SATURDAY HOMILY: Confession: God's CPR
Both sons wandered from their father's side. The younger son did so in dramatic fashion, wasting his father's inheritance on a life of dissipation. The elder son also strayed but without ever actually physically leaving his father's side. The father in the parable represents God the Father whose love for His children is indomitable even in the face of their selfishness and lack of love.
When I think about this parable, there immediately comes to mind the beautiful hymn composed by Father Frederick William Faber (1814-1863) who, abandoning Anglicanism, followed Blessed John Henry Newman into the Church. The title of the hymn is "There's A Wideness in God's Mercy."
There's a wideness in God's mercy like the wideness of the sea ... There is welcome for the sinner, and more graces for the good; there is mercy with the Savior; there is healing in his blood.
What appealing words! What an alluring message! Indeed, there is welcome for the sinner. And this is the point of this great parable of the Lord. God is lavishly merciful toward sinners. If we are paying attention at all we will have noticed that the scriptural readings that the Church places before us in this Season of Lent are making precisely this point.
Today's first reading tells us: Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance? And today's responsorial psalm: He pardons all your iniquities, he heals all your ills. He redeems your life from destruction, he crowns you with kindness and compassion.
Earlier this week we heard these famous words from the prophet Isaiah: Come now, let us set things right, says the LORD: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; Though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool. Are we listening? Are we allowing this message of God's extravagant mercy to penetrate our hearts? Can we not hear the Lord say to each one of us, "I want to set things right"?
In this Year of Faith which His Holiness Benedict XVI inaugurated on October 11, 2012, we have been recalling the great Ecumenical Council Vatican II which was convoked fifty years ago by Blessed John XXIII. We are also giving thanks to God for the Catechism of the Catholic Church which Blessed John Paul II promulgated twenty years ago.
One of my favorite quotations from the Catechism is paragraph 982. I have prayed, pondered and preached on this section innumerable times. In fact, I have visited this passage so frequently that I almost have it memorized word for word. Here's what it says:
"There is no offense, however serious, that the Church cannot forgive. There is no one, however wicked and guilty, who may not confidently hope for forgiveness, provided his repentance is honest. Christ who died for all men desires that in his Church the gates of forgiveness should always be open to anyone who turns away from sin."
What more encouragement does one need to turn to the Lord and seek His mercy? Those "gates of forgiveness" are the doors of the confessionals of our churches. There Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is waiting for us, ready and willing to heal our wounds.
I understand how difficult it can be to take the plunge, as it were, and enter the confessional especially if months or even years have passed since one's last good confession. But, as I like to say, the most difficult step in making a good confession is turning the door knob of the confessional door and getting inside. Once there, with the help of God the Holy Spirit and with the prayers of our Mother Mary, the rest is easy. Really.
It doesn't matter how many or how great our sins may be. It doesn't matter how long we may have been away from the Sacraments. Jesus is waiting there to forgive us and heal us through the ministry of the priest in this most beautiful Sacrament of Divine Mercy.
Regarding the role of the priest in administrating this Sacrament, the Catechism teaches:
"When he celebrates the sacrament of Penance, the priest is fulfilling the ministry of the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep, of the Good Samaritan who binds up wounds, of the Father who awaits the prodigal son and welcomes him on his return, and of the just and impartial judge whose judgment is both just and merciful. The priest is the sign and the instrument of God's merciful love for the sinner" (1465).
This Sacrament is called by various names. It is called "Confession" because it does necessitate the confessing of our sins, in particular any grave or mortal sins of which we may be conscious. It is called "Penance" because it requires that we be truly penitential, that is, truly sorry for our sins. Finally, it is called "Reconciliation" which, of course, is the end result of this sacrament; through this Sacrament we are made one again with God and with one another.
Confession begins with the letter "C." Penance begins with the letter "P." Reconciliation begins with the letter "R." It you put them altogether it spells, C.P.R! This Sacrament of Pardon is God's C.P.R. which He uses to revive our dead and sin-sick souls.
Sometimes people may feel that they have offended God so greatly that they are beyond God's reach. This is a thought which comes from the pit of hell and must be firmly and resolutely rejected. Confession is the last place that Satan wants sinners to go because he knows full well that there they will be set free from his stranglehold by the power of God's love and mercy.
St. Josemaria Escriva in his meditation on the Fifth Station, "Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry His cross," wrote the following:
"It is not too late, nor is everything lost. Even though to you it may seem so. Even though a thousand foreboding voices keep saying so. Even though you are besieged by mocking and skeptical onlookers... You have come at a good time to take up the Cross: the Redemption is taking place -now! - and Jesus needs many Simons of Cyrene."
Lent 2013 is marching forward. It is not too late to seek God's mercy. Whether it's only been a couple of weeks or whether it's been months or years, decide today to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Do not put it off any longer. The Lord who is "kind and merciful" is waiting for you there.
Count on the prayers of Our Lady, Mother of Mercy! She will take you by the hand and gently lead you to Jesus who alone can save us from our sins.
Fr. G. Peter Irving III is a priest of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and is pastor of Holy Innocents Church, Long Beach, California.
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2013
General Intention: Victimized Children. That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need.
Missionary Intention: Prepare the Savior's Coming. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.
Keywords: Fr. G. Peter Irving III, Holy Innocents Long Beach, Divine Mercy, Sacrament of Penance, Confession, Reconciliation, Father Faber, There's a Wideness in God's Mercy, forgiveness of sins, Catechism of the Catholic Church 982
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