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March 13, 2016

Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation is one of the seven Sacraments in the Catholic Church. Maybe some of you would say, “Why the Sacrament of Reconciliation?  Is it not a matter between me and God?  Did Jesus really institute the Sacrament of Reconciliation?”

The text to which Catholic doctrine has appealed in asserting the sacramentality and divine origin of Reconciliation is John 20: 22-23, which records one of Jesus' post-resurrection appearances: "Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (see also Mt 16: 19; 18: 18).  By itself, the text does not prove that Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation as we know it today or that he conferred the power to forgive sins only on the Apostles.  On the other hand, the text is entirely consistent with Jesus' abiding concern about sin and his readiness to forgive and to heal (see Mt 9: 2-8; Mk 2: 5-12; Lk 5: 20-26).  In all three reports of Jesus' cure of the paralytic there is mention of the forgiveness of sins.  The forgiveness of sins is also prominent in the preaching of the Apostles (Acts 2: 38; 5: 31; 10: 43; 13: 38; 26: 18).  Accordingly, even though John does not tell us how or by whom this power was exercised in the early Christian community for whom he wrote, the very fact that he mentions it shows that it was exercised.  That is why the Church continues to call for repentance and to proclaim the forgiveness of God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

I remember the first time I went home after 7 years away.   My mom’s parish had about 8, 000 parishioners with only one priest.  At the beginning of Lent, most of those Catholics went to confession, not because they had more sins than we do, but because they saw the need of God’s forgiveness in their life.  The parish priest couldn’t handle it so he asked me to help him.  As a newly ordained priest, I began to hear confession 6 to 8 hours a day.  After one week I talked to myself, “No, no, it’s not the way I should do it.  I went home for a visit for my vacation, not for any kind of ministry.”  Besides, the civil authority didn’t like what I was doing and hearing confession was the last thing I would like to do as a priest.  So I decided not to do any, but the people didn’t quit.

I went to my family’s plantation to help my sister picking coffee beans, mangoes and cashews.  The people followed me.   My sister told them, “Look, my brother comes here to help me and he’s a good worker.  If you take his time for confession, you have to make it up in the field three times as much.”  The people agreed.  We set up a “temporary confessional” right on the farm. People came to see me for the Sacrament of Reconciliation then their penance was to help my sister on the farm; they cooked the meal and we ate together (we paid their wages at the end of the day anyway).  Again, to hear confession is a boring job.  That is why I invite many priests to help me on Tuesday, March 15.  Please go to them and spare me.

It was Saturday morning and Fr. Joe was hearing confessions.  A woman came in and, with tears in her eyes, confessed to having committed adultery.  Fr. Joe marvelled at the courage and honesty required to make such a clean confession.  She reminded him of the adulterous woman in the Gospel.  What joy it gave him to be able to say to her, "Your sin is forgiven, go in peace."

A wealthy man also came in and confessed to having been unjust in his business dealings.  His name was Zacchaeus.  He was sorry and wanted to make repayment.  Fr. Joe was delighted to be able to say to him, "This day salvation has come to you."

A youth came in after and told how he ran away from home, thus causing great pain to his parents.  He had a nickname “Prodigal Son.” He regretted what he did and wanted to return home.  "There will be joy in heaven tonight because of your decision to be reconciled with your family," said Fr. Joe.

Next, a man walked in and announced, "It’s been years since my last confession."  Fr. Joe thought to himself, "There will be a nice little harvest of sins to reap."  But then the man proclaimed confidently, "I am a married man with a family.  I go to Mass regularly.  I say prayers every day.  I am not conscious of having done any wrong to anybody."  Fr. Joe was taken aback.  Perhaps he was dealing with a saint?  But he did not believe it, because of all people, the saints were the ones who were most convinced of their sinfulness.  So he asked himself, "Does this man realize where he is?  This is not a bank where one can make a deposit.  This is a service station for sinners." Fr. Joe thought "Should I ask him a few questions?  Should I ask the man how he treats his wife?  What kind of father he is to his children?  How he gets on with his neighbours?  How his relationship with God is? But had he not already answered these questions?  The man said he did not do any wrong to anybody."

It suddenly occurred to Fr. Joe the image of the older son in the Prodigal Son Parable of Jesus.  What he really should ask the man was, "Did you do any good to anybody?"  Even though this occurred to Fr. Joe, something prevented him from doing so.  He was at a loss to know what he should do for that man.  However, of one thing he was sure.  He could not proclaim the joy of heaven, and the forgiveness of God to that man.  What he could do was to pray to the Loving Father that he would take care of his “saint” son.