March 12, 2009
This week, I wrote to each of our priests to thank them for being available every Monday night for confessions during Lent. During this special time of prayer and penance, each of our parishes is remaining open from 7 P.M. to 8:30 P.M every Monday in March so that there is ready access to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
On the first Monday of Lent, the weather was a challenge. But this was no obstacle to God's grace. I was happy when Fr. Brando, the pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Passaic, told me that both he and Fr. Edgar heard confessions non-stop this past Monday from 7:00 to 9:30 PM. The people told them that they were responding to the initiative.
Fr. Jude of Notre Dame of Mt. Carmel in Cedar Knolls enthusiastically said, “It was one of the most heart-warming and humbling experiences of my priesthood. One man told me that he had been away from the sacrament for twenty years. He saw the ad in
The Daily Record and had an overwhelming desire to come home to Christ’s forgiveness that was missing in his life.”
People who have been away from confession for many, many years are coming back to confession only to rediscover the mercy of God. This is the truth for which Jesus lived and preached and died. As the Psalmist says, “The Lord is a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger, most loving and true” (Ps 86:15). God is love.
Throughout his public ministry, Jesus shows the face of God as compassionate and merciful in his healing miracles and exorcisms. Even before Jesus issues the summons to repent, he announces, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand” (Mk 1:15). The kingdom is nothing other than the presence of God making his love known and felt in our lives.
Jesus opens us to the profound meaning of the Kingdom of God with his parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32). It is found at the very center of Luke’s Gospel. It is the very heart of the gospel itself! The son who takes his inheritance, squanders it away and finds himself unfulfilled is each of us. We take the gifts that God gives us and use them against God’s will. We are the ones left empty, longing and desiring more than our sinful lives can give.
As in the parable, so in life. God is the Father who sees us, runs to us and embraces us. He takes our feeble confession of sin and turns it into a moment of great rejoicing. Our sins strip us of our dignity. God clothes us with his grace and peace. Nothing can make God stop loving us. In fact, as Paul says, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
When Jesus preached such great love to sinners, the self-righteous took scandal. But not the tax-collector and the prostitutes (cf Mt 21:31). They recognized in his ready forgiveness of even their worse sins that God was drawing them back to Himself. The self-righteous would not acknowledge their sins. They did not accept the free gift of God’s forgiveness offered in Christ. But others, like Zacchaeus and the woman caught in adultery, did and found peace.
Through the ministry of the Church, God offers us his forgiveness in Christ Crucified and Risen. In the great Sacrament of Reconciliation, God is already running to meet us. He wants to welcome us. He wants to exchange our dirty rags of prideful self-indulgence with the righteousness of Christ Crucified. He wants to bring us back into the joy of his home and into the fellowship of his Church. He longs to see us reconciled with Himself and with others.
Like the prodigal son barely able to confess his sins, we, at times, are ashamed and even afraid to name those evils that separate us from God who loves us so much. But the Father is not ashamed to recognize us as his own son or daughter. He longs to wrap his arms around us. He is waiting to welcome us home.
Now is the time to meet the Lord in Confession and know the joy of coming home.
There is no distance the Father would not go to meet the Prodigal Son.