love and mercy. Create, O Lord, a clean heart in me. This can only be achieved in a good examination of conscience and a willingness to change our lives by acknowledging our sinfulness and accepting God’s forgiveness. This is an essential element in our movement toward Holy Week and the suffering, death and resurrection of Our Lord.
On Thursday, April 7 at St. Matthias Parish, Milwaukee at 7 p.m., we will offer a Mass of Atonement. We will pray together seeking the Lord’s forgiveness for the actions which have damaged the Body of Christ.
Sin has consequences that go beyond one’s personal responsibility; because sin affects the Mystical Body of Christ, sin has a communal aspect. It destroys the relationship that makes us one. As a community we are in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, and although we do not have a personal culpability for the sin that is committed, we still make reparation identifying our action with that of Christ who took upon himself the sin of the world.
As we heard in the second reading from Romans last Sunday: “For Christ, while we were still helpless, died at the appointed time for the ungodly. Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for the just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find the courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
As a church we have been damaged by the sinful actions of those who have sexually abused our brothers and sisters, especially our children. Some have claimed to represent the church, some have claimed to be Christians and some have been family members. Their actions have caused irreparable damage. We, as a family, need to bring about a healing. Join us this Lent as we make atonement as a family, admitting the sins that have damaged us and praying for reconciliation with God and our brothers and sisters.