God’s Loving Mercy in Confession
It was a great joy for me last week to welcome the Jubilee Year of Mercy by opening the Holy Doors at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle and at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. My hope is that these doors will be a reminder for all of us that everyone who walks through the doors of our churches is walking toward an encounter with Jesus.
Pope Francis explains that a holy door is “a door that opens in the Church in order to reach out those who for many reasons are far away” (General Audience of November 18, 2015). Pope Saint John Paul II reflected that “to pass through the [holy] door means to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord; it is to strengthen faith in him in order to live the new life which he has given us” (Incarnation Mysterium, 8).
New life, a new beginning – this is what Jesus offers us. He tells us to give to him all the things that weigh us down, especially the burden of sin, and to begin anew. In a special way, we do this in his gift that is the sacrament of Reconciliation, and as we finish our gift buying for others, we have the opportunity to avail ourselves of this gift of grace. This is God’s great gift of mercy to each and every one of us.
It is easy to doubt God’s desire to forgive us – we know how hard it is to forgive others. We might find ourselves thinking that our sins are just too great for God’s mercy. If this sounds like you, I invite you to read the fifteenth chapter of Saint Luke’s Gospel, where Jesus looks with compassion upon sinners and eats with them. Then, when you get to the end of the chapter, go back to the beginning and read it again. Since the earliest days of the Church, Christians have found there the key to a rewarding experience of sacramental confession. Much of what we know about mercy we have learned from this word of God!
The sacrament of Reconciliation is our story of experiencing our reunion with our Father, the embrace of his infinite love. In the sacrament, we receive a grace, a gift that is as undeserved as it is unmerited. We cannot earn God’s forgiveness, and we cannot overcome sin by our efforts. We leave those tasks to God when we go to Confession. Whatever small penance we perform is merely a small token of our resolve to amend our lives in love and thanks to God who is all good and deserving of our love.
We remember the good thief who misspent his years but repented as he hung dying beside Jesus on a cross (Luke 23:42-43). To him Jesus pronounced words of absolution that we all hope to hear one day: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Now that is the Good Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep to go in search of the one that’s lost. That is the Lord who rejoices more “over the one sinner who repents than over the ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). That is the God who is ready to give us his mercy, healing, peace, joy, strength, self-knowledge, clarity and love.
Our Lord waits. Why not go to him to receive this gift, this perfect gift that only God can give – forgiveness, peace, and life eternal?