It seems appropriate that I’m looking back and writing these reflections today. Several of my brother seminarians, some dear friends, and a few of my kids are in Washington DC for the March for Life. It is appropriate that we reflect on penance and repentance as we look back on what is one of the darkest “rights” to ever have been granted citizens in the United States, a “right” that, at the same time, negated the most basic right of another group of people.
Realistically, a penance service or preparation for the sacrament of Reconciliation is, by its nature, a discussion of the truth of self. This is an entry (two thoughts) from my journal.
First of all, the archbishop commented that the greatest challenge facing the Church today is not any of the things that are normally listed, lack of priests or finances or a hostile media or even the sexual abuse crisis. Rather, the greatest challenge facing the Church today is a lack of sinners. That is not to say that we sin less today but rather that, on the whole, fewer people are willing (or perhaps able) to see and admit their sinfulness and so bring it to confession so they may be healed. As long as we believe we do not need a savior, we cannot claim one. How can a man claim that which he neither needs nor wants? As I once read from Archbishop Fulton Sheen, “If you had never sinned, you could not call Christ your savior.” At the same time, then, that we strive to cast sin aside to live more in the light of our Creator and Father, we must, at a certain level, rejoice in the knowledge that we are sinners, and, therefore, we have the privilege of claiming Jesus Christ as our savior. What an immeasurable boast! What a wonderful gift! It is in the worst of what we are, our sinful nature, that we are given the gift of a savior so that we may live in the true nature for which God intended us: everlasting life in His presence. Deo Gratia!
The archbishop’s other comment that resonated with me was in his comments on the elder son in the parable of “The Two Brothers” (more commonly known as The Prodigal Son). When the servant, rejoicing, told the elder son that they were celebrating the return of the younger son, he refused to enter the house and join in the celebration. His father had to come outside to plead with him. In this instance, Archbishop Hughes described the father as “humiliated.” He is in the middle of a celebration of great joy for the return of his son to his household, and his elder son, jealous of the attention given his younger brother, is causing a scene outside. While I believe that humiliation is an emotion far beneath God the Father (I say it that way because we know well that God the Son suffered humiliation on our behalf), I wonder if such a word could be used to describe what we do to God at times. I’m not sure if base sin, in and of itself, applies. It seems that the scandals in the Church, using His name to justify heinous thoughts and acts, and our tendency to drag the Lord’s holy Name through the mud could all cause pain. As God speaks to us repeatedly pleading for our return to Him, it must be akin to humiliation. Here, the God of Creation, the God of the Universe is so deeply in love with His creation that He is willing to come down to plead for us to return to Him. Interestingly, neither the father nor God command, even though it is well within the authority, power, and right of both to do so. So great is their love that they plead. We must, as the elder son had the opportunity to do, choose to enter the house of our won free will. If we are forced, it is meaningless. If we enter freely, it is our act of love to our creator.