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The gift of confession (Have you been lately?)

By Bishop Richard J. Malone 3/2/2016

My confirmation homily this year begins with a question addressed to the confirmands: If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?  In more direct terms, what is different about my life because I am a Christian, a Catholic?  Can those who know me tell the difference Jesus makes in my life?  Can I?

Lent is the graced season to take an honest look at the authenticity and quality of our discipleship.  How intentional are we in our following of Christ?  How faithful is our living of the Gospel?  How grateful are we for the gift of faith?  How eager am I to share the joy of the Gospel with others?  And ... can I admit that, yes, I am a sinner?

I don't think I am alone in my admission that there are gaps between what Christ asks of me and my 24/7 performance as a Christian. While Jesus tells us to "be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect," a moment of self-reflection yields a very quick recognition that, even though we strive, we are far from perfection.  I am pretty sure that we are all in solidarity in that regard.  There is no one among us who is not a sinner.  Sin harms our relationship with God as well as with one another.  We need forgiveness.

More powerful than any sin is God's longing to forgive us, to share with us the gift of His mercy.  Consider the title of Pope Francis' new book, "The Name of God Is Mercy." Jesus' own mercy-ministry of forgiving sins 2000 years ago continues in the sacrament of penance and reconciliation.  When we go to confession, we encounter the merciful Christ who makes Himself present in the priest. 

Here is what Pope Francis tells us in his new book:

Jesus said to His apostles:  "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose you retain are retained" (John20:19-23). Therefore, the apostles and all their successors - the bishops and their colleagues, the priests - become instruments of the mercy of God.  They act in persona Christi.  This is very beautiful ... confessing to a priest is a way of putting my life into the hands and heart of someone else, someone who in that moment acts in the name of Jesus."

Spiritual writer Francis Fernandez has good advice for us if we are considering going to confession this Lent: "When we go to receive this sacrament we must think of Christ above all else.  We must make sure He is the center of this sacramental act ... We need to look at Jesus more than at ourselves."

The Light Is On For You is our diocesan commitment to offer extra opportunities for sacramental confession during Lent.  Throughout the diocese, parishes are providing additional hours for confession, most often on Wednesdays around 5-7 p.m., but with variations of day and time depending on local parish situations.  Check our diocesan website for detailed schedules: www.wnycatholic.org/mercy 

While we have several churches around the diocese that have Doors of Mercy (a good Lenten practice would be to make a pilgrimage to one of them), every confessional and reconciliation room is, in truth, a door of mercy.  Enter in, and know the saving embrace of God's unconditional love. 

Categories: Bishop Malone