Monday, March 3, 2014

'Shrove' is Not a Type of Pancake

Through the Sacraments of Christian Initiation — Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist — man receives new life in Christ. Now, we all know that we carry this life “in earthen vessels” (2 Cor 4:7), we are still subject to temptation, suffering, and death and, because of sin, we may even lose this new life. That is why the Lord Jesus willed that the Church continue his saving work even to her own members, especially through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Anointing of the Sick, which can be united under the heading of “Sacraments of Healing”. 

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a Sacrament of healing. When I go to confession, it is in order to be healed, to heal my soul, to heal my heart and to be healed of some wrongdoing. The biblical icon which best expresses them in their deep bond is the episode of the forgiving and healing of the paralytic, where the Lord Jesus is revealed at the same time as the physician of souls and of bodies (cf. Mk 2:1-12; Mt 9:1-8; Lk 5:17-26).

The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation flows directly from the Paschal Mystery. In fact, on the evening of Easter the Lord appeared to the disciples, who were locked in the Upper Room, and after addressing them with the greeting, “Peace be with you!”, he breathed on them and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven” (Jn 20:21-23). This passage reveals to us the most profound dynamic contained in this Sacrament.

First, the fact that the forgiveness of our sins is not something we can give ourselves. I cannot say: I forgive my sins. Forgiveness is asked for, is asked of another, and in Confession we ask for forgiveness from Jesus. Forgiveness is not the fruit of our own efforts but rather a gift, it is a gift of the Holy Spirit who fills us with the wellspring of mercy and of grace that flows unceasingly from the open heart of the Crucified and Risen Christ.

Secondly, it reminds us that we can truly be at peace only if we allow ourselves to be reconciled, in the Lord Jesus, with the Father and with the brethren. And we have all felt this in our hearts, when we have gone to confession with a soul weighed down and with a little sadness; and when we receive Jesus’ forgiveness we feel at peace, with that peace of soul which is so beautiful, and which only Jesus can give, only Him.

Pope Francis, General Audience, 19 February 2014
Reflection – Well, after several weeks of blogging passages from the Orthodox, Protestant, and Jewish traditions, perhaps it’s time to get back to some good ol’ Cat-lick stuff since I’m, you know, a Cat-lick priest and this is a Cat-lick blog and all that.

Well, Lent is coming up (if you’re Eastern rite, it began today), and immediately before Lent in the West is Shrove Tuesday. Also known as Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras or Pancake Tuesday. But ‘shrove’ is not actually a type of pancake, you know. Or a float at the Mardi Gras, either. It is an old English word ‘shrive/shriven/shrove’, which is to be cleansed or purified, and specifically to be absolved from one’s sins in the sacrament of penance. So besides gorging on pancakes or whatever other pre-Lenten bacchanal you are having, the tradition is to go to confession on Shrove Tuesday.

And this brings up this wonderful General Audience that Pope Francis gave us just recently, on the sacrament of penance. We see here the characteristic bluntness and simplicity of expression that the Holy Father is becoming known for, in the service of one simple thing: to get Catholics to go back to Confession.

I have to admit, I hear the statistics about how many Catholics don’t really go to confession very much any more and my heart breaks, really. It is such a beautiful sacrament, so simple, so humble and humbling, so refreshing to the spirit. One hears horror stories of priests yelling at people in confession, but I really wonder how common that is—in all my years going to confession (don’t forget that priests go to confession as well as hear them, not to mention that I was a layman for 38 years and never went away from the sacraments in all that time) I’ve never even had a priest be abrupt with me, let alone mean and angry. Maybe I’ve been lucky, but I think the stereotype of the harsh, censorious priest is really pretty rare.

Meanwhile to simply kneel and say to the man who by virtue of his ordination is Christ sacramentally, “I have sinned. I did x and y and z. No excuses, no rationalizations, just sin, and I am sorry,” is such a healthy, wholesome, peace-restoring, joy-restoring thing. I really am sad that people have abandoned confession in such large numbers.

And of course besides the good that is forgone, there is real danger here. There is grave spiritual danger in carrying one’s sins around – sin is the toxic waste of the soul. We cannot know, exactly, just when we have a fatal dose of it, you know, so why take a chance? And even if your sins are not mortal but just venial, why would you want to carry around ‘just a bit’ of toxic waste? What good is it to you?

Go to confession—today, tomorrow, Ash Wednesday. Start off Lent by cleaning the slate and receiving 
the tender mercy of God in your soul. What do you have to lose but a bunch of guilt and burdens God doesn’t want you to carry?

Go to confession.

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