Sunday, 25 March 2012

5th Sunday of Lent, Year B, On Confession, Shaftesbury

Ps 50:3-15; Jer 31:31-34; Jn 12:2-30
We are now approaching one of the pivotal points in our Lenten journey, in our preparation for Easter, namely, our penitential service this Thursday evening, when there will be 5 priests here to hear your confessions. Of course, there is an opportunity to go to confession every Saturday morning, at the times indicated in the newsletter both here and elsewhere, including Saturday evening, or by appointment calling me for another neighbouring priest, and it is important that we go to confession not just at Lent and Advent but regularly through the year –monthly confession being the standard advice.

There is, however, a particular relevance to confession in the season of Lent. In Lent we are seeking by our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we are seeking to purify our hearts, to purify them of sin. We heard that beautifully expressed in the classic penitential psalm that we heard as our responsorial psalm, “A pure heart create from me, O God"(Ps 50:12).
If we would have a heart that is pure and clean, a heart that is made new, then it's important that we PRAY to God for such a thing, as we prayed for it the reciting of that psalm.

In addition, we also need to ACT in such a way that we "create" a pure heart with us. To have a pure heart means that we need to change from having the heart that we have at present, it means that we need to both recognise and repent of the various evil deeds that we do. Now I know that, for many people, it can be difficult to recognise the evil that we do. We might recognise that we are not perfect, realise that there is something we need to change, but still fail to be able to identify and articulate what that means in specific practice, what that means in specific things we have done, and specific things we have failed to do. Things like the written examination of conscience in this Sunday's newsletter can be a helpful external reminder to help us look into a mirror for our soul. But we also need to join this with prayer, with turning to the Lord and asking that He send His Holy Spirit to enlighten us, to use the words of Scripture, to "convict us" of our sin (Jn 16:8).

In our first reading, we heard of the promise made through the prophet Jeremiah of the coming of a "new covenant"(Jer 31:31). We, as Christians, as those who live as followers of the promised Messiah, we have the privilege of living in this "new covenant". This privilege gives us the grace that comes through Jesus's death and resurrection, the transforming grace can create a new heart, a pure heart.
But we first need to do the other thing that the new covenant offers, namely, seek forgiveness for our “iniquities”(Jer 31:34), our sins.
And that offer of forgiveness, as we know, is offered to us in the sacrament of forgiveness, in confession. In that sacrament in which we confess our sins to the priest who stands in the person of Christ, who stands so closely identified with Christ that in the words of absolution he does not say "Christ gives you", but rather "I absolve you", acting in persona Christi capitis (Catechism 1548).

But in order to receive that absolution, to receive that grace of a pure, clean and new heart, we first need to want to change. And that means that on so many levels we need to turn from the person we are now, and the life we live now to something else. As we heard Jesus say in today’s gospel, the grain of wheat must die in order to yield a harvest; we must hate our life in this world if we would have the new life eternal; because sentence has been passed on this world, this sinful world, and the prince of this world has been overthrown.
As long as we refuse to overthrow our present Iife, as long as we refuse to change, as long as we fail to see what in our life NEEDS changing, then this "new covenant" cannot take root within us.
But if we pray for the grace to change, if we pray for the grace to see what we need to change, and if we bring that to the Lord for healing and forgiveness in this great sacrament of confession, then reconciliation, a pure heart, can be ours.
“A pure heart create for me, O God”

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