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Sharing God’s compassionate forgiveness

Father, it’s been 20 years.” “Father, it’s been 35 years.” “Father, it’s been a real long time since I’ve been here.” There aren’t words adequate to the task of describing how it feels to be a confessor when someone steps into the reconciliation chapel and awkwardly begins to explain that it has been a very long time since she or he experienced the sacrament of reconciliation. I feel deeply honored. I am slightly scared. I am moved by the other person’s courage – the courage it took to simply step through the door. I am humbled to be able to share God’s compassionate forgiveness with a child who has wandered away but who, for whatever mysterious reason, has chosen to return. I have a better sense of what it must have been like for the prodigal father.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of my young priestly life is the tremendous sense of the sacred that I encounter when I celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation. While there will be those inevitable few times when it feels like simply going through the motions, I have to admit that some of the most intensely beautiful and God-filled moments in my life have occurred in the context of this most misunderstood sacrament. Each time I prepare to celebrate reconciliation, I realize that I am treading on holy ground – the ground of individual and community life, the ground of lives lived in the presence of God. Yet time and again, I have been given the special privilege of witnessing God’s unrelenting love soften the hearts and minds of so many who, in fear and trepidation, made that choice to walk through the door and enter into the reconciling presence of God.

If it’s been a while since you last experienced reconciliation, I encourage you to come back to the sacrament during Lent. Perhaps the last time you didn’t have such a positive experience. Simply be honest and admit that, but don’t let the human foibles of one such as myself keep you from experiencing God’s tender mercy. I’m sorry if that’s been the case. We priests can be painfully human at times.

Don’t worry if it’s been a while and you’re unsure about what to do or say when you come to receive reconciliation. Simply let the priest-confessor know that and then allow him to guide you through the sacrament. No one will think any less of you for being open and honest. Please don’t let fear or misunderstanding keep you from reconciliation.

The sacrament of reconciliation is not easy I suppose, in part, because it’s often hard to ask forgiveness and sometimes even more difficult to believe that we have been forgiven. Imagine being critically injured in a drive-by shooting. After a slow, painful recovery, the victim offers forgiveness to the assailant. That’s exactly what Sam Miller did. Imagine forgiving your mother after learning that she accidentally burned a lottery ticket worth $34 million. Lisa Stechschulte did just that. Bishop Carl Mengeling and Bishop Kenneth Povish reflect on the power of God’s forgiveness and reconciliation’s role as part of our spiritual life. All this and more await your Lenten reflection as we continue our journey in FAITH.