Sunday, 7 April 2019
Mercy and Confession, 5th Sunday of Lent, Year C
I want to speak today of the importance of coming to ENCOUNTER the mercy of God.
I spoke about ‘meeting God’ in prayer two weeks ago,
but meeting Him in mercy is a theme that occurs often in the words of Pope Francis.
We heard a powerful example of encountering the mercy of the Lord in the Gospel text that was just read to us. Let us consider, for a moment, what that experience was like for that woman. She had, presumably only shortly beforehand, been “caught in the very act of committing adultery”(Jn 8:4). She was then brought before the Lord to be judged. Let us think of the immense power that the Lord had over her at that moment. The Lord had it in His power to condemn or to acquit her. He could have had her stoned. Instead, He not only persuaded the crowd to not condemn her, He then Himself declared, “neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more”(Jn 8:11).
What must that experience have been like for the woman? To experience the mercy of the Lord when she encountered Him!
The Gospels record many experiences of sinners meeting the Lord, and experiencing His mercy.
Pope Francis has spoken often about mercy because he wants more people to meet, to encounter this mercy, and to do so especially in confession.
In just over a week, for Lent, there will be 4 priests hear your confessions, and the regular Saturday slots here and elsewhere continue -as advertised in the newsletter.
Mercy is not a long or complicated thing.
People sometimes are surprised at how brief the priest’s words of forgiveness can be in confession.
The words of Jesus to that woman were very brief.
But mercy is a powerful and important thing, even if it can be brief.
Though, to appreciate the importance of those words we need to bring the right inner attitude to the experience.
What then is the right inner attitude we need?
Pope Francis, when he was asked what advice he would give a penitent in order to help him or her make a good confession, he said that the penitent needs “to FEEL like a sinner, so that he can be amazed by God. In order to be filled with his gift of infinite mercy, we need to recognise our need, our emptiness, our wretchedness”(Pope Francis, The Name of God is Mercy, p.41).
The Pope went on to note, with sadness, that often people don't recognise their sins. They see some good things in their lives, they mistakenly think that they are “OK”, and they don't “feel like a sinner”.
And, if you don't feel like a sinner you can't be sorry for your sins.
And, if you don't feel like a sinner you can't resolve to turn away from those sins, to follow the words that our Lord spoke to that woman, “go, and sin no more”(Jn 8:11).
What then am I to do if I don't really “feel” like I am a sinner?
Well, I can read through an examination of conscience, like the one inside your newsletter, and try to honestly compare my life to the questions being asked.
And, as Pope Francis advises, if someone doesn't feel like he is a sinner, “I would advise him to ask for the grace of feeling like one!” Because “even recognising oneself as a sinner is a grace”(p.30), is a gift from God, so we should ask Him for this gift.
So, if at the end of a day, you pause to make an examination of your conscience in your night prayers, and you can't think of any sins that day, then turn to Pope Francis’s advice.
First, ask God for the gift of seeing your sins.
Be confident that there is SOMETHING in this day to repent of. You are not yet “perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect”(Mt 5:48) –ask the Lord to show it to you.
Second, think of the different parts of your life in your day, think the different people, think of the different possible sins: Laziness, selfishness, greed, gluttony, lust, neglect of the needs of others, critical and judgmental thoughts of others, judgemental words etc.
And, in humility, ask the Lord to help you see. Make the prayer of the blind man your own prayer, “Lord, that I may see!”(Lk 18:41)
So, to sum that up. In this season of Lent, especially, there is a renewed call to us to come and encounter the Lord in mercy, in confession.
He is inviting us to reexamine our hearts so that we can see our sins, and to pray for the gift to be able to see our sins, and seeing them to be sorry for them.
And, having seen our sins, to approach confession with confidence. The Lord has shown what He is like, and He is mercy.