Teaching about God’s Gift of Forgiveness
This week I was delighted to celebrate Vespers with the parish catechetical leaders of our archdiocese. We gathered as our catechists begin a new year of religious education and as the Church in the United States prepares to commemorate Catechetical Sunday on September 21 and we, in this local Church, celebrate our 75th anniversary as the Archdiocese of Washington. On this day we will not just ask God’s blessing for our catechetical teachers and their students, but also recognize how these catechists participate in the mission and ministry of the Church. We also thank them for the tremendous contribution they make to the Church’s mission of education and the vitality of our parishes.
This year’s catechetical theme, “Teaching About God’s Gift of Forgiveness,” also presents us with an opportunity to affirm that all of us by virtue of our baptism share in the responsibility to hand on the faith. We are all called to tell others the Good News of Jesus Christ, who heals us and brings us to new life.
Every catechist, I believe, would agree that their work is all the more fruitful when whole families and all parishioners are involved in actively sharing our faith. For example, preparing children for the reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and teaching older children to be regular participants in Confession are all the easier when forgiveness and reconciliation are practiced at home, in the school yard and between friends. It is in these experiences that we realize one of the fruits of reconciliation is peace.
After Jesus had risen from the dead, he gave the Apostles the grace they would need to carry on the super-human task of forgiving sins. He said to them, “‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’” (John 20:21-23).
Here we see how Confession is a restoration of peace. It is an essential part of the Church’s mission to the world and one for which individuals and communities hunger.
Christ’s mission on earth was to save us from our sins and from the many evils that flow from sin. Though he cured bodily ailments and though his compassion for every kind of suffering was real, he used such cures as signs of a more radical moral and spiritual therapy which he desired to extend to all. The Gospels portray him as specially declaring that he healed the body “that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Mark 2:10).
In this wounded world, it is not uncommon for people to seek healing through psychological counseling or therapy. Yet, many Catholics have forgotten that in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, they encounter Jesus the Divine Healer who offers both forgiveness and peace. We all need to hear the message of his saving love again and again.
Do you know someone who has been away from the sacrament and with whom you can share your experience of God’s mercy? Might you and/or your family prepare to celebrate Catechetical Sunday by setting aside some time to go together to Confession? Can you share these words that Saint John Vianney put on the lips of Christ – “I will charge my ministers to proclaim to sinners that I am ever ready to welcome them, that my mercy is infinite” (see Pope Benedict XVI, Letter to Priests for the Year of Priests (2009))? As Pope Francis teaches us, “The Lord never tires of forgiving. We are the ones who tire of asking forgiveness” (Angelus, March 17, 2013)
For more reflection on the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Church’s teaching on forgiveness, please visit the USCCB webpage on “Teaching About God’s Gift of Forgiveness,” as well as our own archdiocesan website, “The Light is ON for You.”