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It is Lent and, as such, there is a special call for repentance prior to Easter.  We want our souls to be in a state of grace prior to celebrating the Lord’s passion.  Most parishes offer a communal penance service a week or two before Holy Week for everyone who seeks to be cleansed of their mortal and venial sins through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Our parish’s penance service was last week.  Our pastor arranged for six priests to visit and join him in hearing confessions.  They spaced themselves out around the perimeter of the sanctuary for privacy’s sake.  I decided which priest with whom I wanted to air out my dirty laundry and took my place in that line.  As I looked around the church at the other lines and the folks still in the pews, I counted forty-nine souls.  Some parents and children were there together so there may have been thirty families represented overall.  Our parish has nearly 1,300 members.  Where were they?

My first reaction was sorrow for our pastor who was leading his first Lenten penance service in his new parish.  I felt sure that he must be experiencing some embarrassment in front of his brother priests for the lack of attendance.  And, he had to be thinking about the work ahead for him.

Then, I wondered why did people not come?  It had been advertised in our bulletin all during Lent, flyers were posted, and it was announced at masses.  Where was our faith community?  Some probably forgot.  Some may have recently been to confession.  Some probably planned to go to regularly scheduled Reconciliation on the following Saturday. 

It’s possible that some folks are without sin in their lives and didn’t need to go.  It’s possible.  But, not probable.

Being careful not to judge individuals, I concluded that for many parishioners it just wasn’t important.  The lack of importance may be a result of lukewarmness, a lack of catechesis, of having a minimal, if any, relationship with Jesus, or simply that other things were more important.  My worst fear was that people didn’t show up because they do not believe that the true Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ is contained in the Holy Eucharist, and, therefore, saw no reason to be reconciled and receive the Lord’s mercy before receiving communion.

I had been thinking about this since that night. Then, after meditating on yesterday’s Gospel, I decided I needed to say something.  Thus, with no intention of passing judgment on anyone in particular in our parish who skipped this beautiful opportunity to receive the mercy of God, or on anyone around the world who is reading this, I encourage you to go back and reflect on yesterday’s Gospel, John 8:1-11, the story of the woman caught in adultery.

In this passage, Jesus gives a shining example of his loving mercy.  The adulterous woman was afraid of the consequences prescribed by the Law of Moses – death by stoning.  Jesus, in His mercy, turned back the anger of the Pharisees when he brought to light their own sins by suggesting that whoever among them was “without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Jesus then forgave the woman’s sins and told her to go and sin no more.  Do you think she was grateful?  You bet!  Do you think she worked on becoming more virtuous?  I suspect she did!  When we fail to go before the priest, confess our sins, and let Jesus forgive us, we are facing certain spiritual death.  We need His mercy, and when we receive it we should be as relieved and full of joy as that woman was.  We are given a new life and an opportunity to begin again.

But, this post is not just for those Catholics who don’t take this amazing Sacrament seriously.  No, it’s also for those who do.  You know how loved you feel when Our Lord absolves you of your sins, when His Grace has been restored within you.  It should make you run to tell others of Christ’s love, so that they will want to experience it, too.  We are called to practice the virtue of Charity.  How uncharitable would it be to not let a friend or family member know of this wonderful opportunity for salvation through reconciliation?  How much more can we love our neighbors than to bring them to this amazing “car wash” where the dirt and grime is power washed from their souls?  

A good friend of mine has chosen as her personal apostolate this very charity for others.  Paula has developed a website called The Jonah Plan.  Her hope is to establish a community committed to regularly attending the Sacrament of Reconciliation, praying for those who do not recognize its value, and learning more about the Sacrament so that they can teach others about it.  There is power in numbers, and Paula’s hope is that by joining with other people committed to devoting one day a month to pray that family, friends, and fellow parishioners return to this Sacrament and experience Christ’s love and mercy, the Church will be renewed.  Please check out her website at the link above. 

Won’t you become an Apostle of Reconciliation?

“Loving Jesus, thank You for Your mercy and absolution when I come before You and confess my sins.  Your love restores and invigorates my soul.  You give me new life and an opportunity to begin again.  Thank You!  Amen!”

(Become an Apostle of Reconciliation was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

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