April 3, 2008
On March 19, 2008, extremist Osama bin Laden released a tape on a militant website that carries al-Qaida statements. Bin Laden was pictured with an assault rifle as he announced his latest denunciation of the West. This time, he accused Pope Benedict XVI of helping in a "new Crusade" against Islam. His words are a sobering reminder that the misunderstandings, prejudice, hatred and violence that lead to death are still a part of our world.
Bin Laden’s message was in stark contrast to the memory of Christ that Christians were celebrating during Holy Week. Christ’s response to violence was non-violence. He taught his disciples to turn the other cheek when someone strikes them. He himself set the example in the events of his own passion and death.
Neither the Enlightenment nor modern science has exorcized evil from the human heart. Greed coupled with dishonesty continues to place an ever-increasing chasm between the wealthy and the poor. Hard-working, honest individuals who seek a better quality of life for their families are not always welcome among us. They face racial and cultural prejudice. Religion itself is demonized. Sin exists!
At the same time that bin Laden was publicly spewing his venom against the alleged sins of others, many Catholics were quietly slipping into the confessional during Holy Week to admit their own sins. In the secrecy of the sacrament, they acknowledged the prejudice, the anger, the violence, the greed and selfishness of their own lives. They recognized that the starting point for a better world is their own heart.
In our Cathedral in Paterson, four priests heard confessions every night during Holy Week for more than five hours. In one of our Polish parishes in Passaic,
twenty-five priests heard confessions for more than four hours on Wednesday of Holy Week. In one Morris county parish located in the center of a business district, the parish not only had two crowded penance services with many individual confessions, but one priest heard confessions every afternoon for more than an hour and the other priest heard confessions every evening for more than two hours every day during Lent. People came from all over to avail themselves of the grace of reconciliation.
Pius XII once lamented that "the sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin" (Radio
Message to the U.S. National Catechetical Congress in Boston, October 26, 1946). His words have become proverbial. Many people do not recognize the reality of sin in themselves.
“Sin is the breaking off of one's filial relationship to God in order to situate one's life outside of obedience to him…To sin is…to live as if he did not exist, to eliminate him from one's daily life” (Pope John Paul II, R
econciliation and Penance, 18). However, when we acknowledge our own sin, we acknowledge our accountability before God. We open ourselves to God who can give us a new heart and empower us to love as Jesus taught.
Only God forgives sins. Since Jesus is true God and true man, he says of himself, "The Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins" (Mt 9:6). On Easter Sunday night, the Risen Lord offered the gift of forgiveness to his unfaithful disciples. He made them bearers of his forgiveness to others (cf. Jn 20:19-31).
What a great gift the priests in our diocese offer to others in giving time to hear confessions. In making the Sacrament of Reconciliation more available to people, they generously provide a graced moment to encounter the Risen Lord. So many people welcome the opportunity. In the midst of the sin that infects our society, this is an unmistakable sign of the desire of good people to be rid of evil within them, to heal the wounds that hurt others and to work toward a society where the inherent goodness of every person is embraced.
To the faithful who recoil at repeated shouts of those who incite to violence, the Church offers through her priests the word of Jesus that gives peace to the human heart. Through individuals with hearts created anew in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Church brings peace to the world.
This is the first of two articles on the Easter gift of Reconciliation.