The Sacrament of Confession
God loved us first
From the Fourth Sunday of Lent, also called Laetare [Rejoice] Sunday, we pick up our pace as we run the Lenten course towards the Risen Lord. It is indeed true that we must make the effort to run the race, to fight the good fight, so as to reach “the crown of righteousness” (2 Tim 4:7-8). But is it worth remembering that it is God who seeks us out first. “He first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19)
We can tend to think of the spiritual life as one effort after another on our part
to reach the goal. This is true to a point. However what is specific to the Christian Faith is that it is God who comes to seek us out in the first place.
If we run towards Him, it is because He is already running towards us. His grace always precedes us.
St John Paul II taught this clearly in preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000:
“In Jesus Christ God not only speaks to man but also seeks him out. The Incarnation of the Son of God attests that God goes in search of man. Jesus speaks of this search as the finding of a lost sheep (cf. Lk 15:1-7)…
God seeks man out, moved by his fatherly heart”
(Tertio millennio adveniente, 7)
The Father sees us from a distance
In the parable of the Prodigal Son we hear that the loving Father spots his wayward son “while he was yet at a distance” (Lk 15:20). The Father was looking out, eagerly awaiting the prodigal’s return. It is true that it is always our personal initiative to go to Confession, but as Pope Francis encourages young people:
“God is always there before us, always looking for us, and he finds us first… God is waiting for you!
God is a father and he is always waiting for us! It is so wonderful to feel the merciful embrace of the Father in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, to discover that the confessional is a place of mercy”
(Message for World Youth Day 2016, 2)
Confession confirms our fundamental identity as children of God
We decide freely to go to Confession, but the Father has done all the groundwork. He has drawn us towards himself in advance, full of tenderness and love. Even more, he comes out to meet us. For this reason the Sacrament of Penance greatly helps us to deepen in our awareness of our fundamental identity as beloved children of God.
As St Josemaria put it in a Lenten homily:
“When God runs toward us we cannot keep silent, but with Saint Paul we exclaim Abba Pater, ‘Father, my Father!’ – for though he is the creator of the universe, he doesn’t mind our not using high-sounding titles, nor worry about our not acknowledging his greatness. He wants us to call him Father; he wants us to savour that word, our souls filling with joy…
“God is waiting for us, like the father in the parable, with open arms, even though we don’t deserve it.
“It doesn’t matter how great our debt is. Just like the prodigal son, all we have to do is open our heart, to be homesick for our father’s house, to wonder at and rejoice in the gift which God makes us of being able to call ourselves His children, of really being His children, even though our response to him has been so poor”
(Christ is passing by, 64)
Putting the Sacrament of Penance back at the centre
It is clear that the Holy Spirit is calling for a renewed commitment to Confession in the life of the Church.
A few days ago Pope Francis urged:
“Let us place the Sacrament of Reconciliation at the centre once more – and not just in this Jubilee Year! – a true space of the Spirit in which all of us, confessors and penitents, can experience the only definitive and faithful love, that of God for each one of his children, a love that never disappoints”
(Address, 4 March 2016).
This task of rediscovering the sacrament of divine mercy is for all the faithful of every walk of life.
Through offering prayer and sacrifice, through word and example, we can each and all seek to be “instruments of mercy” so that when we go towards the embrace of the Father, we do not go alone.