Friday, April 03, 2009

True reconciliation is powerful stuff

Tonight at SAA Church: Stations of the Cross, 7 pm, with Eucharistic Adoration to follow. Please join us!!
A blogger posted a question earlier this week that I would also like to present to SAA bloggers: why do you think that the Penance Service this past Monday night was attended by so few people? I didn’t count how many people, but my guess is there were less than twenty. We’ve had much larger turnouts at other Penance Services the past three years (we had over 100 people a couple of years ago). Now, there were other things going on Monday night (e.g., Bible Study, Maryland women’s basketball game), but I don’t think that would have affected the vast majority of our parishioners.

A couple of people have suggested that it’s because St. Andrew’s offers so many other times for Confession on a regular basis. That might enter into it, but I don’t think it played a big role in the small turnout Monday night. And, my take on all of this is the more that Confession is preached and offered in a parish, the more people will come to the sacrament. In other words, it’s a cultural thing. I’ve seen the culture change with regard to this sacrament here, thanks be to God. Many people have returned to the sacrament after being away for many years and others who had been going infrequently have been going more often. And, I would imagine that people in both groups have been leading others to come to the sacrament. This is how it works (i.e., how the kingdom spreads) and it’s an awesome thing to witness!

Some people who came Monday night were themselves surprised at the low turnout; one person deliberately came late, trying to avoid the “big crowd” he (or she) said that he expected. Now, I am grateful for those who came and for the opportunities that arose with them. And, this is not about “numbers”; it is about people responding to God’s call to reconcile with Him and the Church through Confession. The most important thing is that people go, and hopefully before Easter. Confession helps us to give our whole heart to Christ (our goal for Lent) and to enter more fully into the Paschal Mystery (the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ).

So, SAA bloggers, was it just that Monday was a tough night for most people? Or, was it that they didn’t know about the Service? Or, was it something else? I appreciate your input.

Speaking of Reconciliation, here is a recent question (series of questions):

“If a person close to you…won't go to Confession, how is it that Jesus forgives them, or does He? …how do we forgive them? What does one do when the closest admission to the sin consists of, "C'mon, cut me a break, I'm human and I'm doing the best I can."? Do we forgive with the hope that they'll change? Or, do we sin through forgiveness which allows or enables the behavior to continue?

Anon, you can check out my post, “Why Forgive?”, on 8/22/08 which is related to your questions. A person has to ask God for forgiveness in order to reconcile with and be forgiven by Him. He is Mercy, so He is always offering mercy. God cannot not forgive. He cannot not offer forgiveness. He always offers forgiveness, but it’s up to us to receive His forgiveness. It’s like that way with the Eucharist (or any gift): God is constantly offering the gift of the Eucharist, but it’s up to us to receive it. The person who doesn’t come to Mass doesn’t receive the Eucharist. So, too, the person who doesn’t come to Confession doesn’t receive God’s forgiveness (for mortal sins; he/she can receive God’s forgiveness for venial sins outside of Confession, but they still need to ask for it…through Act of Contrition, receiving the Eucharist, etc.).

We are called to be Christ-like in this way – to always offer mercy (e.g., forgive “seventy-times seven times) to others. We are called to always offer forgiveness. If someone sins against us and won’t apologize, then forgiveness remains in our hearts only. If they ask us for mercy in any way (no matter how small), then we should forgive them. However, if their apology remains in the “half-hearted” category, then we might want to gently challenge them to say, “I’m sorry” or “please forgive me”. These are very important words for true reconciliation. This is not to humble them as much as it is to make clear that they are asking for forgiveness. If they can’t explicitly ask for forgiveness, then we can’t explicitly forgive them (only our hearts).

Finally, we forgive others who have implicitly or explicitly expressed an intention of changing their sinful behavior. If someone asks for forgiveness but has no intention of changing, then we need to make clear to them that they we can’t forgive them (it is also true in Confession that we need to make a “firm purpose of amendment” in order to receive absolution). It’s not true reconciliation without an intention of amendment (it’s like a house built on sand…no real foundation there).

If they do intend to change, then we forgive them. Will they change? We can’t know at the time of reconciliation. But, we give it a chance because we know that true reconciliation is powerful stuff, indeed. There is grace at work there that can help a person, in time, move away from their sin (“where sin abounds, grace abounds the more”).

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