Our Lenten journey is a memorial of our Baptism through which we have been reconciled to God by our sharing in the Lord’s own death and resurrection. For this reason, on Easter Sunday, the faithful having prepared themselves for the solemn celebrations of Our Lord’s passion, death and resurrection by their Lenten observances will renew their baptismal promises. In this way, we recommit ourselves to that seeking for holiness which should be what our life in Christ means for us as Christians, as Catholics.
If we seek holiness, then, as Pope John Paul II reminded us “it would be a contradiction for us to settle for a life of mediocrity marked by a minimalist ethic and a superficial religiosity”. Lent – if we observe it well by prayer, fasting and almsgiving (or other acts of self-denial) – can help us resolve “those contradictions” in our life that keep us from the pursuit of holiness. And, in doing so, Lent should lead us to a fruitful reception of the Sacrament of Penance. Penance has been called “the second baptism” since it remains “the ordinary way of obtaining forgiveness and the remission of serious sins committed after Baptism”.
In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, Lent is a “privileged time of interior pilgrimage towards Him Who is the fount of mercy”. Our Lent will be fruitful if it helps us to come out of ourselves so that we can open ourselves – with trusting abandonment – to the merciful embrace of our loving Father. This “merciful embrace” is offered to every Catholic who with the proper dispositions and with the firm purpose of amendment approaches the Sacrament of Penance. A fruitful reception of this Sacrament can also help us to open ourselves to others in their need – for having experience mercy from God, we can learn how to be ourselves merciful.
It is no secret that while communion lines have grown, few “line up” anymore for confession. Yet, the spiritual crisis of our age – the loss of the sense of sin – will not be overcome unless our Catholic people rediscover the consolations of making a “good confession”. Increasing the opportunities for one to approach the sacrament might help. The experience of our priests who hear daily confessions at our Mary, Queen of the Universe Shrine shows: people do come to confession when it is readily available. During Lent, our parishes do schedule special penance services in which the faithful can participate in the Rite of Reconciliation with individual confessions and absolution. Last year, I wrote every priest in our diocese and asked them to make themselves more available for the sacrament of confession. This year, I have asked a number of our parishes to participate in a Reconciliation Weekend, so that on March 30 and 31st, immediately preceding Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week, designated churches will open their doors early Friday evening and all day on Saturday and will provide priests to hear the confessions of the faithful “non-stop”.
On Ash Wednesday, we heard St. Paul’s exhortation: “We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” St. Paul’s plead is for a personal reconciliation – but, speaking as an ambassador for Christ, he is also exhorting us to be reconciled, as he said, “through us”, that is through those representatives of the Church whom Christ gave the power to forgive sins. Lent is a season of grace and salvation. And therefore, it is “the favorable time” for each Catholic to rediscover once again the Sacrament of Penance. Be reconciled to God!