So once again, prayerful best wishes for the great Season of Lent. May God grant us all the grace of continued conversion during this time of renewal and reconciliation.
Take a moment to recall your baptism and those preparing for baptism this year. Baptism is that moment and experience of grace that can never be undone. We may move away from it and even forget about it, but we are still baptized. Baptism begins our everlasting loving relationship with the God who will never abandon us.
We trust in our baptismal call and the promises we make to try and live as disciples of our loving Savior, Jesus Christ. And this year we once again have the opportunity to share in an evening of confession/reconciliation for the entire diocese. This year on March 20th in the Diocese of Cleveland, every church will be open and available for sacramental confession from 5-8 pm, just as we have done over the past years. It is a marvelous opportunity to receive the loving mercy of God through this sacrament of forgiveness and peace. Whether our last confession was one month ago, 1 year ago, ten years ago, or 30 years ago, the priests will be most happy to help us in full confidence to know God’s love personal love for us no matter what has happened in our lives.
Over my years as a priest, I know that people may have expressed some hesitation in approaching this beautiful sacrament. They sometimes feel embarrassed that they might have been away for too long; or they may worry about remembering ‘everything’ they ever did over twenty years or more; or they may even worry about the attitude of the priest (“Will he be forgiving, helpful, understanding, shocked?”).
Believe me: the grace of our ministry as priests and our own confessions to fellow priests helps us to try and be as understanding as we can. And you won’t shock us. The joy of confession has given us a ‘window’ into the human spirit and the challenges of living out our faith. We are sinners, too. That is why we are there to be healers in Christ’s name. If we don’t exercise a healing ministry, then we are failing in our duty and our call to ministry.
I always tell people to find a priest that you like and try and stick with him. We’re all different. Life can be complex. Perhaps you might have had a less than exemplary experience in confession sometime in the past or perhaps someone gave you the wrong idea of what confession is supposed to be. But don’t let that deter you from trying again. God knows we as priests have our faults. We need confession as much as anyone does! Confession is a time for us not to find out how sinful or ‘bad’ we are; it is a time to rejoice in the unconditional love of God who sent us His only Son to be our loving and healing Redeemer. Nothing should cloud that experience or vision of this sacrament. To prepare for the sacrament, we should reflect on our lives, think of those particular sins or challenges that plague us, and then be ready to share with God our sorrow for not living up to our grace filled potential. After the confession, we then move forward, renewed in the power of love and grace. It’s really that simple. God is not out to punish us but to love us. Just think of the stories of Jesus who dined with sinners and who welcomes and embraced those troubled in body, mind, and spirit. This is the foundational core of the sacramental life. Think of Jesus’ encounters with all those who were troubled. It is the same for us. Our God is a God of love and forgiveness. As we remind our young ones in religion class, the seal of confession assures us that our confessional experience is held in strictest confidence. To hear the loving words, “I absolve you from your sins,” truly lifts us up, frees us to renew our relationship with God and to grow as disciples of Jesus who came to reveal to us how loving God truly is. Through the power of the Holy Spirit and the ministry of the priest, we are thus filled with God’s own life of grace. How powerful this is! How simple this is! No matter what our past experiences may have been with this sacrament, no matter what has happened in our lives of faith, God is there inviting us to return in love and be embraced by God. This is the teaching of Jesus who told us the story of the lost sheep, the prodigal son, and the healing stories of his presence among us. Jesus came that we might have life. Thus, we touch the central core of Lent and of our Easter faith.
I hope that you will mark your calendars and celebrate confession / reconciliation on the diocesan wide reconciliation day or indeed any time. God wants to welcome us to this experience of love and unburden us from our sins to free us from whatever weighs us down. And if we don’t remember any formula for this sacrament or any of the prayers, we will have helpful materials ready for you. The priests, too, will be more than glad to guide us and lead us through gently and warmly. Just tell us. For example, you can say, “Father, it’s been a while; I don’t remember what to say.”Come face-to-face or anonymously. Help us to help you. That’s our job!
So God bless our Lenten journeys. May we turn from sin and truly believe in the good news of Jesus! And again a personal note of thanks to all of you who have been so kind in sending me get well notes and messages. Things are moving along well. I am trying to practice patience each day to be ready to jump back into the fun!
Oremus pro invicem.
Soli Deo Gloria.
Father Michael J. Lanning, Pastor