March 24, 2017


Our Lenten journey and reconciliation

What do you call a person waiting in line to enter a confessional? A sinner seeking forgiveness.

What about a bishop, dressed in all white in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, kneeling at a confessional seeking God’s healing mercy and forgiveness? Pope Francis.

There is no funny punch line or humorous response for the above examples, nor should there be.

The photograph accompanying this editorial isn’t the first time we’ve seen our universal shepherd of the Church seeking the sacrament of reconciliation. And we’re fairly certain it won’t be the last.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from our Holy Father, as he said in a lengthy interview in September of 2013 published in America magazine after being elected pope, he, like all of us, is far from perfect.

“I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition,” Pope Francis said of himself in the interview. “It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”

We’ve come to see firsthand how much the pope values the sacrament of penance—he admits he goes every two weeks—and after presiding over the annual Lenten penance service on March 17 in St. Peter’s Basilica, he was one of 95 priests and bishops listening to confessions and granting absolution.

But according to a Catholic News Service (CNS) story, Pope Francis first spent about four minutes kneeling before a priest in one of the wooden confessionals receiving the sacrament of reconciliation before he walked to one nearby, put on a purple stole and waited for the first penitent to approach.

The pope spent 50 minutes hearing the confessions of seven people—three men and four women, all laypeople—and sharing God’s mercy with them before leading the congregation in prayers of thanksgiving for the experience of the “goodness and sweetness of God’s love for us.”

We’re roughly halfway through our Lenten journey, and now is a good time to examine how we’ve fared where the three pillars of Lent—prayer, fasting and almsgiving—are concerned.

Paulist Father Jack Collins said in a CNS story at the beginning of Lent that these pillars are “very much countercultural” by making people think of their need for God and others.

As we begin this examination of conscience, we would be well-served to ask ourselves two simple questions: Have we stumbled in seeing Christ in others? Have we failed in being Christ to others?

If we have gotten pulled into the chaotic fray that is the result of a vitriolic atmosphere created by so many in today’s world, we may not like the answer. Mercy, which Pope Francis uses so much in describing a key tenet of our faith, may be the furthest thing from our minds—and hearts.

Name nearly any topic, and there’s a good chance the mainstream media has reported on it. But when we see, read or hear those reports, we need to remember they are usually from a secular view, not a faith-based perspective. As Catholic Christians, we need to examine what our Church teaches and why. In today’s complicated world, there are no easy answers to life’s challenges.

Our faith teaches us dialogue is a good way to build bridges. As Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, says in a page 3 story in this week’s issue of The Criterion, Pope Francis approaches dialogue as an important ingredient of public life. People who dialogue successfully must be rooted in their own convictions and faith, Archbishop Pierre said. In this way, dialogue is “two rooted persons looking for the truth,” he added.

The truth is that we are imperfect human beings on a journey. Our destination, God willing, is his eternal kingdom in heaven.

If you haven’t already during this Lenten season, why not partake in the sacrament of reconciliation? There are still plenty of opportunities at parishes throughout the archdiocese. They are listed on page 10.

Pope Francis wants us to understand how important the sacrament is to our lives of faith. “Forgiveness is not a result of our efforts, but is a gift,” he said at an audience in 2014. “It is a gift of the Holy Spirit who showers us with mercy and grace that pours forth unceasingly from the open heart of Christ crucified and risen.”

—Mike Krokos

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