Just as the Church has special days for feasting, today, we enter into the great season of fasting. The Sign of the Cross will be traced with ashes on our foreheads as an outward sign of our inner poverty and hunger, and we begin penitential practices aimed toward conversion and purification. An important part of purification is reflecting on our thoughts and conduct that harm our relationship with God and with others. We know these wrongs as sin, which is “an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity” (CCC 1849).
We are given Lent to prepare to celebrate at Easter Jesus’ death and resurrection so that our sins do not mark our lives forever, but there is instead a way to own up to our failure and ask God to forgive and heal us of the wounds of sin. In a particular way, our Lord instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation to provide that grace.
At the end of every sacramental confession, the priest says, “through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” These are some of the most beautiful words that a priest says in the course of his ministry. Sadly, our priests do not get to say these words enough. We are told that 75 percent of Catholics do not make Confession a part of the regular practice of their faith. This is one reason that the Church in her wisdom celebrates the season of Lent – we need that reminder each year that one day we will be accountable for our sinful failings, yet God is loving and in his mercy is always ready to forgive, if only we come to him with contrition.
This Lent, as we have for decades, in collaboration more recently with the Diocese of Arlington, our archdiocese is making the Sacrament of Reconciliation more widely available. On Ash Wednesday, everyone who comes to begin Lent and marked with ashes will receive a card inviting them to come to be reconciled, to hear those beautiful words of forgiveness. The invitation, to be given to others, will also have our The Light is ON web address, at which people will find times for special Wednesday evening confessions, in addition to regular confession times on other days of the week at area parishes.
If it has been some time since you have been to Confession, you have nothing to lose except the heavy burdens you have been carrying. If you already make Confession a regular practice and know how transforming it is, you can help others to receive the grace of God’s mercy by giving one of the invitations to them. By sharing with them what it means to you, and perhaps inviting them to come with you next time you go, you will be an instrument of God’s love this Lent.