Saturday, 13 February 2016
Last Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, saw the beginning of the Season of Lent. This time in the church’s year is a time of preparation for Easter. It is a very special season for those preparing for Baptism and calls each of us to reflect on the gifts we receive at Baptism. It also calls us to penance. Through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, our hearts and minds are opened to the call to conversion, to the way of Mercy.
We are called to be disciples of Christ, to be open to the Holy Spirit that our lives may witness to the life of the Saviour. The Lord calls us to be his people and to be instruments of His love for others. Our response to His call to us requires that we accept the gift of the Father’s Mercy – a gift that is given freely – and take this way of conversion. In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has reminded us of the necessity of this way:
“The season of Lent during this Jubilee Year should also be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy.”
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is an encounter, par excellence, with the mercy of our loving Father whose desire is that all be reconciled in His Son. In today’s Gospel we find Jesus, in his humanity, rejecting all that would keep Him from doing the will of His Father. We are called to follow Jesus; to turn our backs on all that would keep us from Him and walk in His way. This is the way that will lead us to be merciful ourselves and to bring the gift of his love and life to all around us. Through our celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we ‘confess’ – acknowledge and praise – the holiness of God and his mercy towards us.
This Sacrament is not for ourselves as individuals alone. Receiving the Mercy of God reconciles us with our brothers and sisters. Receiving forgiveness for our sins enables us to take our place as disciples of the Lord and to play our part in the Mission of the Church. Preparing for the Sacrament of Reconciliation will always involve a recognition of our own weakness and the need that we have for Mercy. Pope Francis writes:
“He comes to assist us in our weakness. And his help consists in helping us accept his presence and closeness to us. Day after day, touched by his compassion, we also can be compassionate towards others.”
Mercy and compassion are central to our discipleship and mission, for our task is to proclaim to the world a compassionate and merciful Saviour.
So, in this Lent in this Jubilee of Mercy, let us approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation with confidence and a real sense of joy in the Mercy of the Father. We celebrate the Sacrament through individual confession which, especially in Lent, is often preceded by a communal time of reflection on the Word of God. This helps us to prepare and then bring our sins to the priest who will listen and advise. The hearing of words of Absolution is a most wonderful moment, bringing with it a real serenity and consolation.
The 24 Hours for The Lord, which has become a well established practice in our Diocese, will provide a very special time for this Sacrament.
As disciples of Christ, it is good for us to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation with some regularity. It “helps us to form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit…we are spurred to be merciful as He is merciful.”
It may, perhaps, be some time since you have celebrated this Sacrament. What is required is an honesty with yourself before the God of Love who knows your inmost thoughts. There is no need for anxiety. The priest, who is God’s instrument of mercy in the celebration of the Sacrament, will assist you.
The call to conversion is always before us and we hear it most especially in this Season of Lent. Today’s Gospel calls us to fix our minds and hearts on the Father of Mercy. Let us listen to this call, then, and take the way of conversion and Mercy. It will transform our lives, enabling us to be the instruments of Mercy for others and effective disciples in the Mission the Lord has given to us.
May this Lent be a time of renewal and prayer for each and every one of us?
With every Blessing,
Bishop of Arundel & Brighton